Drama school - To go or not to go? How old's too old to go?

  • Jay Sutherland

    Actor

    Just a quick ask around to gather people's opinions about drama school really.

    First of all, how old is considered too old to go to drama school?

    Secondly, who believes it actually helps ALL that much?

    I can safely say I have two sides to the latter argument.

    I have many actor friends who have gone to drama school, and many who haven't. I can safely say that on average, the drama school educated friends are in no better a position than the ones who didn't go. It seems to me that those who have gone to drama school, are now in exactly the same position as those that haven't (i.e, struggling to get auditions and get work).

    Furthermore, in support of the 'not-going-to-drama-school route', how many huge Hollywood actors can you name that have gone to drama school. I would say it's roughly 40:60 in favour of not going to drama school at that level. Most of the really big actors (Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, etc) never went.

    My argument for going to drama school is getting West End work. I reckon it's practically impossible for non-drama school educated fellows to get work in the West End; that makes sense to me.

    Also, I attended a big audition recently for a TV series and the woman asked me "which drama school" I went to. When I said I hadn't been, she looked at me like I was a piece of poo (I'm not being paranoid; she really did). Once she'd realised how she'd reacted, she over compensated a little and became extra nice to me, but it definitely worked against me in that instance. It should be noted that this woman was pretty old, and seemed quite old-fashioned - whenever I have auditions with younger people, they don't even ask about drama school.

    So... there's the questions...

    Drama school - for or against?

    And when's too late to go?

    Cheers.

    :-)

    • 11th May 2011
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  • Sheri Copeland

    Actor

    I didn't go to drama school and I have been in the west end (albeit in a rather short lived production) and been very close to leads in the big established shows.

    There are a few casting directors that never see me, whether that is because I haven't trained at a school or not is unknown.

    I do know that the Cameron Mackintosh casting directors will not consider you for audition unless you are drama school trained or have been with the NYMT. I did spend 2 years with the NYMT and I have no doubt that this has helped my credibility.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Rebecca Probyn

    Actor

    It depends, if you feel like you would like to study your craft and and be in a creative atsmophere each day then I would say go to drama school. It can teach you discplines and prepare you for the big wide world of acting.

    Also it does as Sheri says, give you an element of credibility.

    Can't hurt if you can afford it.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    The reason for drama school is not necessarily a stepping stone to success. It is about improving yourself as an actor. Don't want to sound w*nky but that has to be your mindset if you choose to go. It's not really an industry that you can go into looking for success, as you say, training or no training, it is a constant struggle. Drama School should allow you ro learn new skills and develop a better understanding of your craft, as it were (very w*nky word, sorry).

    However, I also believe it can put you in a better situation if you want to work in theatre. It's pretty rare to go to the National or the RSC and see non trained actors up there. It really does depend on what you want.

    As far as age is concerned, my course ranged from 18-33 I think, all of whom gained something from the experience. The older one's seem to be doing pretty well, as they have a bit of niche.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I was 44 when I went, but I did a postgraduate course. Is that too old? It was a struggle physically to keep up with the young'uns, but I did get a lot out of it - it opened up my eyes to many different techniques for accessing a character, and most importantly, the school I went to (East 15) did professionalisation training covering letter writing, CVs, how to behave in auditions, commercial castings, Equity, Agents, TIE etc. etc. all of which have proved invaluable to someone who wouldn't have know where to start in the business.

    With hindsight, if I could have afforded it, I would have gone for the 3 year course, as the postgraduate cannot cover the same in-depth skills training as the 3 year.

    But as has previously been said, it has to be a personal choice. It does not guarantee success, but then I haven't found anything that does. But it does expand your abilities as an actor, and that, to me, has got to improve the chance of success!

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Well, I'm 37 and I plan to go. Probably just a one-year post-grad, but if I win the lottery . . .

    I've done some evening classes with an accredited school, and have to say I didn;t struggle to keep up with the young 'uns - it actually struck me how unfit most of them were. At the same time, I know I don;t want to leave it too much longer.

    As some of the posts above state, it is worth asking yourself what you'd be going for - if it's purely to improve employability, then, as you say yourself, it may do so for certain types of work.

    I know if / when I go, it will be to explore and expand what I'm capable of as an actor.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I graduated from drama school at the grand old age of 39, although before that I did various courses with drama school tutors.

