‘Theatre with a purpose’: studying art for social change

Studying theatre in London at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is an immersive overseas experience, but it can also be the first step to effecting meaningful social change through performance.
‘Theatre with a purpose’: studying art for social change

The applied theatre courses offer students skills to make a difference to society through performance.

Using theatre to empower under-represented groups, and working with school students, community groups, prisoners and refugees among many others, are the focus of two significant courses at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. 

The school offers a huge suite of performance-based undergraduate and postgraduate courses, but its Bachelor of Drama, Applied Theatre and Education, and Master of Arts in Applied Theatre are equally as renowned.


Both courses have access to funding from the Leverhulme Trust, which allows students to travel throughout the UK and abroad to facilitate drama projects for social change.

Previous projects included drama workshops about safe relationships and body image to groups of girls in a care home in India; a Beijing-based project that empowered people from the Chinese trans community to make short films; using theatre as a way to discuss gender inequality within Palestinian communities, particularly with youth, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories; and offering performing arts opportunities to young adults with Down syndrome in Chicago, USA.

Central’s Student Recruitment Marketing Manager, Scott Bellamy, said these courses are one of the School’s cornerstones.

‘It’s about theatre, but it’s about theatre with a purpose,’ he said. ‘The courses are looking at making theatre for social or educative change; how you can use theatre to transform people’s lives.

‘It is some of the most meaningful and transformative work that we do.’

With famed alumni including Dame Judi Dench, Andrew Garfield, Kit Harrington and Lawrence Olivier, Central is well known for its acting courses. But Bellamy said the applied theatre courses are popular due to the breadth of training opportunities, including placements.

‘One of the big benefits I think is that with other courses such as acting, it is very clear what you are going into,’ he said.

‘With the applied theatre courses you are gaining such a wide range of skills – you will do some performing but you will also do a lot of facilitation, you might do some producing, some writing, you’ll get a wide gamut of skills so in terms of your career direction there is a huge number of areas that you could go into.

‘It is not surprising that we have graduates who come out of that course and go into performance but we have people who become heads of education in big theatres, or people who transition into teaching.’

Students can access funding to facilitate projects around the world.

Auditions and interviews are being held in Sydney on 7 December for all courses starting in October 2019.

Bellamy said there are numerous benefits to studying in the heart of London. First and foremost is the opportunity to become embedded in a thriving arts culture.

‘If you are looking to go into theatre and performance arts-based careers, then I would say Central is a real cultural hub,’ he said. ‘You are not only getting world-class training, you are also getting that opportunity to immerse yourself in the London theatre culture.

‘And that’s not just West End theatre, it’s the fact that you can find a theatre on most street corners across London. There is so much theatre and so much opportunity in London that it is really incredible.’

The school is just about to open a new multi-million dollar building which will include state-of-the art spaces and facilities. Bellamy said all courses are run within the one complex, and that’s a great advantage for students.

‘One of the best qualities of Central is the community and all of our students are passionate about the same thing – drama, performing arts, theatre,’ he said. ‘To have actors, costume makers, stage managers and applied theatre students all together is really special. They are all part of each other’s networks which benefits their careers.’

Specific support services are available to make the transition to living in the UK easier for Australian students, including a week-long pre-course induction into the school but also London itself.

Bellamy said another advantage is that Central has been chosen to be part of a new visa pilot scheme by the UK Government which allows those with student visas to stay an additional six months after the completion of their course.

To register for the Sydney auditions on 7 December, visit the website.


Cathy Anderson

Thursday 22 November, 2018

About the author

Cathy Anderson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist and the co-founder of digital content startup, Ginger Brown.