Drama School Essential? Really?

  • Joanna Swan

    Actor

    Well I have just started to read the 2012 Methuen Drama edition of "An Actor's Guide to Getting Work" by Simon Dunmore, and within the first 4 pages he seems to be doing his best to put me off. He reckons all actors MUST get 3 years full time drama school training or we'll NEVER make it as professionals. He says amongst other things we cannot possibly learn the stamina and technical skill to perform for long runs away from home without this schooling.

    Well, for a variety of reasons, Drama School is NOT an option for me.

    So far this year, I seem to have done alright getting local opportunities even though they're not strictly professional in the paid sense. But the work I am doing is not merely "amateur", either, because I've been expected to have a professional attitude and know what I'm doing, coming to set fully prepared to work and delivering good results quickly.

    I mean, in a sense he's right, I know that at the current stage of my development I would not cut it in the world of the West End, Broadway or Hollywood. But that's not really what I want to do anyway. For me it's not about being rich and famous so much as having job satisfaction, a life of adventure and discovery, and the respect of myself and others. On the other hand, I would very much like to participate in touring productions, which I fully appreciate do require stamina. I'm going to spend 3 weeks in August working away from home on an art installation project called "Walking" (it's a working holiday rather than a job) - will that be be a valid test of my stamina?

    So what do you all think? Should I heed this admittedly hightly experienced and respected expert and just give up on professionalism now, since I cannot got to Drama School?

    Or shall I just carry on following my unique individual path and seeing where it might lead?

    • 12th Apr 2012
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  • Forbes KB

    Actor

    I haven't had a days training in my life other than drama lesson at school in the 70/80's and some part-time, as in 1 afternoon a week, "acting for screen" courses I took when I first set out on this path from a private tutor in Glasgow!

    Look at my CV and tell me you need 3 years of full time tuition!

    There are two different paths to choose from! The "drama school" path which is admittedly quicker at getting you on stage/screen or the "apprenticeship" path which I chose which allowed me to work and support my family while I learned the trade which now supports them!

    Everyones back story is different! Simon Dunmore's "you can't be a professional without at least 3 years full-time drama school" is elitist, invalid in the modern (real) world and has no basis in fact!

    If you want to be a professional actor you'll find the path that works for you!

    • 10th Apr 2012
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  • Suzanna Hughes

    Actor

    I did go to drama school, graduated 9yrs ago now and its only the last couple of years I can honestly say I've made a decent living out of acting and nothing else! It still took me years to build up my cv and get good paying jobs. I think your CV looks pretty good already and its more about talent, determination, perseverance, professionalism and attitude! If you have that you'll work. You can study at RADA for 100yrs and have a shi**y attitude. Don't read books about how to be an actor, just be one, you'll soon find out if your going to be successful or not. Good luck x

    • 10th Apr 2012
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  • Damian Dudkiewicz

    Actor

    hi there, I think you are right, to be an actor you have to find it within your self. I am a Polish actor living in London. I come from phyical theatre and mime background. In my country we only have four theatre schools, where you have to study for four years, and every year School will accept about 20 people. there is a lot of aplicatins but not that many places available..So not everyone is lucky to get place. We have also other way of becaming an actor, you just have to start working in theatre as an adept, It is like being in a deep ocean, where you have to learn quickly how to swimm, then slowly you learn , you became stronger andmore proffesionl and you start to feel as water is your life..I have done my training in that way, and after few years of working in theatres I did pass a special exam which gave me a certificate, but to be honest papers are not important. If you find actor within your self..Universe opens you some door. I am happy being in London and doing paid and unpaid projects and films.I try to develpe my skills and my English.I hope I will get better and better jobs. Good luck everyone..with schools and no schools..lets swimm in that ocean of creativity..

    all the best

    Damian

    • 10th Apr 2012
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  • Daniel Jude Gennis

    Actor

    Forbes and Suzanna have pretty much got it right. I have been in the business of being an actor for the past ten years and it has been ten long hard years. I have a CV that demonstrates someone who is a hard working actor. I did a couple of years formal training part-time, while also holding down a couple of jobs at one point in order to support a family. People who crow on about needing to do three years formal training, tend to people who have done that and know no different. It is worth noting that some of the world's best actors never had an acting lesson in their life. Elizabeth Taylor never did, nor did Burt Lancaster.

