Have you ever felt, when you’re performing onstage, acting out a scene, or hearing applause for your interpretation of a character, that you could do that for life? Turning drama from your passion, love and strength into a soaring acting career – potentially rubbing shoulders with the stars of Hollywood – is a difficult step. There are many routes into the industry and going to drama school is only one of them. There is no right or wrong path, only the one that suits you best. Courses at drama schools are practical and vocational, designed to prepare you for a life working as an actor. If you are considering applying to drama school to gain a practical acting qualification, A Younger Theatre’s seven top tips and advice to help you try to secure one of those elusive places might just help you score the dream profession you’ve always wanted.
Read on to find out how to enter our exclusive competition with Nick Hern Books to win a copy of Helen Freeman’s So You Want To Go To Drama School?
1) Commit to the craft
Undergraduate acting courses typically last for three years. There will undoubtedly be a huge amount of competition for very few places. You are judged not only on your dramatic abilities and theatrical talent, but also on your determination to thrive in your chosen field. You will be expected, for the majority of drama courses, to attend at least one audition and an interview to gain entry to your course. Know what you’re letting yourself in for and make sure it’s what you really want.
It is incredibly tough to get onto a drama course. The National Council of Drama Training states that “between only 2% and 10% of all the students who apply for a place at drama school actually succeed in getting onto accredited courses”. It can help to take second-level education as far as you can first. Many schools do not just base their acceptances on pure talent – they seek a certain level of academic achievement too. For example, Central School of Speech and Drama seeks “minimum entry requirements [of] two Cs at A Level and three Cs at GCSE. Offers may be higher than this depending upon expected grades and performance at audition.”
Securing employment as an actor can be challenging, even with a degree behind you, but a drama qualification can serve to enhance your understanding of your craft and will also give you an opportunity to get advice from experienced academics working in the industry.
2) Sell yourself
If you make films, write scripts, have had a role in a school play, entered acting competitions or won prizes for creative work, talk about it. Any bit of previous experience is a bonus and will enhance your application.
Many drama schools offer short specialised courses – or even one-day introduction workshops – with industry experts for a quick immersion in acting, directing or technical production skills during the summer or academic year. Use these courses to get a flavour of what it would be like to study drama at the institution – and don’t forget to mention your participation at these programmes during your interview.
Applying through UCAS will require you to write a personal statement. Be sure to demonstrate your passion and give strong reasons for applying. Talk about yourself both as a person and as a performer.
3) Don’t be shy
Why have you got a passion for drama? The Admissions team wants to know that they are making the right choice by allocating one of the rare places to you. Know what you want to say. No one but you will convince them that drama is your calling and your vocation. Read the prospectus, check out their Facebook and Twitter so you can tell the interviewers what appeals to you about their particular course. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – as long as they’re not answered on the first page of the prospectus.
Interviews can range from a casual chat about your dramatic interests to an intense discussion of the last play you saw. Write down a list of points beforehand that you’d like to try to discuss, or even have a mock interview with a friend. This can help settle your nerves but remember, the conversation should flow naturally. Show the staff how committed you are to acting, but also demonstrate your ability to work as part of an ensemble or team.
Doing several auditions will increase your confidence, and they’re usually held worldwide. For example, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art holds auditions for their courses in cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, Dublin and New Delhi, as well as all over the UK. Apply to a few institutions. If you don’t get selected for one, you will still have other options open to you. It’s your choice, in the end, and it’s better to have a wide selection of drama schools from which to take your pick.
4) All the world’s a stage
When choosing a monologue to perform at your audition, have at least two up your sleeve. Read the instructions that the establishment send you carefully, as they will often list the regulations for the audition. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, for example, request applicants prepare “two contrasting monologues each under three minutes in length (one modern and one Shakespeare/Jacobean) and have an optional Shakespeare/Jacobean piece ready to present if requested by the panel.”
Bring a copy of each monologue with you to glance over before your audition, and make sure to have read the entire play and know it well. Having perused it multiple times will benefit you; you will know at what point the scene is occurring and you will have more of an insight into how the character is feeling. Pick a monologue that appeals to you. This will come across to the staff. Be able to explain why you chose that particular character in that specific play.
5) Be money-wise
It may be necessary to invest in financial support to fund your drama degree. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may be eligible for a grant or bursary, or you could consider taking out a loan.
Many institutions offer dance and drama scholarships to very talented students. Student Finance England states that these awards “are offered to the students who demonstrate the most potential to succeed in the profession [and] will pay for the majority of your tuition fees, but you’ll also be expected to make a contribution. You could also get extra money to help with your living costs.”
Check out individual websites to see what financial aid various institutions can provide. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for example, awards scholarships that “may be made to cover either the full cost of tuition fees or a fraction of them, and may include an element for maintenance”. Guildhall also gives “in excess of £1 million per annum” to students seeking funding assistance.
There are always options available at postgraduate level, should you not study drama as an undergraduate. You can apply for a masters or doctorate in drama, even if you’ve specialised in another area for your degree. Drama schools consider students from any background, whether English, medicine or business, as long as they have an undeniable passion and talent for performance.
You can always gain some more drama experience before you apply for a course. Try to get some work experience in the industry and make contacts. Anything from helping out on a student film, being cast in a fringe theatre production or getting a small role as a film extra will help you to make yourself known in the acting world. Take some film or acting classes. Go to your local library and take out some books on your craft; familiarise yourself with the industry’s terminology.
Life experience, too, is always valued in an application. You could discuss your world travels, a gap year where you volunteered abroad, or even why you’ve decided you need a change of career. You could even share your passion with others. Teaching drama can be a great way of encouraging students to develop their love of acting, as well as being a very fulfilling job for many drama enthusiasts.
7) Have a great support network
Studying drama and forging a career in performance will be tiring physically and mentally, and many demands will be placed on you – from heavy rehearsal schedules to technique assignments – especially in final year (doing a showcase in front of industry professionals, agents and casting directors is a common feature of the last year of drama study).
The Conference of Drama Schools notes that “a full-time student can expect to be in classes for at least thirty hours per week, plus research and preparation time. Students need to be physically and mentally fit.” Having the backing of family, friends and peers is crucial and can really help you to concentrate on achieving your goals, particularly during the audition process.
Drama school will give you incredible creative stimulation, collaborating with professionals and fellow students alike. Having a wide range of skills at your fingertips – writing, playing an instrument, singing, dancing – to combine with your acting talent will give you a strong foundation for a flourishing career.
Make a showreel of the work you were involved in during your university years to show prospective agents. The National Council of Drama Training states that the majority of actors work professionally for “an average of 11.3 weeks of the year”, so it’s vital to get as much voluntary experience as you can under your belt. The actors’ union Equity recommends that actors know “how to prepare for and perform at auditions and casting sessions… they must be uninhibited, in order to temporarily assume other identities.”
Pursuing a degree in performance will not only sharpen your acting skills and cement your love of theatre, but will place you in a firmly established drama community where you will be able to take your first steps towards a career as a professional actor.
For more in-depth information on the application process to drama school and making the right choices for you, Helen Freeman’s So You Want To Go To Drama School?, published by Nick Hern Books (RRP £9.99), is packed full of practical advice on choosing the right drama school, applying for funding and preparing for your audition. This title is available to purchase here.
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A Younger Theatre is giving away two copies of So You Want To Go To Drama School? courtesy of Nick Hern Books. For your chance to win a copy, simply tweet @ayoungertheatre telling us what your audition monologue of choice would be and why by Monday 14 November. Make sure you’re following us on Twitter to be eligible to win!