So you want to be an actor: Should I go to Drama School?
Do I need to go to drama school?
You might be very lucky and find yourself spotted by an agent in an amateur production and there are certainly examples of actors who have gone on to shining careers without formal training. For most, though, drama school training is the best route into professional acting as it gives you not just an actual grounding in acting and an opportunity to practise your craft, but also a credibility in the eyes of casting professionals. Attending drama school shows ongoing commitment to your calling and, as long as the school is reputable and you demonstrate a willingness to learn as well as the talent that will have won you a place on the course, then you'll be better placed at the end of the course to succeed as an actor.
Choosing a course
There are a number of courses nationwide from which to choose. Of these, the National Council for Drama Training (NCDT) selects those it deems to be of sufficient standard to warrant 'accreditation'; criteria include the course being full-time and vocational (i.e. giving practical guidance and experience to help secure professional work upon graduation). These accredited courses tend to carry more weight within the acting profession and end of year productions are more likely to be seen by casting agents and directors scouting for new talent. (Accredited Course List)
Many courses will offer a broad cross-section of acting disciplines, others are more specific, e.g. dedicated to screen acting or stage acting. A school's website should give you a good idea of the courses they offer - look thoroughly at the course outline and if you have any questions give the school a call, they'll be happy to help with your enquiries. In choosing a course, consider a number of factors as well as the course schedule and components. Your research should include finding out about a course's reputation (don't just go by their website which might have an inherent bias) by talking to people and gleaning what you can from industry publications and the Internet. The reputation of particular courses will fluctuate depending on its output of actors and its current teaching staff. One important consideration is the course fees and the location. If the course is in London, as most are, you should factor in additional costs for day to day living expenses. Rent, in particular, is more expensive in London than the regions. (See Funding for drama school).
Courses vary from 1-3 years in duration and from part-time to full-time. Three year undergraduate courses are open to those over the age of 18. One year courses tend to be for those who are over 21 and already have a first degree and/or some acting experience or training. Entry is based mainly on auditions, for which you will usually be expected to select two speeches (one modern, one classical) and which there is often an audition fee (of around £30). You will be expected to cover your own travel and accommodation costs to attend auditions.
Can I apply if I have had no other training or acting experience?
There are no formal requirements for eligibility to apply to a drama school. You're not required, for instance, to have acted at school or in local amateur theatre (though these things can help if you have a track record of acting as you'll already be familiar with performing and some of the techniques involved, even as a simple demonstration of your love for and commitment to the art). Nor, in most cases, do you need minimum academic qualifications. What the schools are looking for is genuine talent and commitment. Schools are generally very receptive to older applicants as they can bring experience from other walks of life to bear to the acting process. As Sartre noted, 'Acting is a question of absorbing other people's personalities and adding some of your own experience.'
Applying for a course
Details of how to apply for a course can be found from the school's website or by enquiring by phone or in writing. A standard application form will ask for your basic details, your acting experience to date and your reasons for wanting to attend the course. Check the deadline for application as these vary from course to course and school to school. Don't leave it until the last minute, get the application in as early as you can. There's nothing to stop you from applying to more than one course, though if you've received a place on one course it's polite to let the other course(s) know. There should be no fees for applying though you should bear in mind that if you're called for an audition a school will usually charge an audition fee or around £30-£40.
The Course itself
Once you've secured your place on your course you can give yourself a pat on the back... and then get ready for the hard work. To quote from fame, 'You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. With sweat.' Okay, so you might not be looking for fame, but you get the point. If you're going to get the most out of the course (for which you'll be paying either directly or indirectly) you can't rest on your laurels. This isn't the quick route to celebrity and the paparazzi. You will be expected to attend classes, prepare, rehearse, study, and to exercise self-discipline, commitment and organisation. You'll be working with respected teachers and alongside other talented actors who will go on to work in the industry and whose path you will cross time and time again in the coming years. Look, listen and learn.
Some schools and a growing number of organisations offer training courses. These can be short-term, part-time or intensive courses designed to give you an introduction to acting. It can help to have one of these under your belt before applying for drama school but they shouldn't be viewed as a substitute for a full-time drama course and you should be wary of courses promising too much for a short investment of your time and a large investment of your money.
More information: The Actor's Handbook 2006/7