Getting to grips with Drama School by a Drama School Graduate
Drama school is one of the toughest but most fulfilling journeys I have made in my life. There are so many stages that you will go through, so I am going to give you a crash course in what some of these are and how you can approach them when they arrive!
Where to go
Choosing a Drama School can be a nightmare. You will no doubt be staring in awe at the amount of drama schools laid out in front of you however, here is something which is important to know when confronted with these options; RELAX.
Don’t panic about trying to pick the right drama school by what is written on a website. You will not know unless you go there and see what it is like and get a feel for it. I would always recommend either auditioning or visiting for as many schools as possible, especially if it is your first-year auditioning, so you really know. Or if you know that there is only one school for you, then just apply for that one and stick to your instincts.
I am one of the very few people I know who genuinely loved drama school auditions. I know it is daunting when you first look at what you need to do, but I am going to give you some pointers, which I hope will guide you to make you feel better about your audition.
Have fun, please. if you go in stiff and not able to let go they will see this, they want to see you comfortable and enjoying the process!
You are auditioning them as much as they are auditioning you. Always remember that. You may find yourself in the situation that I was lucky enough to be in where I had two offers from different schools and I had to choose between them. I then had to think about what they were like, what I liked about them and which one I felt I would benefit from the most.
Prepare! When it comes to picking an audition piece or pieces, the main piece of advice I would give you is pick something that you can really engage with. This is what every drama school audition panel is looking for before anything else. They want you to do something where they can see a real connection to the character, rather than seeing something performed to impress them and show them how big and bold you can be. Being bold can be fine, but it has to be done with an understanding and belief in the character. Yes, pick something that works with your age and yes, try and pick something that is relatively new - but more importantly find something that you connect with. What I did (and I admit this is maybe not the way you would expect it to be done!) is go to the library, I went to the play section. picked up a random play, checked for a monologue and read it. I then kept reading and reading until I found one that I connected with and felt was right.
If you are ever stuck on which piece to choose or if you are not sure if the piece is working for you then seek support. There are plenty of teachers and schools around who will be able to help you. If you are at college, ask your tutors or directors to have a look at your pieces, they are normally more than willing to check them for you.
Getting in (or not)
You will inevitably have that talk with your friends, teachers or family that includes the question “What if I don’t get in this year?” and this thought can feel awful, but let me tell you from someone who didn’t get in on their first-year auditioning - it is completely fine. You will live to see tomorrow and you can audition next year. I know of some incredible actors and artists that took 4 years to get in! Sometimes it just takes that long. The most important thing you can do if this happens is keep yourself busy and get experience. Go and watch shows, take courses, perform in shows, travel if you want and while you have the time, just go and enjoy yourself!
Getting stuck in
So, you have smashed your audition, you’ve been offered a place, accepted the offer and then begin your first day of the rest of your life. Please, again, enjoy it and make the most of it. Be true to yourself and always ask these questions; can I do this better? What can I do to improve?
You will be confronted with a lot of difficult things at Drama School, but you always have to trust in yourself and if you open up to things, and are willing to learn, then you will strive and you will get out of it what you want - you just have to be willing to push yourself and work hard because it will not be just be handed to you.
You only get out what you put it, when you think you have put enough in, just think what can I do more to do to push myself - because trust me; when you leave, you will be thankful you did it whilst at drama school.
There is a quote used by the head of my course, which is “You are all horses in a race, you can either be the horses charging in front, or you can be the horses falling behind the pack”, which I think rings true, you are taught to always focus on the work and always push yourself to be in front and be the best you can be. If at any point, you feel like you are the horse at the back, remember, you can always charge in front of the pack - if you work hard enough.
Just don’t be scared of failure or let it get in your way, it is alright to fail because you learn the most when you do. A lot of students forget that while they are in that bubble of drama school, but this is the best time to fail! There are no boundaries, there are no judges apart from your tutors, who are there to help and guide you anyway. You will never be given such a gift that drama school gives you, which is a place where you can experiment and find what works best for you. When you get out into the real world, people are not so forgiving. So, get it out of the way while you can and when you are given free reign.
We are family
The course I was on required a lot of devising together as an ensemble, writing together and directing each other. And problems will always occur while trying to do this type of work, especially if you are all trying to be the front runner! Some people will start being over dominating. Some people won’t chuck ideas around enough. Some will never listen to others and some will just not naturally click with you. It can lead to fall out and friction. But these guys are your family for 3 years, so you need to put it behind you.
If you start to feel angry or upset, it will affect your work, so whenever these things occur always remember to take a step back and look at what you could do to improve this. Look at what is happening in the room, if you find someone is behaving in a certain way, ask yourself why it is happening and where does it stem from? Once you have answered that question, think about what you can do to improve it - what can you do to help make the room better? It could be that you give someone encouragement or focus on working with somebody different, because by doing this you could improve the room. This can be incredibly difficult, but it’s what it takes to really work well together and in turn make the best work possible.
Living the actor life
One difficulty I know everyone has when they want to go to drama school is actually being able to live. “Oh, god how am I going to afford to live?” “It’s so expensive to live in London” all these things are genuine worries however, again RELAX. If you panic about these sorts of things then nothing will get done.
One thing which is so important to remember with trying to be an actor is being level headed with stuff and looking at the whole picture and then acting on what you can do. So here are things to remember for drama school and balancing your life.
Nearly every drama school now is attached to a university of some sort and you are doing a BA(Hons) Degree, which means that you can get student loans, which cover all of your tuition fees. The loans you get from other drama schools cover part of the loan, but they all have financial aid that you can apply for.
On top of receiving a loan for tuition, you may be able to get a maintenance loan, which helps you to cover rent, bills and food etc. This varies on your household income but either way you should be entitled to it in some degree. The other drama schools (outside of the university loan system) have their own financial offerings, which works by the same principles as Student Loans, but they do it from within the school.
You may need a job, I worked at a coffee shop while at drama school. There is nothing wrong with it, but you just need to make sure you balance it with your studying. When you get a job speak to your managers and let them know what your situation is, you would be surprised how supportive most managers are. I would advise though that in third year to not have a job. There is too much going on in third year to balance, so make sure you build up enough funds during the summer to get yourself through!
Friends for life
The professional world is a very big world, but at the same time you realise it really isn’t. What I mean by this, is you will no doubt come across people you met at Drama School while working professionally, especially in London. Everyone knows everyone, everyone goes and watches everyone’s work and everyone helps everyone out.
So, while you are at drama school, makes friends with people. Get to know everyone, what they do and what sort of work they like. Really try and find the people you want to work with. I am very fortunate enough to have found many people that I enjoy working with and I would love to work with in the future!
There will be times when it is tough, where you will struggle and find that you are not succeeding in a certain area. This is fine, you have three years to get better, work hard and to make yourself the best actor you can possibly be. Always remember why you are there and that you deserve to be there.
I am lucky enough to say that I went to drama school and I am now on the home straight to completing my final year. Like anything it has its highs and lows (for me more highs than lows thankfully!) but if you stand by who you are, work hard and have a little bit of luck behind you, you can too.
Graduated East 15 Acting School 2017
BA(Hons) Acting & Contemporary Theatre