Stage and screen stars pay tribute to Glasgow's performing arts school as it reaches landmark anniversary

A host of Scotland’s leading cultural figures have paid tribute to the county’s best-known performing arts school as it reaches a landmark anniversary.

Alan Cumming is among the stage and screen stars featured in a new book charting 175 years of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow's celebrated music and drama school. Picture: Robert McFadzean
Alan Cumming is among the stage and screen stars featured in a new book charting 175 years of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow's celebrated music and drama school. Picture: Robert McFadzean

Stage and screen stars Alan Cumming, James McAvoy, Richard Madden, David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa are among those recalling their formative years in a new book charting the 175-year-history of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Other notable alumni featured in Raising The Curtain, which includes never-before-seen photographs and other archive material, include jazz maestro Tommy Smith, opera singer Karen Cargill, former Scots Makar Jackie Kay and the writer, director and performer Johnny McKnight.

Published by Luath Press, the book also features personal tribute from Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, who is the current patron of the RCS and stage musical impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh.

James McAvoy is one of the best known stars to emerge from Glasgow's performing arts school. Picture: KK Dundas

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    The RCS can trace its roots back to 1847 when the Glasgow Athenaeum was established in the city to "provide a source of mental cultivation, moral improvement and delightful recreation to all classes.” Officially opened by Charles Dickens, it initially offered music classes, however its curriculum was expanded to embrace drama tuition in 1886.

    The institution would go on to become the Scottish National Academy of Music in 1929, securing royal status from King George VI in 1944. The Glasgow College of Dramatic Art was formed in 1950 and became the first drama school to run its own TV studio in 1962.

    The new identity of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama was forged in 1968 and remained intact until a change of name to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2011 to better reflect the range of courses on offer.

    More than 3000 students from 60 countries are now taught music, drama, dance, production and film at the RCS every year, with a normal programme of more than 500 public performances attracting upwards of 40,000 members of the public in recent years.Last year it was rated one of the world’s three best performing arts institutions, alongside New York’s Juilliard School and the Royal College of Music in London.

    Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa has recalled his time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for the new book Raising The Curtain. Picture: Robert McFadzean

    Writing in the new book, Prince Charles says: “Scarcely can the founders of the Glasgow Athenauem have imagined the success with which their endeavours would be crowned, or the many and varied forms in which the performing arts are now expressed.

    "They would, however, surely recognise the timeless and joyous qualities of creativity that make the arts an essential part of being human and they would, I am sure, rejoice to see the way the Conservatoire has fulfilled their aims so splendidly.”

    Sir Cameron writes: “If recent times have shown us anything, it is that we need our arts and artists more than ever. Yes, for our economies, but also for our wellbeing, for the essence of our souls.”

    Tennant said: “I was very young when I came to drama school. I was 17 and my time was very formative.

    The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2022. Picture: Guy Farrow

    "It was three years of very intensive growing up, experiencing life and I was getting to do what I always wanted to do.

    "It was a huge release coming straight from school to where I felt like I was released into the world.

    "They were three of the most important years of my life. They were hugely informing of who I became and I wouldn’t have stood a chance in the professional world without it.”

    McAvoy said: “My training at the RCS benefited me hugely.

    Doctor Who and Good Omens star David Tennant. Picture: Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock

    "You get three years of doing tons and tons of jobs – by the time you’ve left, you’ve worked on 20 different jobs and have peformed so many times – you just don’t get that in the industry.”

    Recalling his audition, Cumming said: “I read and reread the prospectus like a spy who was about to go undercover, so on the day I finally walked through the doors and was shown around by a lovely student called Margaret-Ann the place was almost familiar like it was the place I was meant to be.

    "I don’t know what I would have done had I not been accepted. I didn’t have a back-up plan for the rest of my life.

    “A letter was waiting for me when I got home from work one evening a week or so letter. And it wasn’t just a letter of acceptance, it was an escape, a new life, a miracle.”

    Kay said: “I attended the juniors' drama course between the ages of 12 and 16, and I can honestly say that, no word of a life, that it changed my life.

    "It gave me confidence in my imagination, taught me not to have fear when speaking in public, and how to project my voice, taught me how to improvise, and most importantly made me a whole group of new friends that were different from my school friends.”

    Scotland's former Makar Jackie Kay. Picture: PA

    Cargill said: “I was of the generation who watched Fame, so going from Arbroath to RCS as a 17-year-old was amazing.”

    Madden said: “The Conservatoire gave me the confidence to call myself an actor, it gave me a place to study my craft, it gave me the skills and encouragement to go out in the world and be the best that I could possibly be, to achieve what I wanted to do and set out to do.”

    Gatwa said: “RCS’s approach was very personal.

    "It provides you with opportunities to develop in a way that you can’t in the outside world.

    "I felt very cared for. It was a safe space. Scotland has a thriving theatre scene and I think that being away from the mayhem of London allows you to concentrate on honing your craft.

    "Glasgow is one of the best places to live and study. The nightlife and people are wicked. The vibrancy of the city is infectious and you just have a good time.

    "There’s so much going on there and it’s a beautiful city with real character – I would not have picked anywhere else.”