Training is Vital – Whether at Drama School or Not

The Stage recently reported on the success of the NYT’s rep season. This new form of training actors is the brainchild of the NYT director, Paul Roseby, who was also responsible for controversial remarks earlier in the year questioning the benefits of three year drama school training. The program trained and rehearsed 15 actors intensively since spring and then brought their three plays into the West End programmed alongside STOMP at The Ambassadors Theatre.

Roseby’s concerns with drama school training wasn’t the quality of the teaching but the consequences of beginning with a £27,000 student debt in an industry synonymous with instability.

Roseby’s pioneering new form of training is evidence of the importance he places on training actors properly for the profession they want to enter. Roseby said that “All fifteen [of the NYT rep company] are now either signed with agents, including Markham and Froggatt, Troika and Independent and United Agents, or they are in discussions with them.” It’s clear only after some form of rigorous training that students feel prepared to perform a showcase. Drama school showcases are still currently the main viable opportunity for getting signed by an agent.

Last September, The Stage hosted a discussion on how the nature of casting and by extension, the wider industry, had changed enormously over the last 20 years. Henry Bird reported: “With reality TV shows turning untrained amateurs into West End stars, and people getting cast on the street for spots in TV adverts, an outsider could be forgiven for thinking that breaking into acting has become easier. Of course, the acting industry is actually more competitive than ever. It seems that in acting, as is so often the case, it ain’t what you know, it’s who you know. Or rather, which casting directors your agent knows.”

John Barr got his first big role, in Jesus Christ Superstar, in 1981 through an open audition that he saw advertised in The Stage. That was just how it was done then, he says. “We all did those open calls for years. I remember when Cats was being cast, walking by theatres and seeing all these dancers warming up. It’s not like that anymore. It’s done through casting directors now.”

Although casting directors now hold the most power in the industry, agents still play an important role as the link between actor and casting director. It is often a closed circle, however, which can be frustrating for those at the start of their careers.”

Although the financial debt incurred from drama school may cause applicants to think twice about applying, agents still highly prize the calibre of student that drama schools unfailingly produce.

Audition Doctor has proved time and time again that sessions are vital to securing recalls for auditions. There are normally 4 stages to an audition and Audition Doctor lessons are essential the further along you get. Although there are significantly fewer applicants, the recalls require even more of you. Audition Doctor ensures that you are able to bring new colours into speeches that the audition panel have probably already seen you do multiple times. It’s at this stage in the audition that the competition is at its height and Audition Doctor ensures you always enter fighting fit.

Why Drama School is Still Worth It

Much has been written about Paul Roseby’s declaration that three year drama school courses are a waste of time and money.
Nick Asbury’s response to it was a considered one; while he deplored the “astronomical” costs of drama school that meant “[it] saddles people with so much debt that following a stop/start formative acting career is unthinkable”, he also refused to agree with Roseby’s assertion entirely.

“In my view, there are two main reasons to go to drama school: the first is to learn something. The vast tendrils of “technique” – breathing, stagecraft, listening and generosity etc – are taught differently in each school, yet knowing something about yourself inevitably makes you a better actor. Training gives you the time and space to experiment – to fail, and work out why. It’s wonderful to do that, and important.

The second reason is to meet people who are going to give you jobs. Agents use the main drama schools as a filter system. They can take actors on, fresh from school, and then put them in front of casting directors. In most cases, actors with no experience and no drama school training simply won’t be taken on by agents, unless they have a USP that stands out, like being the child of a famous actor, or being stunningly attractive. Or if they can play the accordion while reciting Shakespeare on one leg.”

There is another reason to go to drama school, which has somehow, in the panic that has ensued from rising tuition fees and increased competition, been forgotten. You should go simply for the love of it.

As Geoffery Coleman (Head of Central School of Speech and Drama) wrote in The Stage: “British actor training continues to aspire to the notion of a tradition and craft being passed down through the hearts and minds of successive generations. Actor training must never be founded upon a vocational rhetoric that is actually nothing more complex than a student’s need for employment. We must ensure that the reality of training actors today does not, by default, result in the students exclusive grasping attainment of a commercially viable technique – one that will get ‘picked up’ – but also a culturally valuable experience whatever the future employment statistics may say.”

In other words, you must want to go to drama school to pursue the art itself. It’s only with this passion for your craft, married with an awareness of how to market yourself that survival and success in this business is possible. To have one but not the other is useless.