    There are many ways into this business but a strong work ethic, drive, an ability to roll with the punches and hard times, will certainly serve you well in the long run. Talent is a wonderful thing but when the times get tough, you need something more, a lot more to get you through. The best way to learn any job and do it well, is by doing it. Acting is no different in that respect.

    I have been in this business ten years and I am still struggling financially. Despite having a fairly strong CV. The Business takes far more out you before it starts rewarding you.

    I would suggest reading David Mamet's book 'True and False' as that helped me a great deal in demystifying a lot of the nonsense surrounding acting and gets to the heart of what it is all about. The book you read may not have been the best book to read if you are thinking of embarking on an acting career. Maybe when you have been around a while, know yourself as an actor, then maybe then but not now.

    • 10th Apr 2012
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  • Joanna Swan

    Actor

    Hi to everyone above who has posted in reply to my query. Thank you for your kind and supportive words. I think each of you has said something wise and valuable. Bless you. Onwards and upwards!

    Jo x

    • 10th Apr 2012
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  • Charles Delaney

    Actor

    The 3 year drama school course will get a decent show case (if it's a RADA or LAMDA type show case that is!) in front of agents who may be well connected & you could get top representation from the 'get-go'; Apart from that I cannot

    see any other major benefit from attending a drama school for 3 years mainly because there are so many variables in achieving individual acting job satisfaction.

    With regards Mr Dunmore's self help acting book,I would sell it on ebay or if that doesn't shift it...

    Bin it!

    Quite a ridiculous sweeping statement he makes in the opening pages!

    All the skills & elements required to sustain an acting career like stamina,discipline,tenacity,

    determination,adaptability,Improvising & overcoming constant setbacks & adversity can be self taught through attending the University of Life free of charge!

    There are some great acting workshops around to keep 'on the pace' for castings & I think this is one of the most important ongoing disciplines.

    In any event,'all roads lead to Rome' if we stay on the road!

    All the best,

    'POLE'

    P.S.I did learn though how to drink a few of my acting buddies under the table during my time at drama school!!

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    I feel I have to speak in Simon's defence, as he's a personal friend (although he does view these forums from time to time and comment on them, so he may feel there is no need for me to speak for him!). I'll be honest, I can't remember exactly what he says in the opening pages of 'Actors' Guide', but I don't think this thread opened with a verbatim quote, it opened with an interpretation of what he writes, so I'd hesitate before assuming that this makes his opinions automatically worthy of complete repudiation.

    Perhaps he is blunter than I am used to in this text (although I find in person that he is rather a subtle and complicated thinker), or perhaps he has moderated his views since 2010, but in his article on the same topic in the Actors Yearbook for 2012, he merely states that he thinks it 'important' for aspirant actors to go to drama school: he certainly doesn't imply that there is only one royal road to making acting work for you, and his justifications for why a drama school training is valid are only commonsensical - that, for example, in an emulative marketplace 'it makes sense [for casting directors etc.] to select from those who have undergone the rigours of a respected training process'. This can be construed as being elitist if you like, and it is certainly a generalisation (I know casting directors who have been quite insouciant about the fact that they don't care at all where an actor 'trained' if they get into the casting room and can prove they can act.). But there is still a certain truth to the message that it is harder to get into the casting rooms without training in the first place.

    It is perfectly true that most actors of any worth, whether they trained as such or they didn't, have to graft and learn their trade by doing, not by being taught (or, if you wish to put it another way, by learning 'on the job' in non-formal circumstances). Every new acting experience transforms your worth as an actor, and drama school, whatever its potential merits, is a cosseted environment that does not reflect the realities of the business day to day. I know that Simon is a staunch supporter of the idea that drama school training is a valuable contribution to the industry, but that's personal opinion, and I guess he's entitled to it. If he said something as blunt as that he couldn't conceive of anyone succeeding as an actor without any form of training then I consider that pretty foolish. If he said that he personally feels that every professional actor should have a form of professional training, that's a personal attitude, and as valid (or invalid) as the opinion of anyone who wants to argue that all trained actors are necessarily effete and pampered idiots who learn nothing of any merit over a three, two or one year course. Many are, in fact, rendered very much better actors for their training.

