Stage Beyond Theatre Company member Bryan Sutherland has taken his theatrical skills to new levels after gaining a prestigious RADA Shakespeare Award.

Bryan embarked on the ambitious awards assessment aiming for bronze before Christmas. However, he was delighted to learn he had recently achieved his award much sooner than anticipated.

The famous London-based Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) provides world-leading training for actors, stage managers, designers, and technical stagecraft specialists. Notable alumni include Alan Rickman, Albert Finney, Michael Sheen, and Ralph Fiennes.

The Shakespeare Awards are a unique opportunity for young people, adults, amateur and professional actors alike to work one-to-one with a RADA tutor performing a speech, sonnet or scene from Shakespeare and get personal feedback to develop their skills and inspire their acting.

Bryan has been a member of Stage Beyond, the award-winning Derry-based theatre company for adults with learning disabilities for the past six years. As well as many prominent roles in the company’s productions, his acting experience includes historic re-enactments and work as an extra on hit TV shows such as ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Derry Girls’.

Bryan loves to set himself new challenges and when he read about the RADA Shakespeare Awards during the summer, he wasted no time applying. There are five levels to progress through, starting at Messenger all the way to Platinum, either in-person at RADA or remotely online.

After being put through his well-rehearsed paces via Zoom, Bryan travelled to London to work with RADA tutors alongside Award participants from around the world which he relished. He said the tutors acknowledged that the professional training members receive at Stage Beyond including getting to grips with Shakespeare, had stood him in good stead. Bryan was King Claudius in ‘Hamlet, Prince of Derry’ which was adapted for Stage Beyond by RTE during the pandemic and won a New York Festivals Radio Award for ‘Best Digital Drama’.

As well as having to memorise Shakespearean monologues as part of the Awards assessment, Bryan attended classes in voice projection and physical performance, plus group rehearsal workshops to learn important new techniques and gain a deeper appreciation of The Bard himself.­­

He said: “The tutors are so open, friendly, and engaging. When I got back from London, I was eagerly waiting to hear what else might be entailed to successfully complete the Bronze Award. You can imagine my surprise and delight to receive a letter of congratulations soon afterwards which also contained my certificate.”

Bryan, who is now hoping to advance to the next Award level which is Silver, said he wanted to be a trailblazer for people with autism and show that having a learning disability is not a barrier to accessing formal arts training and awards.

He enthused: “If you aren’t prepared to put yourself out there, you don’t know how far you can go in life exploring your potential. I have no grand notions other than trying to see how far I can go as an actor. I found my niche at Stage Beyond, which has opened so many exciting new opportunities for those of us who are lucky to be members of such a progressive and supportive theatre company.”

Dee Conaghan, Artistic Director of Stage Beyond, congratulated Bryan on his success at RADA. “We are all so proud of Bryan’s achievements including his recent Shakespeare Award which speaks volumes for his abilities as an actor­­. He has shown huge commitment to his theatre work securing this accolade in a comparatively short period which included travelling to London for more training. At Stage Beyond we believe that everyone has a chance to shine, and our members continuously show that there really are no limits to what can be achieved.”