Over the Academy’s history it has undergone many changes. From moving to its current location in 1905 to the introduction of the first stage management course, the re-opening of the re-furbished Gower/Malet Street site and the appointment, for the first time, of a Director of the Academy the history of RADA has been rich and varied.
In 1904 Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the leading actor manager of the day, famous for his spectacular Shakespeare productions, established an Academy of Dramatic Art at His Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket and the following year the Academy moved to 62 Gower Street. Fees of six guineas a term were doubled the following year, except for the children of actors, who only paid half. A managing Council was established on which Tree was joined, among others, by Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero and Sir James Barrie. Within a few years they were augmented by other major figures, including W.S. Gilbert, Irene Vanbrugh and, perhaps most significantly, George Bernard Shaw.
In 1912 Shaw donated the royalties from Pygmalion to RADA, allowing the Academy eventually to benefit substantially from the success of My Fair Lady. Shaw gave occasional lectures to the students, including one called ‘Elementary Economics for Actors’. Pre-First World War graduates included Athene Seyler, Robert Atkins and Cedric Hardwicke. During this period Beerbohm Tree took some forty Academy graduates into his company at His Majesty’s.
In 1920 the Academy was granted its Royal Charter and a year later a new theatre was built in Malet Street, backing on to the Gower Street premises. This was opened by the Prince of Wales. In 1923 John Gielgud, who would eventually become President and first Honorary Fellow of RADA, studied for a year at the Academy, playing 17 parts, including two Hamlets.
In 1924 the Academy received its first government subsidy in the form of a Treasury Grant of £500. In 1927 the two Georgian houses which make up the Gower Street site were replaced with a single new building and George Bernard Shaw donated £5,000 towards the cost. This was opened in 1931 by the Duchess of York. During World War Two, the Academy’s theatre was demolished during an air-raid. Public performances shifted to the City Literary Institute and students also toured with shows to the troops.
In 1950 George Bernard Shaw died and left one third of all his royalties to RADA. In 1954 the new Vanbrugh Theatre was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. During the late 50s and 60s the growth of the LEA grant systems ushered in the ‘new wave’ of actors including Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Glenda Jackson, John Hurt, Michael Williams and Anthony Hopkins. Also in the 60s a Stage Management course was introduced and the Vanbrugh Theatre Club and Specialist Technical Courses were established.
In 1972 Richard Attenborough becomes Chairman and in 77 the ‘Tree’ evenings, named in honour of RADA’s founder, were introduced with leading agents and casting directors invited to presentations by final year students in the Vanbrugh.
During this period another ‘new wave’ of actors emerges at the Academy. These included Jonathan Pryce, Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, Anton Lesser, Kenneth Branagh and Fiona Shaw. In 1999 HRH, The Princess of Wales, visited the Academy as President of the Council to install her predecessor, Sir John Gielgud, as RADA’s first Honorary Fellow.
The Academy invested the capital accrued from the Shaw bequest in the freehold of 18 Chenies Street, with the help of donations from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts and British Telecommunications. In 1996 RADA received a £22.7m grant from the Arts Council National Lottery Board towards redeveloping the Academy’s headquarters. This included a complete re-build of the Vanbrugh Theatre and Malet Street premises. The Council established a committee to raise the necessary ‘matching’ partnership funding of £8m over four years.
In1997 the rebuilding of the Gower/Malet Street premises commenced and the Academy extended its portfolio of Short Courses for British actors and special courses for American and Japanese students in London. It was in 2000 that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II re-opened the Academy’s new and refurbished Gower Street/Malet Street building. RADA later became (with the London Contemporary Dance School) one of the two Founding Affiliates of Britain’s first higher education Conservatiore for Dance and Drama. RADA courses are validated by King’s College, London.
Lord Attenborough became President of RADA and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance join the Conservatoire. In 2004 RADA celebrated its Centenary. LAMDA, National Centre for Circus Arts and Central School of Ballet join the Conservatoire for Dance & Drama.
RADA began to host premieres. In 2006 they hosted the UK premiere of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer that starred RADA graduate Ben Whishaw at the Curzon Mayfair. In 2009 it was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that starred RADA graduates Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall at the Mayfair. Nowadays the theatre moonlights as a part-time arts cinema. In 2011 the Academy’s first cinema screen officially opened based in the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre and presented recent releases, re-mastered classics, Q&A events, live broadcasts and much, much more.