Audition Doctor is in the unique position of being able to guide you in both directions. The emphasis is on choosing speeches that you are passionate about and that showcase you in a “marketable” light. The panel want to see you at your most vulnerable and malleable as these are the two qualities that are most likely to mean that you will be easy to train and flexible within the industry.

While it shouldn’t be all about employment statistics, it’s important to realise what makes you “bankable” – in other words, what makes you different from the person who is going in after you. Sessions with Audition Doctor are essential as this is quality is drawn upon in your speeches.

This is the asset that will get you a place at drama school and upon which a career can be based. This is why Audition Doctor has proven time and time again to be so invaluable – because going to drama school is as much about love of the art of acting as it is about putting food on the table.

What Is the Point of a Final Year Showcase?

It is commonly acknowledged that the final year showcase at drama school is the figurative starting gate to an actor’s career. There are stories of actors whose trajectories segue seamlessly from showcase to well-known agent to BBC1 television series. Rather depressingly, Susan Elkin’s article in The Stage confounds the expectation that drama school showcases are vehicles which celebrate students’ variety and skill.

She criticises the showcase model as a considered and reasonable method of judging talent – “Does this industry really expect to judge a student’s ability, after two or three years of intensive training, based on a stressed, strained, out-of-context two minutes at the Criterion Theatre (or possibly the Soho)? Surely any casting director or agent worth even the tiniest pinch of salt takes him or herself out to the colleges to see the students in action in proper full length shows?”

The problem is that many drama schools do not allow the public to see their students in action until their final year. Michael Billington has spoken about his desire for this to change, arguing that the earlier students are exposed to criticism, the better they are able to understand the profession.

However, drama school is one of the few places where students can experiment. An actor’s profession is by its nature public. Increasingly, there is less time or space to engage in genuine trial and error without it being meticulously documented. (The Telegraph reported today that the “State of Play: Theatre UK” survey revealed that audience members tweeting/using social media during live events was on the rise.) Exposing students who are not – as of yet – fully trained actors may stifle the freedom that closed productions afford them to push their boundaries of perception without the risk of a critic’s review.

However, unfortunately this is the reality of the acting profession. For the vast majority of actors, it is a successful audition rather than the merit of previous work that is the reason why they will land a job. Professional actors, as well as drama school applicants, are judged to be suitable for parts in the frequently small amount of time that an audition takes. The number of actors for each available role has been documented ad infinitum and it goes without saying that there is no time for casting directors to assess the minutiae of every single actor’s CV. An audition is the only way to pass judgement.

Elkin’s article also claims “…if a student is to appear more than once the two pieces should – obviously – be contrasting to demonstrate versatility. And yet, I’ve lost count of the showcases I’ve seen in which a student is effectively typecast in the same role – black guy with racist chip on his shoulder, for example – two or three times. If the purpose of a showcase is to highlight breadth of ability then many fail dismally.”

This is why Audition Doctor is essential for all actors – whatever stage you are in your career. If you are applying to drama school, the reassuring thing about Audition Doctor is that you know the speeches you will work on with Tilly will not only showcase the varied nature of your abilities, but also highlight what comes to you naturally. Entering an audition having confounded the panel’s expectations means there is far less chance you will be typecast.

It must be emphasised that although Audition Doctor gives a huge amount of guidance in choosing speeches, they must be chosen by you. The speeches that will challenge your acting, vulnerability and flexibility will be the ones that excite you and speak to you instinctively. When the right speech is chosen, a large amount of the work is already done. What Audition Doctor is exceptional at is pushing you to discover intentions and choices that you didn’t even know were open to you.


Drama School – The Agent’s Scouting Ground

When Joel Fry (currently starring in Public Enemy at The Young Vic) was asked in an Ideastap interview whether he thought peopIe need to go to drama school, he replied: “I  don’t think they need to, but it can be quite a lot of fun. It’s the opportunity to hang around with loads of other talented actors, although it does get a bit nasty and competitive later on. It makes you feel like you’re part of something. It also helps getting an agent – I don’t know how people get an agent otherwise.”

In the same week, The Stage ran an article entitled “Is Your Agent An Arsehole?” which denounced agents as having “too much control”, “too much leverage”. However, the reality is that an actor without an agent is significantly disadvantaged. Students go to drama school not solely for artistic reasons but for commercial ones as well. The third-year showcase is the launchpad for most students’ careers. It’s where agents can be made aware of new talent and getting the right agent is crucial. Talent does not trump all; without the right representation, it’s highly likely that it will go unnoticed. From getting you auditions to negotiating contracts, agents are influential and helpful in both your artistic decisions and financial situation. Actors who don’t have agents will find it incredibly hard to be seen by casting directors as open auditions are rare and professional contacts are crucial.

