It’s time to sing the praises of the Actors Centre very loudly. I’ve been to several events there recently and each time I set foot on those unassuming but purposeful Covent Garden premises, I’m struck afresh by what an asset this industry-wide continuing professional development provider is.
Effectively a training club for emerging and established actors, it was founded in 1978 by Clive Swift, Sheila Hancock, John Alderton and William Hobbs. They thought actors – with their lonely lives of intermittent unemployment – needed somewhere where they could network and find support. The Tower Street premises, which include a cafe, the Tristan Bates theatre and studios of various sizes, was bought in 1994 after a fundraising campaign.
Today, the programme of training opportunities on offer is both eclectic and busy. This week, for example, there’s a five-day course on Meisner technique with Scott Williams, and a three days this weekend on the poetry of circus, dance and theatre led by Bart Soroczynski. Next week, among several other offerings, there’s an all-day workshop with Sue Dunderdale entitled Acting for Camera: Taking Away the Fear.
Standard membership of the Actors Centre costs £75 per year – less than the price of a coffee shop latte a week. There are separate deals for premium and associate members, and entitlement to sign up for specific courses depends on your level of membership. Some events are open access, and non-members are welcome at these. Workshops are kept at affordable levels even for impoverished actors, with fees ranging from £10 to £55 per day.
The criteria for membership, which are applied on a points system, are clear. One is that you have trained full-time in one of the 21 schools that originally belonged to the Conference of Drama Schools (some of which are still accredited by Drama UK) or the Poor School. You must also be an Equity or Spotlight member and have some professional work under your belt.
Studios are available to hire for auditions, rehearsals or meetings, and I have, on different occasions, attended a book launch and a careers seminar there.
The Tristan Bates Theatre is an integral part of the centre and hosts a year-round programme of shows. I often catch up with drama school shows there, for example. Most recently, I saw This Is Not a Drill by Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s collaborative and devised theatre students last month.
The whole place really is an asset to the profession and I hope all drama schools are telling their graduates that it’s out there waiting for them.