Much has been made recently of the need for British drama schools to widen their curriculum to accommodate the ever-changing nature of the acting industry. Drama school graduates, such as Tom Hopper, have mentioned that though the training is heavily focused on stage acting, most of the work that they audition for is in TV and film.
“For me, there’s a lack of screen acting at drama schools in the UK. We focus so much on theatre, which is brilliant; the discipline you need for theatre is huge. But we could use some more screen acting. So many auditions you go for when you get out of drama school are screen-based, certainly in my case. I sort of learned as I went along. I did do some screen acting at drama school; only a couple of weeks in three years, which isn’t necessarily a huge amount considering you’re going to be doing quite a lot of it.”
More and more drama schools now offer courses that cover both mediums. Jane Harrison, principal of Arts Educational Schools London, views stage and screen as two different languages: ““And I want our students to be fluent in both French and Spanish as it were”.
However, many drama schools also offer purely screen acting courses. As Audition Doctor says to all her students, going on any course that solely focuses on one medium automatically makes future employment harder. With Max Irons revealing this week that both of his parents encouraged him to be a plumber/carpenter instead of an actor, it makes perfect sense to go to a drama school that gives you the opportunity to be well-versed in all disciplines so you can make some semblance of a living.
Many students that come to Audition Doctor are tempted to do purely screen acting courses, however, as Casting Director – Andy Pryor – stated in The Guardian: “Theatre is where you see people at their best…you often see actors playing very much against type: that way, you get a great idea of their range.” He then went onto explain how spotting Jack Farthing at the Royal Court led to him casting him in a Poliakoff drama, followed by a bigger part in BBC1’s comedy Blandings earlier this year.
Selecting a drama school that equips you with as many skills as possible is an advantageous move career-wise. But many skills can only be learned through experience of being in the profession itself. As Hopper states: “Drama school builds discipline and gives you a structure. If you’re like a sponge and absorb all the information you’re given, you can then take bits from it when you need them. But it doesn’t prepare you for the life of an actor. Work isn’t necessarily going to happen straight away; it’s about sticking to it. There’s a lot of things to deal with, like the psychological element of being in and out of work. You’re self-employed at the end of the day and you have a product to sell, and drama school doesn’t teach you about that.”
Whether you are applying to drama schools or auditioning for jobs, you are marketing yourself as a product and there is a need to ensure that you are psychologically and emotionally prepared.
Paul Clayton claimed recently : “Someone once said to me, “Do one thing every day that might get you a job, and then live your life for the rest of the day.” That’s what being an actor means.” Audition Doctor sessions are demanding, but as a result, have frequently been the thing that have got someone a place at drama school or an acting job. This means whatever the outcome of your audition, you can live the rest of the day free from the anxiety that comes from fearing you haven’t done enough.
At some stage during lessons at Audition Doctor, Tilly will inevitably ask you to start to envisage the kind of actor you want to be. Whether you hope your career focuses on treading the boards at The Royal Court or in the movie studios of Hollywood, it’s worth noting that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Interviewed in the Metro, British actor – David Oyelowo, who has recently appeared in Lincoln and is tipped to be on the brink of stardom in the US, asserted: “A solid grounding in theatre…is the reason why so many British actors take the lead spots in US film and TV. ‘You look at the actors who are in Lincoln,’ he says. ‘Most of, if not all of them, came out of the theatre. The theatre is generally what takes actors from being good to great. There’s nothing more terrifying, more exposing. And being around such seasoned actors – for me, it was standing in the wings watching Alan Bates – there’s nothing like that in terms of learning.”
Increasingly, drama schools are offering courses that focus exclusively on film and TV mean that theatre training is often ignored. It is illogical to view theatre and screen to be polar opposite disciplines; in both, the actor is required to inhabit an authentic person. Discussions with Audition Doctor always stress the importance of not only picking the right drama school but also the right course for you. Tilly frequently advises students to be open to drama schools that offer courses that involve training in all mediums. These give you more opportunities in the future, as you are equipped with skills that are not exclusive solely say to screen acting.
That being said, Audition Doctor will concede that attending any course at drama school is better than not going at all. As Lyn Gardner stated: “Great acting, like great writing, is often in the eye of the beholder, but audiences almost always know when they are in the presence of something special. Talent may be enough to get by on screen and TV, but with a few notable exceptions such as Kelly Reilly, the untrained actor often fares badly on stage. The performances that most often thrill us are those where instinct and technique are both in perfect balance but also opposition, and flamboyance and inner life collide head on, transforming feeling into thought and words. When this mixture of abandon and control ignites, what happens is as mysterious as alchemy; the theatre crackles; it leaves the spectator reeling. It makes you believe Eric Bentley’s thesis that “the purpose of theatre is to produce great performances.”
Drama schools have been often been accused by industry professionals of being overly-traditionalist institutions, entrenched in a by-gone era when actors could just about conceivably dare to sketch out a career trajectory – drama school to regional repertory theatre to the West End. Certainty is a concept that no longer exists in any sector nowadays, so is going worth it at all?
As Di Trevis argued in the Guardian: “Would-be actors [at drama schools] have as students a life that is a cross between novice nun and trainee commando.” Is it worth it? Her verdict – No. This is because “the profession they are training for hardly exists.” She argues that drama schools fail to equip young thespians with the entrepreneurial skills and nous required to produce their own work. This, she asserts, is the key to survive as a working actor in today’s Industry.
She believes that drama schools should revolutionise and put “more emphasis through their training on making their own work, seeking out collaborators, developing skills in adaptation, and writing, re-inventing and developing a new kind of Poor Theatre for the 21st Century.” While this is unarguably good advice in a fast-paced industry that is ever-evolving, she goes onto recommend acting workshops “where actors do much more than scene study: they form a community; they share experiences; they sustain each other.”
Paradoxically, this is precisely what drama school offers. It is often at drama school where the seed for future artistic collaborations are born. Drama school students are not yet actors, it is within the supportive confines of the school’s walls that they become the nation’s future professional thespians. Over the three years, it is inevitable that the rigorous training schedule forms tight bonds. Furthermore, the graduate show-case is also still one of the best ways to get noticed by agents and even critics. Michael Billington even went so far as to say that “newspapers should abandon their belief that the West End represents the beating heart of British theatre.”
Drama schools have modernised since Trevis’ article; most drama schools offer a variety of different courses focusing on purely, for example, Screen-Acting and Film. Therefore it would be unwise to dismiss drama schools as antiquated establishments as they have evolved to ensure that they are adapting to suit the contemporary needs of the profession.
The capricious nature of the profession has been documented ad nauseum. Unusually, this has not acted as a deterrent for young hopefuls. The need to show the audition panel that you are worth the time and investment has never been greater. Audition Doctor ensures that you are not only endowed with the most effective speeches specifically for you, but also the emotional and intellectual understanding of the character as well as the play. Although Audition Doctor is not a certified drama school, it offers training that ensures you are portrayed in your most favourable light. You have a limited amount of time in an audition to prove that you are a worthy candidate for drama school. Going to Audition Doctor guarantees that you don’t waste sixty pounds on a ten minute audition with no hope of a recall.