RADA director: Five things I wish I could tell my younger self

30 March 2018

This article is a part of our Skills Young People Need for Work in 2030 campaign, with the i newspaper, helping share what skills leaders of today think are going to be the top ways young people can prepare for the careers of tomorrow. Be sure to follow #Skills2030 to see their top advice over March.


Edward Kemp, 5 things I wish I could tell my younger self

Practise. Specifically, the piano, for which I had years of lessons, but as I never practiced, I never made much progress with – but more generally, if there’s something that you want to be good at, wanting it isn’t enough.

It’s the 10,000 hours principle: it takes 10,000 hours of practice at anything to become expert. Originality can descend like a lightning bolt, but more often it comes from someone for whom the craft has become so second nature that they can transform it without thinking.

Ask stupid questions. Because I was reckoned to be bright I avoided asking questions in case I exposed my ignorance. I realised the unhelpfulness of this eventually and it’s advice I always pass on to students. In reality the question is rarely ‘stupid’: often it’s something that lots of others in the room don’t understand but are also too cool or scared to ask; sometimes it’s a radical or challenging new perspective – whatever, you will increase the collective knowledge of the group.

Most good ideas grow from bad ones. If you sit around waiting for perfection, you’ll never achieve anything. Better to jump in and make a mistake you can learn from, or which impels you or someone in your group to do better. And in art and life – unlike in exams – there is almost never a single right answer. This is why exams (which I was very good at) are not a great preparation for life (which I’m still working on).

Above all, take risks. I was lucky to have some wonderfully creative teachers, who rejoiced in tearing up the textbook (sometimes literally) in order to give us an experience which they rightly thought was a better means of gaining knowledge than passive listening. Some of my most theatrical experiences at school came in chemistry lessons. But it was really only when I joined the National Youth Theatre that I encountered an environment where the cool thing to do wasn’t to hang back and observe but to dive in, get messy and see what happened.

When a group of people drop their guard and play (with the application with which children play) the creativity unleashed is phenomenal.

Find and work with people who aren’t like you. I learnt this at the NYT too and I’ve tried to make it a habit ever since. These days I’m always asking myself ‘who isn’t in the room?’, ‘whose perspective might we be missing?’. As a writer, and as a theatre-maker, you always want to encounter new angles on the world. It’s why we’re doing a lot of work at RADA to ensure that every person of talent, from whatever background, can access our training, because it will make for better plays and films and TV.

There are some who view diversity as in opposition to excellence; for us diversity is key to it – if you’re not open to all the voices, how do you know you’ve got the best ideas? I also realised a few years back that the reason I teach isn’t to have my pre-conceptions confirmed, but to be proved wrong. I love it when a question from a student (one of those ‘stupid’ questions) forces me to reassess my work: I get better and the work remains immediate. It’s also why I find a programme like Speakers For Schools so invaluable – the schools probably think it’s all about us imparting knowledge, but actually we’re surveying the future.”


Edward Kemp has written and made plays, musicals, operas, ballets, circus, radio and films. He is also the Director of RADA.

You can read this article on the i newspaper’s website here.

Our Skills 2030 campaign will continue with more speakers across the UK. Keep up with the coverage of this talk series here.