    More than anything else, though, I suspect Simon's attitude has to be taken in context. He is certainly of the opinion that a lot of youthful actors with no training come into the world of acting full of aspiration and hope but with absolutely no knowledge of professional conduct, no understanding of the origins of their trade, no skill or technique, no vocal dexterity, and so on, and need to be 'honed' by some form of training in order to make them better (and more respectful) actors. I personally don't think this applies at all to those who have already learnt most of their acting professionalism by 'rule of thumb', but then, I'm not sure he would either.

    Anyway, perhaps he will make a comment to give his own opinion?

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Heather Rome

    Actor

    What training at a GOOD drama school can do for you (good as in a supportive environment for you in particular, not just the name):

    - allow you to work on different aspects of the "craft" of acting, such as voice, physicality, intepretation of text with teachers that will actually teach, encourage you to stretch your possibilities as performer.

    - put aspects of that "stretching" into practice in actual productions, not just brief scenes or exercises.

    - allow you to do this while not being "distracted" by juggling many hours of paid work, if for no other reason than the course is so full on you can't live/breath anything else.

    - near the end of it, have enough of a reputation to pull in good agents and casting people to see your final shows, in which you are cast to show off your skills well,so that you are considered for good, professional, paid work that will start to help you build a reputation in the industry.

    Of course you don't have to go to drama school. A lot of the best recent screen actors were plucked from Oxbridge or even discovered by casting directors when they were young for a particular projecton stage or on screen. But a great deal depends on what you ultimately dream of doing in the profession. Many agents who can get you the interviews and auditions for the interesting (not to mention decently/Equity-minimum paid) projects will only look at new talent that they feel have "learned the craft & the biz" in whatever way. For many agents,training at a good drama school, plus a look and an attitude they feel they feel they can work with, is what will get them to offer your representation.

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Joanna Swan

    Actor

    Thanks Lee for providing a seperate perspective.

    You are right; I gave my personal interpretation of what Simon Dunmore had written, based on all my own worries and insecurities. You are correct in pointing out he doesn't say school is absolultely the ONLY way however the emphasis (as I read it through my personal filter) is still very much that an actor will find their career nigh-on impossible if they don't go to school. As you rightly point out, Lee, part of the purpose of the introduction is to disabuse youngsters of the notion that acting is an easy career option. Believe me, if I ever had that illusion, it has been many years since I discovered the truth of things. Fortunately for me, I have a strong work ethic and have spent the last 10 years building a strong local network before taking the decision in late 2011 to try and go professional. Maybe I just picked up the wrong book, or started on the wrong page. There's certainly advice and information later on in the book that I do think I will be taking on board.

    I hope neither you nor Simon Dunmore think my intent is in anyway to be disrespectful or encourage disrespect for the author, it's just an honest and very individual interpretation, followed by a plea for advice from my peers.

    I'd be interested in a dialogue with Simon any time I hope that I, and other unschooled actors like me, can prove to him that, through hard work, the "apprenticeship" road to an acting career, though rocky, can also be rewarding.

    Cheers

    Jo

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Charles Delaney

    Actor

    Are actors who enter the profession later somewhat 'predjudiced' against because they haven't been through the 'system' of attending drama school for 3 years?

    I think this may apply in certain quarters & is a naive & insular attitude to have!

    If your 19-24 yrs & have the inner confidence & desire at this time to entertain/perform to an audience in return for the opportunity to 'express'

    then applying to an established drama school is probably a good career move;

    Personally I wasn't ready to commit to an acting career until I felt I had 'something to say' to an audience.

    The performing 'seed' had been planted several years earlier as I'm ultimately a product of my environment!

    That's something drama school doesn't give you in my opinion.

    A study on a cross section of drama school applicant's motivations would be interesting reading!

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    I doubt Simon would have meant and or said that verbatim? There are many like Forbes...myself...and others who have had much more success than many 3 year degree drama school grad's. I include those I have met, employed, and worked with.

    CV's speak for themselves really.....at the end of the day we are in a business where you are only as good as the work you have under your belt! Work you have "trained" and or you have a qualification showing you are capable of doing don't mean Jack poo...if you have not gained a "decent" agent nor gained the experience to back up your degree.

    In general on this forum...I find this subject goes like this. Those who have been to Drama school defend it like mad.....those who have not ....question the absolute need to attend.

    I think for musical theatre...it's probably a must to get you a good start. For theatre ....OK it might be better to have done a 3 year course..in certain agents and directors eyes.

