Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 November 2008
When assessing the changing status of actresses in the twentieth century, attendance at drama school provides an obvious starting point since formal training is part of what Susan Bassnett calls the 'wider cultural context' that contributes to the status of women in the professional theatre. In this chapter, the focus throughout remains with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, although reference is made to other schools. Founded on 25 April 1904 by actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the academy is generally recognised as the first institution to offer a prescribed course of training. This is owing to the temporary nature of all previous acting schools: to use Adrian Cairns's term, their poor 'standards and staying power'. However, the chapter also draws upon the published experiences of professional actresses, as well as material from interviews conducted with three highly successful British actresses from different generations who have first-hand knowledge of drama schools and subsequent entry in to the profession: Eve Best, Gillian Raine and Harriet Walter. By concentrating upon a number of performers, the chapter seeks to examine the particular significance of vocational training for the female performer. Although other sources for potential employers are tapped by agents and casting directors, drama schools are now the preferred route into the profession, as attested by a 1994 report for the Arts Council, which estimated that 86 per cent of working actors had received vocational training. The schools initially emerged in the first decade of the twentieth century to serve the needs of commercial and most often male actor-managers, who desired junior members of their companies, male and female, to have received some formal training.