Drama at University or Drama School?

There will be many aspiring actors fresh out of school who will consider reading Drama at university – “reading” being the optimum word. It looks like the safest option – a bona fide university degree which you can “fall back on” should times get tough and a chance to learn the craft of acting. Drama school looks risky and as Daniel Mays noted: “You can count on one hand the people consistently working still from my year [at drama school] which always scares the shit out of me.” However, there are many in the Industry who believe such courses provide none of the security that a university degree supposedly offers; the largely academic nature of them renders them largely useless in a profession that prizes vocational training above all else.

A couple of years ago, Nicholas Hytner expressed his worry that because university courses were forced to increase the academic aspect of their courses to qualify for government funding, the “actors” that were flooding the Industry upon graduating were merely “theorists”. Consequently, he opined that “young actors [were] not as well equipped as they were 20 years ago to rise to the challenges of the stage, particularly of the classical stage”. He was adamant that “the most important elements of an actor’s training is vocational craft training: voice, movement and acting technique…This process is slow and repetitious and has therefore occupied the greater part of the traditional syllabus in drama schools.”

Drama schools are still proven to be the bastions of unparalleled vocational training and are far better equipped than universities to offer practical guidance about the realities of the profession. Tom Goodman-Hill commented: “I naively thought that I could become an actor without training…For me the Bristol Old Vic was a great school as it was really geared towards having a career in the Industry and was realistic about what you required as an actor in order to become a “working actor” – someone who was actually going to make a living out of it”. Although the academic nature of university courses can be argued to furnish a student with the ability to analyse texts, being a working actor is ultimately not about intellectual theorising.

The experience of drama school varies from actor to actor; Ed Stoppard likened it to “electric shock therapy”. That’s probably precisely what aspiring actors need to go through, as opposed to sitting in a library reading up on “theatre theory”. Tom Goodman-Hill went onto say: “Fear and excitement is a large part of why I do this. It’s about letting go, it’s about losing your inhibitions, it’s about having absolutely no dignity whatsoever and not being afraid to fail.” It’s at drama school that you are encouraged and given the time to do that. Audition Doctor can be seen as a microcosm of drama school as it is a unique place where you can have access to peerless training as well as seek advice and insights into the profession. The practical nature of Audition Doctor sessions is undoubtedly the reason why Tilly’s students frequently prove themselves successfully rising to the challenges of auditions by getting recalls, and in many instances, a place at drama school.