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.”