The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has a long-established reputation as one of the leading providers of professional training for the creative industries. As a college of the University of London, Central is also recognised for the quality of its academic research and publications, attracting public funding from Research Councils (RCUK) and other funding bodies for projects run by Central’s industry-connected teaching and research staff.

Dr Katharine Low and Dr Sarah Grochala joined Gilli Bush-Bailey (Professor of Women’s Performance History) to track Advance. Central is continuing to develop a ‘dynamic research’ model that not only documents Tonic’s work but also identifies and articulates questions that Advance might pursue and tracks the impact of the project in realising gender equality in the creative theatre industry.

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The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama

An introduction to Central’s role in Advance, from Gilli Bush-Bailey, Professor of Women’s Performance History.

“The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is well known as one of the long-established and still leading centres for actor training. Central has its roots firmly in the visionary work of one woman, its founder Elsie Fogerty, who specialised in speech training, and who believed passionately in the social value of theatre and the importance of theatre in education. Today, as a college in the University of London, Central offers a wide range of professional training with undergraduate and postgraduate courses in creative producing, scenography, theatre lighting design, theatre sound, prop making, scenic construction and scenic art which stand alongside the range of acting and applied performance practices.

The industry-connectedness of Central’s teaching is enhanced by research-active staff. The quality of their work is reflected in publically funded research projects and numerous academic publications. Central is, perhaps uniquely, in a position to recognise and bridge the gap between the aspirations of the ‘real’ world of the theatre industries and the potential insights from the real world of academic research. As a provider of professional training many of the equality issues identified by the theatres participating in Advance will be of relevance to our students. In supporting Tonic’s work and tracking the process, Central is also participating in the process of identifying questions about how we train, and who we train, for an industry that has yet to fully realise gender equality.

Research is a series of discoveries about what is there, but also what is missing or simply forgotten. Central’s research team was invited to participate in the process between the first and second Advance Away Day in the autumn of 2013, as Tonic became aware of the need to document their process and capture some of the early questions and issues the participating theatres were engaged with. As a theatre historian, I am particularly interested in framing that work in the context of cultural shifts and moves toward establishing gender equality that have taken place in the past. Findings from ‘forgotten’ initiatives remind us of the need to keep research alive and present. In leading the team of three researchers from Central we frame our partnership with Tonic in terms of a dynamic research model that situates Advance in the context of a continuum: a project that has a relationship to past initiatives in raising awareness around gender equality, has a currency today for making changes happen in the creative theatre industry and which can look forward to ways in which future iterations of advance might be advanced and extended.

Acting largely as (silent) witnesses to the proceedings of Advance Away Days, our tracking has enabled us to gather data that can inform future developments for Advance and be useful in evaluating the processes used on the project. But we hope that will be only part of a dynamic research process that will continue to pose questions, stimulate enquiry, and fuel projects that directly engage with the many reasons that gender equality is still an issue in our creative theatre industry.”

For more on the engagement between academic research and theatre practice see our website and for specific questions arising from this project see Bush-Bailey, ‘Advance Notice’, Studies in Theatre & Performance, vol.34, 2, June 2014.

About Advance

Advance brought together the Artistic Directors, Chief Executives, and senior Creative Staff of a cohort of 11 leading theatres…
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Why Do This Work?

The answer’s simple; things are still far from equal in the theatre industry…
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What We Did

Advance took an interrogative and methodical approach to understanding the root causes behind the lack of women in key creative roles…
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