There’s something special about the students of RSAMD, which is why producers and writers fly in from all over the world to work with them.
Read the credits for Rocket Science, a musical doing the rounds in New York City, and you’ll see an unexpected name. The show, which won this year’s Richard Rodgers Award for talented composers, owes a big debt to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD). If it strikes you as odd that a Glasgow theatre school should be considered a player on Broadway, it does not seem so to the Great White Way composers who want to get their shows off the ground. They have discovered that the RSAMD’s commitment to training actors and singers – and to giving them experience working on original material – allows them an invaluable opportunity.
“We have a great reputation as a place where new work can be developed,” says Maggie Kinloch, the RSAMD’s director of drama, recalling a trip to New York earlier in the year when she met two young Broadway writers at an audition. “They were terribly excited because there was an opportunity for them to develop something here – to the point that they were quite happy to pay their own air fares and accommodation in order to spend a week working with a good group of students and musical directors. We’ve got a reputation out there.”
The one-year masters course in musical theatre gives students real-world experience on the high-profile and high-pressure Edinburgh Fringe. Under the banner of One Academy Productions, they are presenting three shows in Edinburgh this year and discovering for themselves the opportunities and the challenges of playing in the world’s biggest arts festival. On the one hand, they could be spotted by an agent and get their big break; on the other, they have to work as hard as everyone else to attract and please audiences.
The company’s headline show is the indie-rock musical version of Spring Awakening, Frank Wedekind’s upfront study of adolescent sexuality. Staged by Andrew Panton – the director behind last year’s Rocket Science – the show gives a 21st century spin to the 1891 play that was so scandalous it wasn’t publicly staged in Britain until 1965. The musical version by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik was an Off-Broadway hit in 2006, winning no fewer than 11 Tony Awards. The London version picked up four Olivier Awards.
As well as this high-energy production, One Academy is drawing on the talents of Guy Hollands, of Glasgow’s TAG, and Philip Howard, formerly artistic director of Edinburgh’s Traverse, to direct In Touch and Closest to the Moon, two musical works in progress.“They get a chance to carry the development work through from the early stages and to learn about the input of the musical theatre performer,” says Hugh Hodgart, the RSAMD’s head of performance. “The Fringe is when the wider musical theatre world comes to Scotland, so it’s a great opportunity for them to be seen by London-based and internationally based people.”
For the students as much as the composers, it’s a tremendously valuable stepping-stone towards a professional career. Andrew Keay is starring in Spring Awakening as Melchior, the charismatic schoolboy with a book-learned knowledge of sex. The singer, actor and musician agrees the Fringe presents a great chance to kick up a storm with a youthful rock’n’roll musical and also to try something new with the two works in progress.
“It’s exciting to work on Spring Awakening, especially because it flips between 19th century Germany and the contemporary music side, which is quite a challenge,” says Keay, 22, who also helped develop Douglas Maxell’s debut musical, The Bookie, which will tour Scotland in the autumn. “With the platform productions, it’s good to work on something that’s so new and to get ownership of them, whereas Spring Awakening is fully formed from the professional West End and Broadway productions, so you don’t have creative input into what’s on the page.”
He has been performing since the age of five, but this is his Fringe debut and he is looking forward to opportunities it will open up. “I’m really excited about the challenge,” says Keay, who was brought up in Ayr. “To make your show work is a lot of effort. It’s important experience for me to be able to rehearse in a professional environment, to move to high-calibre venues at the Pleasance and to have a varied audience and lots of feedback.”
Spring Awakening, Pleaseance Courtyard, 4-30 August (not 17,18,25), 3.05pm, From £8.50, Tel: 0131 5566550
In Touch, Pleaseance Dome, Selected Dates, 12.10pm, From £5, Tel: 0131 5566550
Closest to the Moon, Pleasance Dome, Selected Dates, 12.10pm, From £5, Tel 0131 5566550