The Demands of Training

Previous articles have touched upon the relative merits of university drama courses and drama school training. An article in The Times warned its readers about the “hidden truth about university courses; that a few offer a terrific, demanding education while many others are content to allow students to drift through — in a three-year haze” with minimal contact hours that churn out graduates ill-prepared for any industry.

If there is one thing that drama schools cannot be accused of, it’s neglecting to give their students enough contact time. Typically, the exacting timetable consists of 9 hours of contact per day. That’s typically 54 hours a week – in a study conducted by the think-tank – The Higher Education Policy Institute – revealed that the only other university course that requires similar demanding hours was found to be Medicine. Even this notoriously challenging course’s contact hours differed from institution to institution and ranged from 32-50 hours a week.

Faye Marsay, who recently appeared in Fresh Meat, was asked whether her life at drama school resembled the show’s image of relaxed student life: “Drama school was more like twelve hours every day – work, work, work, lines, lines, lines.”

This, along with Brian Cox commenting in The Times that “drama training is the best preparation for anything”, is confirmation that drama school is a far better investment of time and money than a university course if you want to be taken seriously as an actor.

This idea was cemented this week when Sam Troughton lost his voice in the middle of a preview of King Lear at the National Theatre. Paapa Essiedu, a recent graduate of Guildhall, talked of how he had to take over as Troughton’s understudy: “I had about half an hour before I had to go on as Edmund but I was on stage for most of it. I didn’t have any time to prepare. It was one of those things where instinct kicks in and you rely on your training and on any work that you’ve done. And trust yourself to go and do it.”

Olivia Vinall, also starring in King Lear, was asked by Official London Theatre on her first professional job: “My first job was actually before I graduated. I was lucky enough to be in a production of Romeo And Juliet. The principal at Drama Studio at the time let me do it because he thought it would be the best showcase that I could have. From that I got an agent so it was a really good platform.”

In both cases, drama school training has proved to be a necessary foundation for successful performances. Although there are workshops in London such as the one which will be run by Ideastap in February (‘Auditioning technique and monologue advice masterclass’) where actors can ask industry professionals such as casting director Polly Jerrold for tips, there is no substitute for the one-on-one sessions that Audition Doctor offers. Instead of being in a group of 20 where understandably, the advice can only be more generalised, Audition Doctor sessions offer one hour sessions that focus solely on you. From the speeches you choose to group workshop advice, the guidance that Audition Doctor offers is always specific. The result is that you present the best possible you at your audition and consequently significantly increase your chance of securing a place at drama school.

University Drama Courses vs. Drama Schools

Susan Elkin, columnist for The Stage, commented on the regularity of students asking her whether university drama courses are a safer choice than conservatoire-style drama schools. This was due in part to the discussions last year of drama schools moving to model themselves more on academic institutions.

Principal of Rose Bruford, Michael Earley, said: “For many years, places like Rose Bruford, RADA and Guildhall have sold themselves as drama schools only. Now, with students paying full fees of £9,000, they really have to look at themselves as universities.” He said this involved “improving facilities and providing more academic teaching alongside vocational training, such as essay writing and critical thinking.”

However, Susan Elkin, with her extensive knowledge of drama schools and university courses contends: “Parents tend to like the bets-hedging university idea, but the course may not be sufficiently practical if you really are after hands-on training for industry-readiness. I could, in fact, write a whole column about poor quality university courses whose embittered students have complained to me that they simply aren’t getting the vocational training that they thought they’d signed up to – but I shan’t because the evidence, although powerful and plentiful, is anecdotal.”

Elkin doesn’t dismiss all university drama courses, she recommends one – in Hull. While this may not be immediately appealing, it’s interesting to note that the Culture Secretary awarded the prestigious prize of City of Culture 2017 to the city – pipping Dundee, Leicester and Swansea to the post – so Hull is clearly worth keeping in mind.

In response to Joanna Read, Principal of LAMDA responded in a letter to The Stage entitled “Acting is a craft, not a thesis” in which she stated: “At LAMDA, we believe these are best taught by practical exploration and application. Our training is vocational – because drama is a vocation – and we are training students for careers in the industry. The training is practical because drama is about doing and being….Actors and technicians do not need to write essays to be critical thinkers. The best preparation for these professions is a practical one that explores the craft, technique and art of the disciplines. The truest way of capturing and measuring our students’ achievements, therefore, is practically – on stage, onscreen or behind the scenes – not through an academic paper.”

As Matthew Henley said in The Stage “In a crowded market, performers need to learn how to be seen and heard, and how best to position themselves.” This cannot be learnt at a desk in the library. Going to drama school is about practicing in front of professionals, in front of your peers and eventually performing in front of casting agents. Universities cannot offer nearly the calibre of intensive teaching that drama schools can.

If you want to be a professional actor, Audition Doctor is the place for you. Shakespeare is unavoidable if you want to train professionally, yet many understandably find the language daunting and inaccessible. Audition Doctor sessions are where you are allowed to pick through the language. Elkin also mentioned that those who are overwhelmed by Shakespeare tend to engage in “inaudible high speed gabbling” which she also mentions is a misplaced effort “to make it sound cool.” Audition Doctor ensures that the language is understood before embarking on any acting.

Simon Russell Beale said in his interview this week in The Telegraph that “I always used to joke that the best performances are done in the bath”, but happily for Audition Doctor students, most often, the best performances have proven to be in front of drama school audition panels. Audition Doctor lessons are about failing and exploration – a precursor to what drama school will be like. They are also assurances that auditions will – as Russell Beale states – “just sometimes [go] like a Rolls-Royce.”



Acting For Free

Today, Lyn Gardner asked the question: “Would you do your job – the one you’ve been trained to do – for free?” She was referring to the unfair yet widespread practice of professional actors working for free on the London Fringe and other events such as Edinburgh. Having fought off three thousand other candidates to get into drama school, undergone rigorous vocational training, many come out the other end performing for free. One could argue that this is a “work experience” of sorts and the chance to continue to develop the skills that you were taught at drama school. It’s an opportunity to perform roles that you might not have been cast as at drama school and there is always the possibility that influential casting directors will attend, be floored by your performance and catapult you into the world of award-winning feature films.

However, the stiffness of the competition to work for absolutely nothing is both mad and maddening. A current profit-share production of Measure for Measure at the Union Theatre auditioned over 1,000 actors for 10 roles despite the lack of a salary if cast. Gardner cited the reason for this was “because whereas once a small number of drama schools produced a limited number of actors each year, now there are vast numbers of university courses producing graduates who are ready to go straight into the profession. Many, furthermore, are weighed down by student debt.”

There is a sense that the thousands of students coming out of drama-based university courses every year are industry fodder – there aren’t enough parts for everyone who has spent 3 concentrated years receiving focused conservatoire training at drama schools, let alone people who have “studied” acting at university. However, neither is a drama school training a guarantee of skilled artistry. Mark Rylance mentioned that when auditioning actors, “sometimes, people will have had bad training, and I’ll think: I’m going to have to unravel a lot here.”

Whether you are trying to get into drama school or just out of it, you have to be at the top of your game to get anywhere and Audition Doctor ensures that you are match-fit for any audition. Rylance compares auditioning actors to “rather like looking at football players. You have to build the team, the company.” Working for free may be far from ideal but it’s better to be active and build up a range of roles. Working with Audition Doctor means that you don’t feel like the craft that you have spent 3 years honing is put on the back burner and that you are continually stretching your acting chops so you are ready for any audition opportunity that comes your way.