To read a full review of this title, click here
So you want to go to drama school?
Thinking about applying to drama school? Discover some words of wisdom from the people involved in the application process, both applicants and audition panellists, who can offer you great tips for success, and advice on how to avoid some of the common pitfalls …
So, you’re taking the plunge: you’ve decided you’d like to train at drama school. It’s a hugely competitive sector to enter – even just the education and training side of things – but there’s no need to worry if you’re not a fully fledged stage star as of yet: ‘The audition process is not based on “tingle factor”,’ assures Geoffrey Colman, head of acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. ‘One of the primary things we’re looking for at drama school is someone who we can train.’
Finding the school and course for you
It may be the case that you’re entirely decided upon what area of drama training you’re most interested in: your heart might be set on pursuing musical theatre, or following your dream of becoming a set designer – but when applying for a course, you’re also making an important decision about the kind of institution you’ll be studying at. ‘Drama schools, on the surface when you look at what is written about them, they all appear to broadly cover the same sort of material – but, they are all actually very different, and what is the difference is the culture of the organisation. And ultimately the only way you can find out about that institution is to go to the place,’ says Giles Auckland-Lewis, principal of the Institute of the Arts Barcelona (IAB).
Paige Round, BA Hons acting (musical theatre) graduate from Central, says: ‘As an actor, when you go to one place you get that feeling – wherever you are, whichever drama school you’re at – that you’re kind of supposed to be there.’ And with varying cultures and outlooks, an acting course delivered by one institution will be a very different experience from studying acting at another, so it’s important to look at the composition and make up of a course. ‘When I was choosing a drama school to apply for, I was researching really heavily into the course structure and what they taught there,’ says Frankie Payne, a former foundation student from IAB. ‘I also find it really appealing to look at the alumni from that school, to see if there’s actors/actresses that I aspire to be like, or who are in work that I’m interested in doing.’
You may have a very strong idea of what you’re looking for from drama training – but what kind of candidate is that drama schools are in search of? The Liverpool Institute of Performing Art’s (LIPA) senior lecturer in acting Stephen Buckwald: ‘We’re not looking for finished products. If you were a finished product, you have no need for drama school – go out there and do it in the industry. We’re looking for diamonds in the rough: people who have the potential of being great actors, but with a bit of training we’ll be able to fine-tune them in a way, that they’re going to be able to be prepared to go into the industry.’
Drama schools are in search of students with great potential, but they also want people with the right attitude who will appreciate the experience. Nick Moseley, course leader for acting at Central, says: ‘We need to, firstly, know that that person is going to work hard; that they really want the training and they haven’t just come along to pick up a few additional vocal skills in order to support what they can already do. The second thing we need to know is that they are generous and very good at working in a team collaboratively, that they’re supportive of their other actors.’
Organisation and preparation
‘We cherish the creative spirit, but what we also see is that the organisational spirit needs to be very, very strong,’ says Geoffrey Colman. ‘You have to really mark out the calendar several months before an audition in order to stand a chance.’
If you’re someone who tends to leave essays or coursework until the last minute, and is a bit of a scatterbrain for remembering important dates, now is the time to turn over a new leaf. Your initial application form will be an important first impression, so you should really make sure to dedicate it the time it deserves. ‘If an application form has not been filled in correctly – if there are bits missing, it’s written badly, it’s badly presented, has bad spelling – you could not even get an interview,’ warns Giles Auckland-Lewis. ‘You need to be very clear and concise in your form about what you’ve done, what you’re planning to do, what your qualifications are, and don’t bother with things like “I’ve always wanted to be a … such and such” or “I am passionate about” or “I love this” – you presume that because you’re making the application. And don’t forget that your experiences are just as important as your qualifications.’
It can be easy to become bogged down in the form-filling, but it is imperative that you remember why you’re doing it, what a successful application can lead to. You have to keep your love of theatre at the heart of what you’re doing. Giles Auckland-Lewis says: ‘If during the audition process and the interview process you are asked – and there’s a 99% chance you will be – “What was the last piece of theatre you went to and what was your response to it?”, if you have to pause and think very long, and you realise the last piece of theatre you went to was three years ago on a school trip, that will do you no good. You should go and see as much as you can – I’m not just talking about big West End shows: small touring shows, shows in your local theatre, amateur shows – you’ve got to show that you love theatre. Because theatre is a huge diaspora of things, so you’ve got to go and see shows and be able to think, reflect and talk about them, because that shows more clearly than almost anything else, your real commitment to a career in acting.’
