Acting - Contemporary, MA

Duration: One year, full-time, September start

Award: Master of Arts in Acting (180 credits)

MA Acting - Contemporary - "Miss Johnson".

A creatively, physically and intellectually demanding one-year advanced level conservatoire contemporary acting programme, designed for students with previous experience and/or training. The course addresses the actor’s relationship with the writer, from Early Modern times to the present day and aims to hone individual’s technical acting craft within an ensemble.

About the course

MA Acting - Contemporary combines teaching in voice, movement and acting techniques with an exploration of some of the key playwrights who have helped forge the canon of Western theatre, including the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists, Chekhov, Beckett and Kane. Uniquely, it explores the relationship between the two artists at the core of much Western theatre: the actor and the writer.

On this course, plays are frequently developed in collaboration and students are encouraged to explore their role as creative artists. There will be a chance to work with, and alongside, established playwrights as well as students on Central’s MA Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media.

Course Detail

Maintaining Central’s tradition of innovation in actor training, this course is taught over an extended 42 weeks, with up to 35 hours per week of classes, rehearsals, seminars and tutorials.

Indicative course content includes:

In the first four-week intensive (September – October), students will explore the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries both in their historical context and their influence on contemporary theatre, as well as some of the approaches by leading contemporary practitioners associated with Early Modern theatre. These may include Declan Donnellan, Peter Brook, John Barton and Sir Peter Hall. Complementing this will be an introduction to the neutral mask, and intensive physical and vocal work.

In the subsequent studio (October – December), students will examine Stanislavski and some of the contemporary acting techniques that have derived from the grandfather of modern acting pedagogy. Students will also practice period dance, stage combat, clowning and storytelling, undertaking a series of études that will develop skills in observation, imagination, transformation and character analysis. These will continue into the remaining studios. Students will continue to work on voice and movement alongside scenes from plays of the early 20th century, including those of Chekhov. Practical assessments, showings and critique take place at the end of each studio, and individual personal guidance from tutors is available throughout the year.

In the second studio (January – March), the course examines plays from the latter half of the 20th century, including the work of Pinter and Kane. There is also the possibility for students to bring in scenes from other leading European and American playwrights. Students will study textual form, including the use of fractured narratives, codified silence and stillness, and the semiotics of the actor. Alongside voice and movement, students will begin the process of collaborating directly with writers.

In the second intensive (March – April), students rehearse and perform a fully-supported production of an existing 20th or 21st century text or new play. Here students will apply all of the practical and character analysis skills they have developed to date.

In the third studio (April – June), the course concentrates on the development of new work. Students will work in collaboration with a number of playwrights at different stages of the development process. This may include working with writers on the MA Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media course on the development of a script for the final production, or on rehearsed readings and workshops at Central or in industry venues. Students will also be encouraged to visit a number of new writing venues. During this studio, students will also perform in an industry showcase at Central, or a professional venue, in collaboration with students on the Classical course.

In the final intensive (July – August), students rehearse and perform a fully-supported production of either a new play or existing 20th or 21st century script as a final summation of their practical work. This may be especially commissioned for the group. Productions will be chosen and cast both to challenge and best represent the particular character of the cohort and the individual students. Throughout the practical training, students work on a Sustained Independent Project (SIP) of written and/or performance enquiry, part of which may be presented as a solo performance.

After the final intensive (August – September), there is a writing-up period for the final stage of the SIP.


Assessment is through a mixture of practical work, including clown improvisations, scene studies and public production work.

To successfully complete the MA Acting - Contemporary, students will also submit a Sustained Independent Project which may include elements of solo performance and critical writing.

Download MA Acting Course Specification 2016-2017 (407.64 KB)

Professional Focus

Staff on this course are connected to industry, and well-placed to secure practical development opportunities for students.

All students participate in Central’s MA Acting showcase. Students from Ireland and the USA have also participated in the Drama UK Showcases in Ireland, New York and Los Angeles.

In the past few years, MA Acting – Contemporary students have also:

  • Worked with a leading playwright on a new commissioned play, Amanda Whittington in 2015 and Rebecca Lenkiewicz in 2014
  • Worked at the Royal Court Theatre with their writer’s groups
  • Worked with members of the experimental theatre company The Factory
  • Acted in masterclasses with esteemed directors including Michael Grandage and Ian Rickson
  • Taken part in workshops with Hannah Miller (Head of Casting, Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Attended sessions with Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Boyd and Declan Donnellan.

Recent Visiting Staff include:

Riz Ahmed, Mark Bell, Rachel Bown-Williams, Ally Cologna, Natasha Fedorova, Michael Grandage CBE, Dr Stephe Harrop, Paul Harris, Anna Healey, Geoffrey Hyland, Greg Hicks, Ian Rickson, Hannah Miller, Anna Morrissey, Thomas Ostermeier, Jeff Perry, Guy Retallack, Professor Colin Teevan, Professor Stanley Wells.

Entry Requirements and Admissions

Applicants will normally have either undertaken conservatoire training, have professional acting experience, or have a degree in the broad field of performance and drama studies. Students from other disciplines may be considered if you have sufficient experience of theatre. An offer will normally only be made after audition and interview, and you may also be required to take part in a short practical workshop and/or submit a short piece of written work.

