Tis the season! No, not Christmas, but that time of year when budding thespians who want to learn their craft start applying for drama school. It’s a nerve-wracking and thrilling time. The prospect of spending all day, every day with other performers looms. People who will burst into song at the drop of a (top)hat. People who enjoy speaking in foreign accents in public places. People who think nothing of lying on the floor for hours on end in order to feel centred, grounded and expansive. People just like you.
And all you need to do is get through the dreaded audition process.
To help you through this tricky time of life, the Creative Fool has put together a list of top tips for people who are considering applying to drama school. So, read this list, stop procrastinating and get yourself in gear!
Here we go:
Top tip #1 Think it through
Acting is a tough career choice. You don’t walk out of college straight into regular, well-paid work. For every Benedict Cumberbatch there are 9 other people, who are probably just as good, struggling to get by working part-time jobs, doing odd bits of voice work and running after-school drama clubs for 8-year-olds. Success doesn’t just land on your plate and you need to be prepared to work long hours and be committed to constantly improving your skills. You’ll miss out on important family occasions and you probably won’t make much money. You may spend a lot of time folding jeans in Gap before you get your big break. You may not ever get your big break.
It can’t be about the money. It can’t be about the fame. It has to be about a deep desire to tell stories, to perform, to use the gifts you’ve been given to contribute something to the world.
So if, after thinking through the reality, you still have that burning desire to act, then you need to start looking for the right training.
Top tip #2 Choose your school well
There are hundreds of performing arts courses out there, but you need to be confident that you’re applying for the school that is right for you. If you’re applying straight from school you might want to consider doing an HND or similar course at a local college. These courses are generally pretty good as a means of gaining performance experience and working on your audition technique. Plus, if you choose a course near to where you live, it’s a much cheaper option, and if you decided to stay on, you can probably keep going and eventually gain a degree.
If you know that you want to pursue a career in theatre or film remember that there are lots of ways to skin the cat, and plenty of jobs that don’t involve straightforward performance. If you’re more of a generalist, or you’re not sure exactly what you want to pursue longer term, then you might be better to gain a university degree in a related subject first of all. You might want to look at Theatre Studies, English or even something wildly unconnected that you love doing. You can gain experience as a performer by immersing yourself in university theatre groups or by making your own short films. You’ll also be older and have some more life experience tucked away if you do decide to pursue the route of conservatoire training as a postgraduate.
If you decide to apply for drama school (whether straight from school or later on) you are best to apply for those listed in the Drama UK (NCDT) list of accredited institutions. The advantage of this is that the training is of a high standard, your qualification is recognised across the industry and you will have the opportunity to work with fantastic tutors and directors. Actually, this is an excellent website to spend some time on if you’re considering applying to drama school – there’s lots of advice and guidance to help you make the right choice.
As well as investigating the various courses available you should think about where you want to live for the next 1, 3 or 4 years and how affordable it is to live there. Remember, too, that some schools specialise in particular areas (e.g. musical theatre, film, classical acting etc.) – going to an open day will give you a good sense of the type of environment you’ll be studying in, and you’ll probably have the chance to speak to some current students. Spread your applications – you may have your heart set on RADA, but if they’ve already given a place to someone who has a similar look to you, you don’t stand a chance. You’ll also find that as you audition you get to know the style of school that will suit you so don’t close off your options too early.
Remember that even auditioning is a costly business. Schools charge an audition fee of around £50 which is non-refundable, but at least that means that you are guaranteed an audition. You’ll also have to budget for your travel to and from auditions, and for overnight accommodation if you can’t there in one day.
Top tip #3 Prepare thoroughly and properly
Give yourself plenty of time for preparation. When you’ve decided which schools you want to apply for check what they are looking for at audition. It’s a good idea to put together a portfolio of monologues and songs as each school will have different requirements, and if you are asked back for a recall you may have to perform something new. Try not to go for the bare minimum – look on this time as good preparation for the industry you’re hoping to be part of and start building a toolbox of performances that you can pull out when asked to audition. At the very least you should have 2 pieces of Shakespeare, 2 contemporary pieces and a couple of songs. You may also be asked to do a Jacobean (post-Shakespearean classical) speech so look for one of these too. As a general rule your speeches should be under 2 minutes long (the school will specify this).
Try to choose monologues that fit your casting type and show that you have done some research into the part. For example, lots of girls choose to perform one of Helena’s monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Helena is described in the text as being tall, so if you’re very short in height it’s probably not an ideal part for you. Similarly, if you’re 38, you’ll probably not want to play Juliet. Try and find a good mix of comic and tragic speeches, and look for a monologue where something happens for the character or something is revealed about him or her.
So, that’s probably a good start. You don’t have to do everything at once, but when you’re facing a big task like this it’s helpful to start by doing one thing every day. It is daunting, but it’s manageable.
The next post will focus on how to learn and get yourself ready for your audition, but in the meantime, why not take some time to think about who you are an artist and a human being. Psalm 139 talks about how we are put together by God, and all the days of our lives are known to him. In an uncertain world where it can feel as though everything hinges on how we perform a 2 minute speech it’s hugely comforting to remind ourselves:
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
The Message, Psalm 139:13-16
If you are someone who prays, then make sure you’re trusting your future in the hands of the only One who knows your past, your present and your future. And who loves you beyond measure.