Drama school gives you the best opportunity to be taken on by an agency that is highly respected in the industry. Many agents featured in Spotlight specify “No new applicants. Existing clients only.” Although new talent is always being sought, it is worth remembering that it is already an overly-crowded profession. Talent without the backup of vocational training over the course of 3 years is frequently not enough. Training at an accredited drama school is a sign to prospective agents that you have achieved a certain level of professional affirmation and you have the creative, as well as technical, abilities to sustain an acting career.

This is why Audition Doctor is so integral to your path to becoming a professional actor. While Laurie Sanson’s (head of the National Theatre of Scotland) comments of England facing a “talent migration” to the North should not be dismissed as mere scaremongering, the fact is that English drama schools are considered unequivocally to be the best in the world and the rising of tuition fees has barely made any difference to the number of applicants. The number of prospective drama school students attending Audition Doctor has also risen. There is no substitute for being taught by someone who has attended one herself and who is on the panel for auditions at the Actor’s Centre. Accurate insider knowledge is hard to come by and Audition Doctor offers this alongside peerless acting advice. This is why Audition Doctor sessions place in you the best possible position to get into drama school and secure an agent.

Interview with agent Rebecca Blond

Most actors will cite that one of the main reasons for going to drama school (apart from the training itself) is to get an agent. Contacts states that “A good agent will have contacts and authority in the entertainment industry that you, as an individual actor would find more difficult to acquire. Agents, if you want them to, can also deal with matters such as Equity and Spotlight membership renewal. They can offer you advice on which headshot would be best to send out to casting directors, what to include, or exclude in you CV as you build on your skills and experience, what a particular casting director might expect when you are invited to an audition, and so on.”

As Rebecca Blond from Rebecca Blond Associates contends, the partnership between actor and agent is an important one. Her job is “to introduce the actor to the world” while both actor and agent map out a possible career, as balanced as possible.”

At Masterclasses at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, one of the most common questions put to the actor onstage (frequently in a voice that has a touch of desperate hysteria about it) is “How did you get your agent?” I had the opportunity to ask respected agent – Rebecca Blond – questions which often come up in Q and As and here she gives a unique insight into the Industry from her perspective as an agent.

Does training at an accredited drama school put an actor in a more favourable position when you are considering whether to take them on as a client?

I don’t think that a drama school can teach you how to act, I think you have to have “something” that will then be honed during the course. And indeed they won’t give you a place unless they believe you have potential. But yes, given that it does pull together all the strings and gives an actor the best foundation preparing them for the world of professional acting, I would strongly advise going to drama school. And yes, I think that on the whole having trained is important when I consider representing someone.

In your experience, do you find it easier to get auditions for actors who have trained as opposed to those who haven’t?

I think it probably is, mainly because casting directors will have been to the drama school showcases, so when you’re suggesting a new graduate, chances are the casting director will have a view on them already from the showcase. I have taken on clients who haven’t been to drama school, they might have done drama at university for instance, and in pushing them for auditions, at that point it comes down to my relationship with the casting director as to whether or not they’ll see them. Given that most have us have been “doing business” for years, I like to think that they trust that I won’t be selling them a dud.

How often do you respond to requests from actors hoping for representation to come and see them in a production?

If you’re referring to drama school shows, to be honest I probably won’t respond to each letter because I know I’ll be going to the shows, and they’ll be given the list of who’s in. With actors who are already out there, if I’m interested in the actor who’s writing, I’ll respond telling them I’ll come to the show. If I’m not interested, if we get an S.A.E, we’ll reply. If not, we don’t.

How important is a drama school student’s third year show case for getting an agent?

Crucial, because it’s the shop window for them and is sometimes the only way we get to see what an actor can do before considering whether to take them on or not. If, as an agent, you follow a student through his or her final shows leading up to the showcase, then the showcase will lead to the final confirmation of what you think, as it were. Sometimes however I can’t get to see as many shows as I would like, so there are some colleges where I will only see the showcase and for me that is the only opportunity I get to see the students. With most drama schools, students are not encouraged to sign with an agent before their showcase. This is because the school believe the students should have the chance to be seen by all the agents before making a decision as to who to go with, and they know that the showcase is the moment for the broadest exposure.

What is your opinion of one year courses?

I’ve always enjoyed watching the one year students because alot of the time they’ve been to uni and then on to drama school. They’ve had some life experience which can bring something interesting to their acting. Obviously some one year courses are better than others, but I will cover both the three year courses as well as the one year.