RWCMD Graduate Makes History with the RSC

Katy Stephens and Chuk Iwuji

Q&A with Katy Stephens

For the first time ever the RSC has staged all eight of Shakespeare’s history plays with just one company of actors. The chronicle covers a turbulent 88 years of English history with an ensemble of 44 actors performing over 250 roles. The project culminated in Stratford in 2008 with a performance of the complete cycle, a marathon 24 hours of Shakespeare. Katy Stephens (Acting, 1990) played all the major female roles.

In 2009 Katy was awarded the What’s On Stage Award for Best Actress in a Play, the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Ensemble Performance and the Evening Standard Editor’s Award. She talks about her experiences at the RWCMD and how they have contributed to her success.

What made you choose RWCMD?

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama has always had such a good reputation. I really enjoyed my time there. My favourite memory is of when we had a ‘work in’ for two days to protest against student grants being changed to loans. Both music and drama students stayed in the college for two whole days. We did all sorts workshops and performances and it was just the most amazingly creative 48 hours!

It is said that an acting career is a marathon not a sprint. How hard was it to find work after graduation?

When I first left College I spent around four years working for a few small touring companies. In 1996 I was cast in ITV’s London’s Burning, but I love working with text and verse so television didn’t satisfy me. After two years I left London’s Burning to do some more rep jobs. I spent a lot of time at Coventry Belgrade and with the Colchester Mercury Ensemble. Then I ended up at the RSC! It’s been a long hard struggle, but it’s been worth it.

Did the College equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to be able to find work after leaving RWCMD?

Yes. The College was always a great support in that way. Our lecturers really made sure we understood how hard it would be and prepared us mentally. They were always very honest about the grit and determination that we were all going to need.

How did it feel when you got your first part with the Royal Shakespeare Company?

I was over the moon, absolutely thrilled! I spent my first long contract with the RSC doing the Histories Cycle. When they offered me another two and a half year contract I jumped at the chance! The great thing about the RSC is that they invest in you as a performer. We have voice and movement classes and workshops all the time so I’m constantly learning and developing my craft.

Katy Stephens as Joan of Arc

How do the pressure and long hours that you experienced at College compare to working in professional theatre?

RWCMD pushes you to your limits in order to teach you about every aspect of the industry. I worked a lot harder there than I do in the real world. I learnt to work hard and play hard - which is essential for this job.

What would you say was your most memorable role in College and how does it differ from your roles in the professional theatre?

I loved playing Lady Macbeth during my degree - so it doesn’t differ much from my professional roles! I always wanted to do classical theatre and my studies allowed me to gain great experience in that area.

What are your plans for the future?

I just want to learn as much as I can about this job and get as good at it as I possibly can. That’s my only ambition really. It’s really important to never lose faith. My advice to current students would be to always believe in yourself and believe in what you do.

Katy plays Rosalind in As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company from April-October 2009. Joining her in the current ensemble are fellow RWCMD graduates, Dyfan Dwyfor (Acting 2007) and Oliver Ryan (Acting 1997).

See the RSC website for more information on Katy.

Read the What's on Stage interview with Katy.

Read the Guardian reviews of The Histories Cycle and As You Like It.