Letter to Professor Gavin Henderson, Principal, Royal Central.
Further to our conversation in January of this year and our email exchanges, please find enclosed a petition and a proposal on the subject of Diploma/Degree qualifications.
Allow me to say how much I appreciated our discussion, and while I understand something (though by no means all) of the political considerations and funding concerns this issue may raise, I have to say that given the urgency of the need, and the simplicity of the solution proposed, I hope we may be able to move forward.
I also understand that the final decisions on whether to take action on this do not rest with Royal Central, but with London University and beyond that with the QAA. I certainly intend to approach both these bodies, subject to your input which I would welcome. In the first instance however, I submit the petition and the proposal to you, the Academic Board of Royal Central, and the Board of Governors. This is intended as a courtesy before the higher authorities are approached.
As you see the petitioners range from Barrie Hesketh, who graduated from Central when it was resident at The Royal Albert Hall in 1953, through graduates of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and includes several post 1992 graduates from Webber Douglas. As this last group no longer has an Alma Mater to which they can apply, and as Webber students were absorbed by Central, I have included their support.
Some ex-faculty are also signatories, and I understand that George Hall has also written to you.
As I am sure you are aware, George Hall’s tenure at Central confirmed the school as a world leader in theatrical training. Indeed, as I have pointed out, a majority of those distinguished alumni which Royal Central presently lists, are graduates of George’s years as Head of Acting. Yet again, one wonders how it came about that these people would not be allowed to teach young actors.
The entire basis of my argument is that it serves no one to exclude those ex-students from further professional contribution, and that a solution along the lines of the one proposed would greatly enhance the reputations of the institutions involved and enrich a new generation of students.
May I contact you in 30 days for a response?
cc: The Academic Board, Royal Central,
The Board of Governors, Royal Central
Proposal to convert
Central School of Speech and Drama
Pre-1992 Diplomas to Degree status.
Supported by petition.
Delivered by hand to Professor Gavin Henderson 24th March 2014, NYC, N.Y. USA. Mailed in hard copy to the Academic Board of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and to the Board of Governors of the school, also copied to each of the above via email.
The current administration at Royal Central has done excellent work in reaching out to Alumni. Never before has social connectivity been so important. It is a welcome policy that the school now keeps its Alumni informed of past and present students and their activities. Such a move can only help to develop awareness of conditions in the profession at large, and assist in sustaining professional networks.
Is it not ironic given Elsie Fogerty’s founding vision of the serious validity of formal theatrical training, carried forward though the decades of Central’s excellent twentieth century teaching, that some of the most accomplished and talented practitioners in the graduating generation between 1950 to 1992 are effectively disbarred from having teaching contact with current students, or from teaching in other institutions, through lack of a Degree?
Surely this is an unintended consequence of the school’s evolution.
How this proposal came about
I quote here from the open letter published at www.petitiontoroyalcentral.com (Content of website appended).
“Following the 30th year reunion of our year (Stage ’83) at the end of 2013 I wrote to the Principal of the school, Professor Gavin Henderson, to canvass his response to the idea of upgrading the Diploma to a Degree. His reply stated the official position arrived at by the school’s Academic Board, but admitted no possibility of discussion since this position is now determined by the School’s incorporation within the University of London, and bound by regulations of the Quality Assurance Agency (a UK Government quango).”
Following Professor Henderson’s reply, I requested that he and I speak on the phone. In January 2014 we had a conversation. The Professor told me that this issue had been raised frequently in recent years.
At that point I thought it would be sensible to create a petition. The issue affects an entire generation of acting talent; equally, it affects students from other disciplines who graduated on Diploma courses from the school; it affects Diploma graduates of other drama schools. As well as which, professions from teaching to nursing have faced similar quandaries.
What this proposal is about
This proposal addresses a serious imbalance in professional standing between Central graduates of different dates. Those pre-1992 are formally disadvantaged because their qualification is a Diploma, not a Degree.
The proposal is not here to argue the relative merits of a particular reading list, or a particular school of thought in theatrical training.
To notice that in what should be an ongoing dialogue as one generation hands on its knowledge and expertise to the one following, there is a gap that spans decades.
Royal Central traces continuity from the school’s founding to the present day. It lists some of its distinguished graduates on its website. It has carved a selective list of names on the steps of its main entrance. A majority of those so listed are pre-Degree graduates. Few, if any, are among current faculty.
And officially none without Degrees may teach in the State system.
Are we seriously to believe that none of this generation has an invaluable teaching contribution to offer?
But the professional disadvantage is not limited to teaching opportunity. Many Diploma graduates could take on further study. Most educational institutions now require a B. A. or equivalent as an entry qualification.
There is a large majority among the approximately 3,000 or more Acting graduates, and thousands of graduates of other courses as well since 1950, who are not listed by their Alma Mater.
Many of this majority group of graduates have given consistent service to the profession, or moved into auxiliary professions, and could also contribute significantly if empowered with the right qualification.
Given the extensive time frame in which former pre-1992 students graduated, it would be impossible to establish exact academic equivalency between the studies in the Diploma courses and those of the the Degree courses today. Nor is this proposed. A possible solution is outlined below.
