To Drama School Or Not to Drama School?
I’m sometimes approached by young actors about advice for drama school and often get asked, ‘if I don’t get a place, can I still have a career as an actor?’
Although my personal advice to every young actor is to spend three years training at a drama school, I’ve worked with many superb actors who haven’t and are enjoying successful careers, working regularly at the RSC, National Theatre etc.
My own journey as an actor really began when I was a student at the University Of Bradford. On the campus was a brilliant little theatre called Theatre In The Mill, which was full of passionate artists, who welcomed me in with open arms. Following my degree course, I wanted to do nothing else but act. I remember my dilemma at the time about whether to apply to drama school right after university, or as I had managed to sign with an agent, begin working professionally without training. On advice from different people at the time, I decided to not take the drama school path. I worked on various theatre plays, television and radio, but after approximately 2-3 years I realised I wanted to develop and work on my craft at a drama school. I personally felt as though my ability as an actor was being limited by my voice in particular, having had no voice training. I was also encouraged to apply by a couple of directors I had worked with during that time. So I decided to give it a go and was lucky to get a place at RADA. I had an amazingly productive three years there and did feel the difference the training had given me, especially in terms of voice, technique, confidence and range. But I’ve also met many actors who don’t feel as though they have gained from drama school, the way I feel I have. I suppose everyone is different.
A while a go, I tweeted a thread on Twitter of ten points of advice for young actors, who are starting out their career without drama school training. Here they are below:
- Look out for theatre groups and get yourself on a stage. Any. Do PLAYS! LOTS! Build up your experience. That’s where you really learn your craft. On a stage. In rehearsal. In front of an audience. Acting in front of a camera is an important skill to master also, but on the stage is where you learn how to act. Nothing beats this.
- Get involved in as many acting workshops as you can and note down anything you find useful. Remain open-minded, absorb everything, give everything a go and keep the things which help you on your journey to finding a character.
- If you have a chance to meet and work with trained voice teachers, learn as much as you can from them! Note down all the exercises and practice them every day. Voice training is one of the most beneficial things about drama school. But training your voice shouldn’t stop at drama school. It should be a regular practice for an actor, just as fitness training is a regular practice for a boxer.
- Pick up a Shakespeare play and read a section every day. Even for 10 mins. OUT LOUD. Do it in your own private space and go full out with the text. Don’t worry about ‘overacting’ it! You’re in your private space and nobody is watching. Stretch your acting muscles. There are so many benefits from doing this.
- Read books on acting and hold onto whatever you find useful. I’d recommend the following: THE DRAMATIC TEXT WORKBOOK AND VIDEO by David and Rebecca Carey, THE RIGHT TO SPEAK by Patsy Rosenburg, IN-DEPTH ACTING by Dee Cannon, TO THE ACTOR by Michael Chekhov, RESPECT FOR ACTING by Uta Hagen.
- Read as many plays as you can! But in particular, pick one from the following and study it in detail: a play by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Oscar Wilde, Moliere, a Restoration Comedy, a Jacobean play, an Ancient Greek play and a play by a living British playwright.
- Go to Museums, Art Galleries, Exhibitions etc, learn about history and how people lived during different time periods. Documentaries, books, audiobooks, podcasts, films. Take an interest in nature, animals, different cultures, people. People watch where ever you go! All of this will feed your imagination.
- Master at least 5 accents. Find samples that are helpful online. YouTube is a good place to start. Recommended ones: RP, General American, London, Yorkshire, Midlands, an international one which might be particularly useful for the parts you could possibly be cast in. Obviously, embrace your native accent!
- Watch plays! I know theatre in not cheap, but keep an eye out for cheap tickets/discounts and ‘Pay What You Can’ Evenings. Various theatres do this, such as the Arcola Theatre.
- Look after your body and mind: Yoga, Pilates, The Gym, Meditation, anything you enjoy and benefit from. Your body, together with your voice is your instrument. Respect it. Look after it. You will need it for your entire career.
I hope this is helpful advice and feel free to add more to this list.
Asif is an award-winning actor and writer whose work includes: Tartuffe (RSC), A Kind Of People (Royal Court), Love, Bombs & Apples (UK/US Tour), Multitudes (Kiln Theatre) and Snookered (Bush Theatre).
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