Academy Role Is a Class Act; NEW SCHOOL WILL TEACH ASPIRING THESPIANS HOW TO MAKE A BARD PART LOOK GREAT

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Byline: Marion McMullen

ACTORS are going back to school to learn about the Bard as Shakespeare gets all shook up in Stratford. Theatre writer MARION McMULLEN finds out what the future holds for the famous Warwickshire town.

IMAGINE Coventry acting star Sir Nigel Hawthorne passing on words of wisdom to a wide-eyed newcomer while a veteran actor sits nearby.

It is a dream that Adrian Noble cherishes and he is wildly enthusiastic about plans to encourage Britain's future Hamlets, Macbeths and Romeos and Juliets.

The artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company is pushing ahead with the launch of Stratford's first Actors' Academy and next year will see the first intake of aspiring thespians.

The academy will open its doors for the first time next summer and plans to train the next generation of classical actors.

"They will start off at The Other Place," announces Adrian proudly, "but whether that's where they will finally hang up their hat hasn't been decided yet.

"Through the academy we want to continue to support classical actors and directors of the future - to offer a unique training ground to the next Judi Dench or Antony Sher."

The academy aims to recruit actors at the start of their careers and expose them to the very best talent in classical theatre. The training will end with a Shakespeare production that will form part of Stratford's festival season.

The new venture is part of ambitious plans that will rock Shakespeare's home town over the next few years.

The Arts Council has already earmarked pounds 50 million for major building work and the money is being matched by the world famous theatre company.

The first glimpse of the new-look theatres will be revealed this autumn followed by a round of public consultations before the builders move in.

Meanwhile, the company is saying goodbye to its London base at the Barbican, offering more flexible contracts for actors and planning to broaden links with America.

Acting stars Kenneth Branagh and Ralph Fiennes have already pledged to return to work with the company and there are plans for a promenade version of Shakespeare's Pericles, a major new production of Alice In Wonderland as well of The Merchant Of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

But the new-look RSC will come at a price. Up to 60 jobs will go in Stratford from among the 500-plus workforce in addition to further job losses at the Barbican.

"In the short term there will be job losses and it will cause suffering," says Noble. "It will be hard. I know these people and I know this town absolutely backwards. The point about this new plan is it offers the route for long-term prosperity for Stratford and the West Midlands and the economic growth of the RSC. …