Drama Schools Adjust Curriculums

In an article in The Stage entitled “The camera never lies – how well do drama school prepare their students for TV?” Matthew Hemley was adamant that “drama schools could do more to prepare actors for the reality of a working life, particularly in front of a camera. More and more, performers come out of drama school and land television work, but most of those I speak to talk of how unprepared they are for this…. Very often when I speak to actors, particularly young ones who are in a new television series, they talk about ‘learning on the job’, and about how terrified they were on their first day on a TV set, because of the fact they have so many technical points to remember (alongside learning their lines and actually acting). Of course there is an element to learning on the job for anyone – no training in any profession can prepare you for what the reality of a job is like.  But it seems to me that for actors working in television it really is a shock to the system”.

Even Geoffery Colman, Head of Acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama, admitted earlier this year that “[Drama schools] are training actors in the best canonical tradition – to play Hamlet or Hedda Gabler – for an industry that isn’t there”.

However, drama schools are responding to the demands of the profession; Arts Ed decided to restructure its acting degree in 2010 “with a stronger emphasis on television and film because it was felt that students should be better equipped for these genres.” The subject of acting for screen has been much written about this year. While drama schools such as RADA, LAMDA and Mountview already offer acting for camera lessons, many drama schools are being encouraged to review their courses to include film and TV modules.

Many aspiring actors erroneously believe that with their concentration on stage acting, drama schools are not worth applying to. However, as Jane Harrison, principal of Arts Ed, emphasised  “We have kept the core skills – of voice, movement, text and theatre work”. Furthermore, Philip Hedley, former artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East stressed the opposite view that drama schools should avoid stressing any particular medium at all. Instead, they should focus on  “the ‘commonality’ of acting skills, which applies across the board whether you are doing cabaret or serious tragedy.” Although TV and theatre are different mediums, the fundamental principles of acting apply to both.

Audition Doctor coaches professional actors for both screen and theatre auditions. Drama schools such as the Oxford School of Drama and Bristol Old Vic incorporate taped auditions at later stages. While they say these are used as necessary aide-mémoires due to the high level of applicants, candidates can’t help but feel that these are also screen tests. Audition Doctor sessions prepare you for all eventualities. Ultimately, the panel aren’t looking for either screen actors or theatre actors. They are looking for artists. Tilly ensures that you have the best shot at showing them that you have the ability to interpret a character and the flexibility (as well as the intelligence) to explore the infinite number of alternatives.

Training To Be Fluent In All The Languages of Theatre

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.