The Future of Drama Schools
It’s no secret that, even before the global pandemic, drama schools were in trouble. Most over-charging but under-delivering and some facing very serious investigations about faculty behaviour. Then of course there was the backlash from the BLM movement which is perhaps the clearest example of the problem with drama schools; they’re deified dinosaurs in a diverse, digital age.
Drama schools are typically slow to respond to changes in the industry and there are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, they are crippled by a protracted study time. Today’s graduating students were taken on to reflect the industry of three years ago but things change too quickly now.
Secondly, most faculties are made up of older teachers whose limited work history in the industry is outdated and doesn’t offer nearly enough diversity of experience.
It is also worth noting that the buildings that house these institutions are even older and, although the fees are incredibly high, they are a continual drain on their finances which restricts the budget for visiting lecturers.
Another victim of the dire financial landscape is the student community. Diversity of experience is also lacking as funding options disappear and the cost of living rises asymmetrically with household income. Given the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, drama training is dangerously close to becoming the preserve of the affluent, upper-middle class. Unsurprising, given the fact that the average actor earns just £16k a year… half the cost of drama training!
So, what can be done? Is it too late?
Perhaps the better question is: why should we do anything?
The reputation of these schools is mostly built upon the success of alumni. Aging stars that walked the halls are held aloft as examples of the career you could hope to achieve after graduating the esteemed school despite half a century’s difference in opportunity and lifestyle. Are we to believe that these theatrical idols were purely a product of their training? How do we account for the acclaimed actors of our time who did not attend drama school? The cream always rises to the top, as the old saying goes.
Time for a bold statement. Drama schools are merely talent brokers. After all, they audition thousands and only give places to those they deem the most talented. Surely these students are least in need of training? But drama schools need talented students to pass through their doors in order to market themselves to the next group of young hopefuls. The sad truth is a lot of talented students have their innate skill and unique castability eroded throughout their time in training and never realise their true potential.
So, what other options do we have?
There’s no denying the benefits of training. Actors need to develop the technical aspects of their craft and they need consistent practice in order to maintain confidence in their abilities. However, three years spent in the bubble of their drama school year group will only do so much. Instead, attending acting classes and workshops – which take place all the time, all over the country – will provide a much richer variety for actors. They also serve as brilliant networking opportunities. Online learning is a great option too. It has certainly come to the fore as a result of the lockdown and many are realising the endless benefits that come with it.
As with many industries, the greatest results come from a truly vocational training. Learning on the job. These days, however, getting a job is becoming increasingly difficult. Being an actor is harder than acting. Many drama school graduates face the harsh reality of unemployment and have to work tirelessly, for years, to get their first credit (at which stage their drama training is irrelevant anyway).
Imagine the position you could be in if you started the tireless effort to achieve that first credit immediately, instead of spending three years in training. This approach does require something called individualism. The principle of being independent and self-reliant. This is an essential trait for a successful actor and it’s difficult to learn in drama school. Interestingly, another definition of individualism is: a social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.
The future of drama training needs to reflect our present reality. We need to increase the focus on inclusivity and individuality whilst reducing the huge expense of both time and money. We need to maximise the relevance and effectiveness of our training whilst minimising the social and geographical restrictions.
Drama schools will change. Some already are. Some are being developed, as we speak, in reaction to everything stated here. I founded VADA for the same reasons. After all, as Gandhi once said,
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mitchell Hunt is an actor, coach and founder of the Virtual Academy of Dramatic Art. A carbon-neutral, non-profit, online drama school with a mission to increase the accessibility, availability and affordability of drama training.
The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Headshot Hunter or its staff.