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Training in Wales has something to offer students at all levels

Final-year students at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama rehearsing All That I Am with director Adele Thomas. Photo: Kirsten McTernan Final-year students at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama rehearsing All That I Am with director Adele Thomas. Photo: Kirsten McTernan
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Cardiff is the theatre capital of Wales as well as the political one. Its busy cultural life encompasses the Wales Millennium Centre, Sherman Theatre and New Theatre, and it is home to National Theatre Wales and Welsh National Opera. Not surprisingly, Welsh performing arts training opportunities tend to be focused in the city.

Lending vibrance to Cardiff is Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – the only conservatoire in Wales. Its drama and musical theatre students have all the same advantages as their counterparts at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London or Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Although the music and drama course and faculties are separate, there is much scope for collaboration because everyone is in the same institution – the MA in musical theatre capitalises on that.

The other advantage is size: the RWCMD intake is very small, so there’s plenty of individual focus and attention. There are just 22 places a year on the BA acting programme and 10 for the MA in acting for stage, screen and radio. In the third year of the undergraduate degree, these groups come together to form the Richard Burton Company, which stages 15 shows ranging from Shakespeare to new writing. For the third year running, the programme has included a rep season of four plays at London’s Gate Theatre.

Admission is highly competitive, but the courses have a lot going for them. There’s an impressive list of alumni to prove it: Anthony Hopkins, Rob Brydon, Katy Wix and Moira Buffini trained there.

What else is available in Wales? There are several university courses in acting and related skills. Typically, a university drama course offers a different balance between academic study and vocational training. It’s an anecdotal observation, but I meet many playwrights, directors, drama teachers and producers who are university drama graduates. I meet far fewer working actors who have done university courses unless they have taken a skills-based MA in acting afterwards.

With that caveat in mind, consider the University of South Wales (formed from a 2013 merger of the universities of Glamorgan and South Wales Newport). At its Cardiff campus, it offers a BA in theatre and drama as well as an MA in drama. There are also degrees in performance and media, performing arts and script-writing. The jewel in its crown is the ATRium building with a £14.7 million extension that houses a 160-seat auditorium theatre, four studio theatres and film studios – all equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Beyond Cardiff, there’s the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, which has four campuses. The School of Performing Arts operates at Carmarthen and Swansea. The former offers BA programmes in acting, dance and theatre design and production. Degree courses in technical theatre, applied drama and performing arts (contemporary performance) are based at Swansea. The website directly challenges the suggestion that this training is not fully vocational: “All programmes within the School of Performing Arts have been designed to develop students’ professional skills so that they graduate as industry-ready, independent and creative practitioners.”

Further north, Aberystwyth University offers a BA in drama and theatre studies, and a fascinating list of joint-honours options. You can combine drama with fine art, history, English, English literature, international politics, education, French, maths, film and TV studies or scenography and theatre design. Though it might seem sensible to keep options open, such courses inevitably place less emphasis on practical skills for students serious about a performing arts career.

Back in Cardiff, the Workshop – outside the realm of higher education – offers training for film and TV work. Led by Peter and Susan Wooldridge, it runs sessions in 10-week terms, one night a week, for young would-be actors. Successful participants are invited to join the company, which has about 150 members for ongoing vocational training. With its own studio space and a team of five tutors, the Workshop reports a string of successes. It has placed young actors in Tracy Beaker, Casualty and Holby City, among others.

So, from classes for talented teenagers to postgraduate vocational studies, there’s a wide variety of training to choose from in Wales.


Training in Wales

Aberystwyth University
Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3FL

01979 623111 aber.ac.uk

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Castle Grounds, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3ER

029 3034 2854 rwcmd.ac.uk

University of South Wales
Pontypridd CF37 IDL

03455 760101 southwales.ac.uk

University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Carmarthen Campus
Carmarthen SA31 3EP
01267 676767

Townhill Campus
Swansea SA2 0UT
01792 481000

uwtsd.ac.uk

The Workshop
10 Williams Court, Trade Street, Cardiff CF10 5DQ

029 2049 3950 the-work-shop.co.uk

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