We particularly encourage applications from groups currently under-represented in higher education, such as students with disabilities and members of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. Find out more information on Central’s commitment to equality and diversity.

English Language Requirements

Applicants for whom English is not their first language are required to prove their English language proficiency by gaining an overall score of 7.0 in an IELTS test. We do accept equivalent English language qualifications. Applicants are advised to gain this certification as early as possible.


If you are selected for an audition for a place on MA Acting we will require you to undertake the following:

  • an audition for which applicants are required to prepare two contrasting speeches of their own choice lasting no more than two minutes each. One of these must be from an Elizabethan or Jacobean play, the other a 20th or 21st century modern piece. One or both of these speeches may be required during the audition. Applicants may be asked to discuss their choice of speeches and should be prepared to work on them as required
  • an interview to discuss your choice of speeches, your skills and experience, and reasons for applying to the MA Acting at Central.

Please wear comfortable, appropriate clothing, as for a movement workshop or a rehearsal. You may be asked to work barefoot.

The process will also give you the opportunity to learn more about the course. On the day all applicants will be allocated their individual audition time slots. Please leave the rest of the day clear of other commitments.

Selected candidates will be invited to attend a recall audition at a later date, and may also be asked to submit a short piece of written work (again at a later date) to demonstrate their aptitude for the course.

All candidates will be informed of the outcome of their audition at a later date.

International Auditions

Each year Central hosts a number of auditions outside of the UK, with a team of tutors from Central traveling to meet applicants. The international auditions are designed to replicate the London-based audition experience in every aspect (other than a tour of our site!). See our Event Finder for listings of upcoming audition locations and dates.

Distance Auditions

We are not able to consider DVD or distance auditions for this course - all applicants must attend a live group audition and interview.

International Students

Visit the International Students section to view details of English language requirements for Central's courses.


View profiles of the academic staff who teach on this course. Click on each staff member to see their CV.

Martin Wylde, BA, MPhil, PG Cert LTHE, FHEA

Principal Lecturer, Programme Leader MA Acting

Sarah Davey-Hull, BA, MA

Course Leader MA Acting Contemporary

Ben Naylor, BA

Lecturer, Course Leader MA Acting Classical

Beyond Central

Graduate employment and career pathways for MA Acting include:

Actors in leading theatre venues around the world, including national and international tours, in the West End and on Broadway, and for the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre of Scotland, Royal Court Theatre, The Bush Theatre, English National Opera, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Old Vic, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman, National Theatre of Norway in Bergen, National Theatre of Greece, Teatro Gayarre de Pamplona, The Shaw Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and Sydney Theatre Company in Australia.

Television: Criminal Justice, HBO; Downton Abbey, ITV; Sons Of Anarchy, FX Network; Camelot, STARZ.

Film: Nightcrawler, The Road To Guantanamo, Shifty, Baby Daddy, The Hour, and Four Lions.

Graduates have also worked as writers, directors, designers, filmmakers, producers, agents, musicians, singers, scholars, comedians, acrobats and dancers.


In only 10 years the MA Acting course has built up an impressive alumni list including:

Riz Ahmed (2006), film credits include NightcrawlerIll ManorsThe Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Road To Guantanamo, Shifty and Four Lions. He has been nominated for several British Independent Film Awards and a BAFTA Rising Star Award. AKA Riz MC, he is also an accomplished rapper having performed at the Glastonbury Festival and appeared in Gaddafi: The Living Myth at ENO and worked with Asian Dub Foundation. Together with Heems he founded The Swet Shop Boys.

Zoe Boyle (2006) Television credits include Lavinia Squire in Downton Abbey, Jean Truscott in Breathless and Trinity Ashby in Sons Of Anarchy. Theatre includes productions for the RSC, Royal Court, The Old Vic and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Jamie Cameron (2013) Immediately on graduating joined the company of Once, The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End.

Lara Jean Chorostecki (2008) Film credits include Michelle in Antiviral and Sally in Please Kill Mr Know It All. Television credits include Freddie Lounds in Hannibal, Bridget in Camelot and Charlie in Dan For Mayor.

Elicia Daly (2007) Theatre credits include Her Naked Skin (National Theatre), and The Beautiful Cosmos Of Ivor Cutler (Vanishing Point & National Theatre of Scotland) for which she received a Best Actress at the Critics Award for Theatre Scotland 2014).

George Kemp (2012) On graduating joined Sydney Theatre Company for their production of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead with Tim Minchin.

Martino Rivas (2011) Film credits include Los Girasoles Ciegos (nominated for a GOYA for Best New Actor).

Nicholas Thompson (2008) Until recently was the Artistic Director for The Old Red Lion in Islington.

Peter Wilkinson (2007) Actor, writer, Senior Lecturer at Teeside University, and filmmaker. Girl In The Woods his first short film with Blind Crow Pictures was long listed for a BAFTA in 2013.

Current Students

Related Courses


Jamie Cameron
Jamie Cameron

Graduated 2013, immediately joined the company of Once The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End.

Tutors at Central encourage a work ethic and level of preparation that equip you for the professional acting world. We are encouraged to take creative risks and make bold choices. This helps your work stand out in the audition room and beyond.

Register for email updates