Having put a lot of time and effort into your application and meeting the deadline for submission, the next stage, should your application be successful, is being invited to an audition. What are the panel looking to find out from candidates in that first audition? Geoffrey Colman explains: ‘In the first round at audition, you are required to merely share with us what you have prepared: how you have engaged with the play, how you’ve engaged with character, and for us to observe that in a very sort of hands-off, sitting behind a panel desk, like way. That is crucial for us to, in a sense, to see what’s available to the rehearsal room.’
In order to give yourself the best chance possible, you have to select audition pieces which really work for you – but that’s not the only thing to consider when selecting pieces. Sebastian Harcombe, former head of acting at IAB and RADA, says: ‘It’s usually pretty standard that you have to do for most courses one classical piece and one contemporary piece. Sometimes schools may specify specifically “this” piece, or they give you a list of pieces, they might even specify “not this piece”, so you really need to check very carefully what those rules are.’ So, ensuring that you’re following the guidelines for that specific institution you’re auditioning for – they will vary – what else do you need to consider? ‘The choice of speech in terms of nearness to self is a big consideration for a candidate,’ says Geoffrey Colman. ‘There is never going to be a speech written with your name on it, you’re never going to find yourself in a play. What you have to do is find yourself in the imaginative world of character, and that is also part of the test.’
While you want to feel confident on the day, be warned of sticking too close to what you’re already comfortable with; LIPA’s Stephen Buckwald says: ‘Don’t necessarily go for the easiest option – don’t go for the obvious choice. Many students that come in and audition, they audition with a particular play they studied at A level. The problem with that is everybody that age is doing A levels, and a majority of students are all studying the same.’ Buckwald also strongly advises: ‘Once you have chosen the monologue, read the play! You think that would be common sense, but you’d be amazed how many students don’t even bother to read the full play.’
Once you have been through the difficult process of whittling down the options for your audition pieces the next step is to go about learning them. ‘Prepare your pieces incredibly well,’ says Nick Moseley. ‘You need to learn the lines so well that you could do them on a unicycle while juggling – backwards. In order that you don’t have to be worrying about whether you know what the next line is. You can be actually thinking and responding in the audition.’
It can be an intense and nerve-wracking experience, but it’s important to try to engage beyond your solo audition, and make sure you give your all throughout the whole day. Geoffrey Colman says: ‘Doing an audition at drama school is not just about the solo audition. It’s about how you engage with your peers at that audition day: that might be in a warm up, it might be in a group exercise, or it might just be in the way you’re sitting, watching, observing the speeches being performed that you are not performing. If you are generous of spirit in the rehearsal room, that will be noted.’
Dealing with the outcome
‘Getting into drama school is difficult,’ says Giles Auckland-Lewis. ‘You can only prepare so much. Doing lots and lots of work will only get you so far. Because there is, despite what everyone might tell you, a large degree of luck involved on the day.’
You may indeed be one of the lucky ones who gains successful entry to their drama school of choice on their first try. Unfortunately, in reality, it is extremely competitive, and for a large number of applicants they will not be successful first time. ‘If you don’t get in one particular year, do not be disheartened,’ says Giles Auckland-Lewis. ‘You should apply again, if you’re really committed, and again and again, until you get into the place you need to get into to.’
Central graduate Paige Round recommends taking each audition as a learning experience: ‘Take what they say – go away and get some experience if that’s what they ask you to do. Or if they think you’re too young go away for a couple of years – do some things that you really want to do that will kind of round you as a person. See the world and then come back – keep coming back, because very rarely do they take people who’ve tried just once.’
Surely, though, there must come a point, after numerous rejections, where you should consider that fact that drama school may not be for you … not so! Sebastian Harcombe says: ‘I’ve known people come back six years in a row – it’s a fond feeling people have for those people who are that determined to train.’
So, in conclusion, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try (and try, and try and try!) again.
All of the expert advice featured in this article comes from Pumpkin Interactive’s DVD So you want to go to Drama School? Available to purchase at www.pumpkin-interactive.co.uk/products/so-you-want-to-go-to-drama-school.