    For TV and Film.....no way does it 100% apply....there are certain casting folk who actively ignore drama school trained actors for TV and film....and no I won't ever name them....but I have met them I can promise you.

    There is no substitute for natural ability - and experience - and that can only be gained by DOING the work out of the classroom. I'm not against it….but I question some of the ability shown simply having been to a drama school?

    It's a well trodden subject on here that's for sure!!

    simply speaks for itself I'm afraid.

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Joanna Swan

    Actor

    I've had a chance to read the latest comments, and again I'd like to thank everyone for their kind contributions. I do see that Drama School has its values, and in an ideal world, without financial and other obstacles, of course I'd go (provided I managed to win an invitation by delivering an audition of suitable standard!) I guess when I posted yesterday morning I was just hoping to be reassured that just because I can't go to Drama School, it doesn't mean I should give up my dreams. I am grateful to every commenter for giving me that reassurance.

    Jo

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Daniel Jude Gennis

    Actor

    You should never give up on your dreams Jo. In an ideal world, we all would have gone to drama school for three years full-time but we are not in an ideal world. I went for a couple of years on a part-time basis and yes it was useful but by going out doing actual work and workshops, I gained a whole lot experience.

    Just do what you have to do Jo and gain a lot of joy and satisfaction while doing so.

    • 11th Apr 2012
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  • Farah Sardar

    Actor

    As there is no fixed route into acting any advice we get or read about provides some guidance but there will always be different opinions & exceptions to the rules.

    • 12th Apr 2012
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  • Emma Hilts

    Actor

    I would say that there is no golden guarantee route into the business- I did a 3 year acting degree at a university rather than an accredited drama school but I've still managed to work, albeit small scale but I'm on Spotlight. I've done Tie and small scale tours where my fellow cast members have been Mountview and other top drama school graduates, often with agents, but they're still doing the same work as me. My next plan is to get an agent so that I can audition for higher profile work than what I can get myself, but even this isn't guaranteed.

    By all mean drama school can help you in terms of getting an agent initially, (my course was great but as it isnt accreditted I've really struggled with agent applications) but there is no guarantee that it will boost your acting career straight away after graduating.

    Emma

    • 12th Apr 2012
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  • John Eastman

    Actor

    Interesting thread.

    I read Simon's book in a previous life and remember it being extremely helpful..

    I did a wee 2 year course, a long time ago, but it was, without any doubt, among the best 2 years of my life. I dont think it really helped me to get work, but it shaped me, and I learnt more about life in general than I could have expected.(It was a course run in Townsville, North Queensland, and it was run by an eccentric but highly talented English ex-Opera star called Michael Lanchberry, who was a formidable presence- and a brilliant director)

    I remeber quite clearly rehearsing one sun-scorched afternoon, (I think it was 'Pirates of Penzance!) when some fool threw one of my shoes into the dirt outside the studio, and then most of the cast fell over with astonished laughter as a dingo emerged from the bush and ran off with said shoe (actually it was a thong but in oz that is a uk 'flip-flop' methinks...) Anyway, 2 years of madness, which I can't think any other pursuit would have given me.

    But yes, I am not surprised that there are many who dont heed the words of Mr D's intro, or whose life experience has revealed other truths.

    I am sure you will find the right path for You.

    And rememeber William Blake's motto: Crooked paths to genius.

    • 12th Apr 2012
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  • Daniel Jude Gennis

    Actor

    There is nothing wrong with the comments that initially caused Jo concern but should be taken in the greater scheme of things. Full-time, three training is ideal, if you have time and money to pursue that kind of training but not all of us have that opportunity or the money to indulge. Fine if you have but it wasn't an option available to me so I had to do things the hard way. It is not getting me cast in high profile dramas as yet but over the past ten years, through hard work and extremely hard times, I have many valuable lessons that you are not going to learn in any drama school. An actor's life is a bloody tough one but I am still here and still struggling to make a living. But I am getting there.

    • 12th Apr 2012
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  • Simon Collins

    Actor

    You said it in three words, sweetheart, follow your "unique individual path!"

    Go for it..., and enjoy x

    • 12th Apr 2012
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  • Daniel Jude Gennis

    Actor

    Absolutely Simon.

    • 12th Apr 2012
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