On Studying at RADA: "Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

The cast of  As You Like it  at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in July 2015 (Photo courtesy of  Nathanael Taylor )

The cast of As You Like it at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in July 2015 (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Taylor)

So many people have been asking me what it was like to study Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). If I could describe it in a few words, I would say that it was: tiring; fun; hard; and satisfying. 

Though the time was short, we worked on so much. We worked every day on scenes and speeches from most of Shakespeare’s plays, especially the more difficult and lesser known ones, and my acting toolkit has expanded exponentially.

During the course of the Acting Shakespeare program, we had a number of presentations (or showings) for the faculty and our fellow students, including: 

  • Period dance - We presented at least six different styles from the Renaissance under Dancing Master Darren Royston, focusing more on dances done during the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
  • Sonnets - My sonnet teacher (and now one of my favorite people in the whole world), Zoe Waites, chose Sonnet #40 for me to perform: “Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all.” It was scandalous.
  • Stage combat - We presented the fight scene in Act 1, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet. Our particular scene was set in a school rec room where a group of nerds (Capulets) were playing an RPG, when suddenly a bunch of Jocks (Montagues) came in and started causing trouble. We had some wonderfully choreographed hand-to-hand combat thanks to Master of Combat Bret Yount.
  • Scenes - My amazing scene teacher Tim Hardy thoughtfully selected a role for me to work on; I played Helena in in Act 1, Scene 3 of All’s Well That Ends Well. It ended very well… :)
  • Singing - Our choir of 28 students sung two madrigals together under the arrangement of Andrew Charity: “Since First I Saw Your Face” and “Adieu, Sweet Amaryllis.”
  • Monologues - I chose to work on a Queen Margaret speech from Henry VI, Part 3. With the gentlest of touches, my teacher (Alan David) pushed me to test new boundaries within the character. Someday I hope to play this character on stage; Queen Margaret is one of my favorite females in all of Shakespeare.
The three Rosalinds. (Photo courtesy of  Nathanael Taylor )

The three Rosalinds. (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Taylor)

Our last two weeks were devoted to producing an entire play, from a shortened rehearsal process to three performances. The director, Nona Shepphard, chose to work on As You Like It, which she set in Andy Warhol’s factory in the late 1960s, and I was absolutely thrilled to be cast as Rosalind. Due to the time constraints of preparing to put on a play in a week and a half, I shared the role with two other actresses, Amanda Gann and Shanna Sweeney. The role was broken up into thirds, and I got to play the final Rosalind who comes into her own and gets her happy ending.

It was incredibly tough to rehearse and perform a Shakespeare play on such a tight schedule, but spending 12+ hours a day on my craft was so satisfying. I’ve always wanted to work in TV as well, so I consider this training for my future series regular jobs.

Overall, I think the most beneficial things I got out of my training was an ease of stage physicality and a stronger confidence in my instincts and abilities. Though the program was difficult at times because I was learning from a number of teachers with conflicting views ranging from simple breathing to iambic pentameter, I also had teachers that trusted me with the text and let me do my thing. I was a bit like Dumbo learning that he didn’t need a feather to fly!

Rosalind prepares in her Ganymede costume. (Photo courtesy of  Nathanael Taylor )

Rosalind prepares in her Ganymede costume. (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Taylor)

In addition to the teachers mentioned above, I’m grateful for the opportunity to do Alexander Technique and Laban under the tutelage of Katya Benjamin. Though I had taken Alexander before getting to RADA, her classes were pivotal to my development. I’d also like to say that I wish I had more time with Alison Hardy, who taught the Character in Text class, and Nick Hutchison, whose knowledge of history was so detailed that I took notes on every word that came out of his mouth. All of these great teachers will be in my heart and mind forevermore; it was a life-altering experience to learn from such brilliant people.

At this point, I’m back in Los Angeles and excited about the future. I have a new work ethic and schedule that’s perfect for television, as well as a toolkit for Shakespeare that’s overflowing. 

I will miss you, RADA, but more than anything I’m grateful for the knowledge that you’ve given me.

ActingCasey McKinnon