Published: Tue 7 Mar 23

An interview with youth theatre group RAW Academy

In April 2023, five new plays at Dean Street are part of NT Connections – the National Theatre’s nationwide youth theatre festival.

One of the plays, (Circle Dreams Around) The Terrible, Terrible Past is performed by youth theatre group RAW Academy. Based in Waltham Forest, just around the corner from Soho Theatre Walthamstow, we caught up with RAW’s inspiring founders, Sammy and Gray, to ask them about their fantastic performing arts academy, and a timely anniversary.

Sammy, you’re from Waltham Forest, is that right?

Yes, I’m from the borough, I grew up here, I went to schools in the borough. The Granada was my local cinema – I used to watch films there.

We heard that you two first met at Soho Theatre!

That’s right! We met 26 years ago this March when we performed together in the final production at Soho Theatre on Dean Street before the theatre closed for the refurb. We played opposite each other in a 3-hander, in a play called Noise by Alex Jones. We ended up falling in love and 26 years on we’ve got three children! It’s a really beautiful love story.

How did you get the idea to form RAW Academy?

20 years ago we were doing really well as actors, doing TV, film and theatre, and in between acting jobs we would teach. Gray was fortunate to have Central Television to back him and I (Sammy) went to drama school in the days when it was still fully funded. We wanted to be able to provide that kind of support for young people so we founded RAW, which stands for Real Actors Workshop. We wanted to be creative, but keep it real, keep things grounded. We wanted young people to realise that you didn’t need to go to a national drama school to get a good foundation. We realise that theatre can sometimes be a hard industry to get into so we wanted to reach as many people as possible to create new work and support them. Nowadays, everyone calls us the RAW family. We provide great mentorship. So many people have come through RAW. People have met, had children and now their children come here too.

Where are you based and what goes on at RAW?

Our workshops take place after school and in the school holidays. We’re round the corner from Soho Theatre Walthamstow at Centre17, a performance and community venue, and we also have workshops in Highams Park, as well as teaching drama and wellbeing  in local schools. People from across the borough come to RAW, as well as from across London. We’re an acting academy that provides weekly workshops in drama and movement for children and young people aged 5 – 21, training all aspects of putting on theatre and acting for screen. We help and support young people to use the arts to be happy and confident. We build them up – to be resilient, to laugh, to make friends, to listen to each other, all those crucial life skills. It’s a place where young people can voice where they feel they’re at emotionally, in a safe, nurturing and inclusive environment.

I just wanted to say a big thank you for what you do, it’s far beyond a drama class, you are preparing young people for the difficulties and the joys that the world holds.
Parent of young person who attended RAW Academy workshops.

Has anyone famous gone through RAW?

Yes, we’ve got quite a few famous alumni. The most well-known at the moment is Harris Dickinson. He’s been in Trust which Danny Boyle directed, the Triangle of Sadness which is up for three Oscars, he’s in The King’s Man, he was the prince in Maleficent. RAW was Harry’s training. Now he comes back and does workshops with the RAW students, he loves it.

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