    I was in fact the oldest at that time at ALRA.

    One day I was sitting in the rear courtyard and was questioned about my age by another student, I told her how old I was, to which she replied, 'Oh God I could't imagine my Mother doing this and your 3 years older than her'

    I believe the oldest student that year at a London drama school was 54.

    I attended a class at the Actors centre and there was a chap on it and he was 71 and that was his first class.

    Its all about your own goals, beliefs and whether or not you really want to go, I did and it was positive for me, however ther were 3 people that did not finish the course.

    I hope this helps in some way and good luck with whatever decision you make.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Christine Hounslow

    Actor

    I was in my 50's when I went to drama school. Technically you can't get into Spotlight unless you have been to a drama school. Obviously they are not very strict about that! I found I was fitter than all the youngsters there - they were always off with a headache or hangover whereas i saw it as my last chance to do something. I am so, so, so, glad i went. I always knew I could act, but drama school taught me so much more and took me to levels I hadn't thought possible. By the way, I was the first and only person to have 100% attendance record - not bad for a 50 something who is also married with a family.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    I have been to drama school- in South Africa. This has not helped my credibility in the UK at all, as no one knows my school- never mind that it was and is one of the TOP in the Southern hemisphere.

    Even if you go to drama school the reality is that some people wont see you for auditions becasue they look down on your training and the establishment you went to etc... so it makes no difference ultimately.

    A top coach said that the majority of students dont go to drama school and stil work... its more a status thing in the UK from what ive seen and is an initial place to be seen by good agents and casting directors.

    Having said that, its also a fact that it undoubtedly helps, but I have seen people in the Oxford circles who did nothing but student drama get top shows simply as a result of the "privilege" of being Oxford alumni- in particular in classical plays...

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    However- I think that some sort of formal training is essential in the business ... and it doesnt matter how you get it, even if its in rep etc.. but this is a process that everyone should go through- NYMT, or drama school, etc etc... its essential to have that grounding...

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    This is the old adage of 'Some do, some don't!'

    I'm pretty sure that if you meet a trained actor and put him/her up against one who has had formal training it will show. Maybe not immediately but certainly over a stage 'run'. The difference will be Voice, Energy or Characterisation.

    To maintain those over a period needs basic training. See the example of Lee Mead or Carrie Whatsername!

    You may have raw talent. But you cannot play for a Premiereship Football Team if you don't dedicate yourself to understanding the whole of the game!

    I went to Drama School at 33 years old. I thought I knew it all before I went. When I came out I realised I'd known nothing. I'm still learning. Every time I walk on to a film or TV soundstage or every new rehearsal for a play I remember the 'Basics'. You get those right and you will be the best you can be.

    I am like many others in this Business, not in it for the Fame. But for satisfying my lust for performing! You don't get that from just 'turning up'!

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    I do agree completely, but I also have to say that many who HAVE been to drama school do come out feeling they have learnt nothing. I ahve heard this from peoople who even trained at Mountview.

    I came out thinking I had no technique and had learnt nothing, but only after time, when I ahd matured as a human being, dealt with a lot of emotional baggage that psycholgically blocked me etc, did i realise that the technique, as it were, was ingrained into me.

    Having said that, I have been challenged by notes i got in drama school and have had to revisit costantly such as being still on stage etc...

    many find that it doesnt heklp at all...

    I think sometimes it just helps yiou become primed etc and from there you find your own way- dancers etc or MT people - its very different as its a quantifiable thing- either you can or cant sing etc...or dance..

    but there are many roads to Rome as it were in acting technique.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    And there speaks age and wisdom, well said Alan.

    I tend not to agree with Blake on a couple of points, I went to drama school with 2 people, who are the Nephews of 2 very famous Hollywood actors, they also went to Eton and Oxbridge and have famous/desirable agents and they still struggle on like the rest of us.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    I have worked with a large degree of Oxford people recently and obviously many will struggle but a large majority will attest that it certainly has its privileges studying there- as long as the people you work for also did as well... thsi is from what has been openly said to me and what i have seen.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    It seems in 2008 you are never too old to go to drama school. When I went more than 20 years ago mature students were a rarity and even then they would be no older than 30.