Why should this be addressed?
It is important to state again that the merit of a Degree course in any theatrical discipline is not the issue here, almost all theatrical training has become Degree based. The issue is professional standing.
If people who achieved Diplomas have spent decades of their professional lives as working actors, stage managers, speech therapists or teachers, they have the qualities that it takes to endure in what is often a fiercely uncertain environment.
The fact that so many proven professionals are effectively prevented from a range of career opportunities by a watershed of date is an injustice that could be easily remedied.
Would it not add greatly to Royal Central’s prestige in the profession if the school took a lead in adjusting this unfairness? Would it not also be consistent with its Alumni outreach and its foundation of continuity?
There are precedents and solutions:
Several British Universities offer courses for those wishing to convert their Diploma qualifications to a Degree. Middlesex and the University of Surrey for example. Among members of the Conference of Drama Schools, Arts-Ed also offered a one year conversion course.
A formal one year course requiring full time attendance is scarcely feasible for the majority of petitioners listed here, most are working professionals with established careers and commitments. Nor, I respectfully suggest, would such a course be appropriate where all petitioners have extensive practical experience over decades, experience which would be at least equal to, or beyond that of any potential post 1992 degree-qualified instructors.
The nearest ideal solution and most user-friendly one, both for the institution concerned (as it would keep costs low), and for the students (as it offers maximum flexibility) is the one that was effected at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney, Australia.
I propose an adaptation of this model.
The NIDA Model
NIDA has been a developing institution since its inception in 1959. Initially it offered two and later—three year—diploma courses in acting. Over the years the school has expanded to embrace a wide range of theatrical disciplines in the same way that Royal Central has. Many of the graduates of this leading institution in theatrical and performing arts are known to a global audience (Judy Davis, Baz Luhrmann, Cate Blanchett, Sam Worthington to name only a few).
When the course qualifications were changed from Diploma to Degree a conversion program was introduced at the instigation of the tertiary education accrediting authority of New South Wales.
The main features of the program were as follows:
1. The program was not a formal one-year course. In order to accommodate the time needs of its students almost all of whom were working professionals, a flexible time frame in which to complete the work was offered. Most students completed the work in a matter of months.
2. The conversion program was open to all that had a full-time diploma in: Acting, Design, Technical Production/Production, or Theatre/Production Crafts.
3. The core work of the program was operated on a tutorial basis and went as follows: students had to nominate a relevant topic of study which was then approved. The students wrote a ‘learned essay’ with tutorial assistance if required, of dissertation length.
4. The dissertation was assessed by a qualified academic who was paid a modest honorarium.
5. The program was available on a correspondence basis to accommodate former students no longer living in Sydney.
The conversion program was run by Terence Clarke, AM (Member of the Order of Australia) from its inception to its close. Initially the program had a sunset clause of five years but the take-up was so enthusiastic and the presence and contribution of mature students welcomed by NIDA itself, so the program was extended to a ten year period.
Mr. Clarke has had a long and distinguished career. He graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in music from Sydney University and has extensive practical experience. He has worked as a composer, actor, writer, director, artistic director, and teacher. Mr. Clarke has kindly agreed to include his contact details here should verification and further explanation be required.
Some 450 students completed the program over the 10 years in which it ran.
I list one notable consequence of the conversion program here: two of the 2014 Oscar nominees are former students of Dr. Peter Cooke (currently Professor and Head of Theatre at Carnegie-Mellon, Pittsburgh, USA) who was the very first student to take up the NIDA Diploma to Degree conversion program.
Several graduates of the conversion program went on to complete higher degrees including PHDs.
A Special Circumstance
As previously stated we now have a situation where in many cases actors are no longer (officially) qualified to teach acting. How can this be sensible?
I suggest that credit be given in the following areas:
For prior learning, i.e. the Diploma Course
For professional experience in the field by assessment of an up to date C.V.
If a program along the lines of the NIDA model were designed and offered with say, a 24 month window, I believe there would be a significant take-up, and all interested students would be willing to take on a sensible amount of work to bridge the academic gap between pre and post 1992 training, as well as meet an administrative cost.
I propose an adaptation of the NIDA model as a middle way solution.
As can be seen from comments made by petitioners, this issue is literally a matter of livelihood to some of us, and a matter of career opportunity for all of us.
On the other hand, not only are the training institutions missing out on a generation of experience and expertise that could greatly enrich their students, but this same lack now happens, or may shortly occur in youth groups and in secondary schools across the country. That cannot be right.
As of this writing the very students from whom Royal Central proudly proclaims continuity and kudos include: Olivier, Ashcroft, All the Redgraves, Pinter, Dench … none of whom have Degrees.
What amounts to the accidental exclusion of a generation of expertise and experience in acting and other theatrical disciplines in the ways outlined above, does no service to the future development of the profession.
I suggest that a creative response to this petition and proposal can only enhance the reputations of the institutions involved.
For these and other reasons I offer this petition and proposal for your consideration.
List of Petitioners
Open Letter to all former graduates of The Central School of Speech and Drama.