Under the spotlight: Robert Stefani

Robert Stefani graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 1970 with a Diploma in Speech and Drama.

From playing Jesus in an amateur production which saw him hauled around Easterhouse on a cross to being scalded by the Depute Principal for being a latecomer, Robert enjoys colourful memories of his days as a student at the RSAMD.

Ayrshire based Robert, 68, went on to enjoy a successful career in education, theatre and television. With his daughter now studying viola on the BMus (Hons) degree, it’s Robert’s turn to go Under the Spotlight”¦

What are your memories of studying at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama?

RS: I remember the theatre with great affection. It was a bit disconcerting to hear the underground trains rumbling below the building and to feel it vibrating, especially during a quiet, intense or romantic scene being enacted on stage.

The Athenaeum at Nelson Mandela Place may have been a bit leaky but it had a warmth, charm and lots of character. John Groves, the Depute Principal, used to love waiting on the steps outside just before 9am to give a stern telling off to any student who was foolish enough to arrive late. It worked though and only happened to me once!


Which course did you study?

RS: I started on the acting course but at some point before the end of first year, I transferred to the teaching course. I was fortunate enough to have the Glasgow University entrance requirements but I also had to sit and pass a theatre history exam in order to catch up with the rest of the first year on my new degree.

I was also going out with a second year teaching course student who would later become my first wife. This may have had something to do with my decision to transfer from the acting to the teaching course!


Who were some of the staff members and students around at that time?

RS: Colin Chandler was Principal and John Groves was Depute Principal. Voice staff included John Colson, Mary Stuart and Jackie Crago. Grace Matchett looked after movement and production staff included Freddie Robbins, Cecil Williams and Toby McLaughlan. Jane McNair worked on fencing and Tony Whelan was on lighting and stage management.

Some of the students on either the acting or teaching courses at that time included Ronnie Letham, Bill Cassidy, Jack Glass, Gordon McAllister, Phil Winning, Melvin Trott, Glen Calderwood, Jim Moodie, Ken Christie, Ruth McInnes, Maja Ardal, Terri Cavers, Sandy Easton, Bob Morson, Helen Boggis, Xanthe Gardiner, Margaret Jarvie, Gordon Sandison, Anne Louise Ross and Ewan Smith.


How do you reflect upon your time at the RSAMD?

RS: I had rather an interesting start to my time on the acting course and didn’t settle particularly well. At the end of my first term, I thought my studies were going to come to a premature end but transferring to the teaching course helped me come into my own.

There were still lots of opportunities for me to act, which really appealed to me, and I was now really enjoying learning in a higher education context.

The teaching course was laying the foundations which would serve me very well during the rest of my career.


Do any performances particularly stick in your mind?

RS: Occasionally the RSAMD would receive requests from outside groups and organisations for students to be involved in various ventures. Three of these I was involved in stick in my mind.

The first was a modelling photo shoot for Coats Thread. Needless to say I’d never done anything like that before but I enjoyed it, got to work with an experienced female model, kept the clothes, the photos were good and I got paid! What’s not to like.

The second was altogether different. I was asked to play the role of Jesus in a community drama production of the Easter story being performed by a church group in Easterhouse. The rest of the cast were ordinary Easterhouse folk and church members. The production was directed by Brad Kent, a visiting American minister. It was a very moving experience and involved me being attached to a cross and hauled upright, as per the crucifixion!

The production got a bit of media attention and some of us were interviewed for a BBC religious affairs programme. A photograph was taken of me walking through the streets of Easterhouse in costume as Jesus, holding a very young baby (the minister’s son) and this made the front cover of one of the tabloid newspapers over Easter weekend.

The third was a walk-on role in Tyrone Guthrie’s production of The Anatomist at The Citizen’s Theatre. It was a privilege to be in the presence of such a great man of the theatre. I have the production poster, signed by Tyrone.


How did your career progress after you graduated?

RS: I followed up my studies at the RSAMD with a one year postgraduate teaching certificate at Jordanhill College of Education, graduating with distinction. For a couple of years, I taught speech and drama to young people and adults across Aberdeen, appearing in local productions while I was there.

The bulk of my career was spent at Craigie College of Education in Ayr, which ultimately became University of the West of Scotland. I was appointed as a lecturer in speech and drama and was promoted to subject leader for drama, then co-ordinator of research and staff development, then academic director of initial professional programmes.

When I started teaching speech and drama in 1971, I couldn’t have guessed that by the end of my career, I would be a senior academic in a faculty of education in a university, with responsibility for the day to day running of many of its programme. I was contributing at a national level to the strategic development of teacher education in Scotland.

During the Craigie College years, I directed Undermilkwood, played Grandier in The Devils, Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Simon in The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Thomas Becket in Murder in the Cathedral.

Outside the college, I created my own theatre group called Shoestring Theatre. I directed and acted in productions of Box and Cox, Joe Orton’s Ruffian on the Stairs, Walking through Seaweed by Ian Crichton Smith, and Edward Albee’s Zoo Story.

From about 1980 -2000 I signed up with an agent and started doing television work, firstly as a supporting artist, then in small featured roles. I appeared in many of the television dramas coming out of Scotland during that period including City Lights, Naked Video, Taggart (many times), The Justice Game, Tutti Frutti, Your Cheating Heart, Rab C Nesbitt, Rikki Fulton’s Scotch and Wry, Take the High Road and Dr Finlay’s Casebook.


How did your studies help equip you for life beyond the walls of the RSAMD?

RS: In lots of ways, some not surprising but others quite unexpected. There is absolutely no doubt that there were many transferrable skills.

Moving to the teaching course was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. I still got to do lots of acting and it turned out I had an aptitude for teaching. It’s my view that teachers are actors of a sort. They have to play many roles each day, communicate effectively to an audience, have ”˜stage’ or classroom presence, they need to speak clearly and have good voice technique. My time at the RSAMD equipped me with these skills and once I became a teacher, I was in a position to enable and equip students with these essential skills.

I still have a particular interest in all aspects of voice, speech, diction and accents. The fact that I found myself acting in many theatre productions post-RSAMD is directly related to what I learned about the craft of acting there. There was a period of time when I was earning so much money from my television work that I had to take the precaution of hiring an accountant to sort out my tax affairs. I like to think I had the best of both worlds. I forged a very successful career in teacher education but was able to have a parallel career in acting, both professional and amateur.

At some point during my three years at the RSAMD I fell in love with learning partly because I discovered I was good at it. Over the years since then I have studied with the Open University, achieving a first class honours degree in Modern European literature, undertaken Dorothy Heathcote’s one year postgraduate course at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne gaining the Dip Ed Drama, converted my Certificate in Dramatic Studies from the RSAMD into a BA in Dramatic Studies from Glasgow University.

As I gained promotion in my main career as a teacher and educator, I was required to present at many meetings, courses and educational events. While these experiences always involved a certain amount of nerves, I believe that underneath, I had a bedrock of confidence which helped me to successfully survive such experiences in the public speaking arena. I attribute that to my time at the RSAMD.

Interestingly, my daughter Nicole is now at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland studying viola on the BMus (Hons) degree. Her options have allowed her to choose some acting classes, which she is finding very beneficial to her music performance work. The process has gone full circle!


Would you like to go under the spotlight?

Contact Mark Good, Communications Officer (Alumni):

Email: M.Good@rcs.ac.uk

Phone: 0141 270 8367

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