    Now there seem to be a huge amount of drama training available and even the accredited drama schools which were around when I was training have quadrupled their courses and student intake. Yet at the same time there is less work. Many mainstream repertory theatres have closed down and television has a much smaller drama output. Cast sizes are drastically reduced. So with more actors pouring out of all sort of training and less work, certainly now having a drama school credit on your CV is certainly no guarantee of success.

    I'm a great believer in ongoing training and I certainly agree that you are never too old to learn. For even very seasoned professionals the actors centre is a wonderful resource as things get rusty and fashions change. I sometimes think if I won the lottery at love to go back to drama school and do a postgrad, but also having a year-long contract in a repertory theatre playing variety of roles would be equally beneficial. Sadly there are very few repertory theatres that have long seasons with through cast actors. (Just Keswick and Pitlochry).

    Anyway I'm rambling slightly- I think what I'm trying to say is whether an actor trains or not the more that actors has done the better they will be, as all actors learn from experience. I've worked with some wonderful actors who did not go to drama school and I worked with equally good actors who have trained. There are casting directors who will not look at actors with no training and there are those who prefer non-trained actors.

    It's a very difficult decision to make especially as it's a big financial commitment and unlike training as a doctor you are very unlikely to make a decent amount of money in an industry that is so very overcrowded.

    But I would say if you do decide to go to drama school pick very very carefully, do lots of research and do not jump at the first offer you receive. This business is all about being seen, who you know and the contacts you make and that starts right from drama school.

    Good luck whatever you decide.

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    I have been asked tpo work as a 'Performance Consultant' on a few projects lately.

    Strange that they should need them. But it would appear that for the low budget films when they insist that they cannot afford to pay actors they CAN afford to pay a performance consultant!

    I have run a few classes for actors reviewing their stage craft and film technique too.

    When dealing with these people I often thank the fact that I developed the techniques from being trained to do it rather than 'picking it up as I went along' because it reinforces the lessons I learned for me to take advantage of being able to see my own performance in comparison to 'untrained' individuals.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Christine Hounslow

    Actor

    I feel truly sorry for anyone who has come out of drama feeling they have learned nothing. I went to a modest drama school but learned such a lot - not only about acting, but about myself, my abilities , my weaknesses etc. I took all the notes and built on them, but I saw other students who had done a course at university, or had done extensive amateur dramatics, who thought they already knew what the tutor was trying to teach them and they didn't take the instruction and they never improved or grew as actors. The rest of us, who were willing "to be altered" and willing to take the notes and instruction who grew - both in acting skill but in voice and projection, movement etc. We were also taught very quickly to get rid of any habitual movements etc that we may have - like scratching the back of our head in every play, etc. I don't think you can beat training followed by experience using everything you have learned.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Iain Peacock

    Actor

    I have to echo many of the people on here as I didn't go to Drama School until my late 20s and the oldest person in our year celebrated his 50th whilst I was there.

    For me, drama school was not just about "learning to act". I knew I could act before I went. However, the techniques and tuition have certainly helped me to be a better and more flexible performer as well as instructing me in different media. Let's face it, we don't often get to do TV, film, radio and theatre with professional instruction; often it's just a case of being thrown in at the deep end and hoping you survive. Certainly I have learnt on the job as well but I feel it is because I had a basic knowledge drummed into me in the first place.

    Also, for me, possibly the most important thing was learning how to work in this industry and the fact that my school concentrated equally on this was invaluable. It's difficult enough being a working actor as it is, but when you have some idea of the ways in which you can make work for yourself, what agents and casting directors are expecting and how to do your taxes, it can only help.

    In the end, though, it is personal choice, and as Tracey says, you are never too old to stop learning, whether it is at a Drama School, on the job or at a workshop or masterclass.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Jay Sutherland

    Actor

    Cheers for your opinions guys. Very interesting. Thanks.

    • 25th Feb 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    jay,

    If you have not been to drama school yourself, i can totally assure you that you are not necessarily losing out at all..

    A film and tv coach said that most of the time drama school isnt needed any longer, another director who works for some top people said to me she agrees with training but not specificaly drama school, and many will say tat drama school doesnt necessarily make you a better actor.

    You will be discriminated by some establishments, but I really dont think you are going to have major hindrances that are insurmountable. Training etc is non negotiable, but drama school is not the be all and the end all...

    :)

    • 26th Feb 2008
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