Drama school or not? So confused!

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CAH123
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Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by CAH123 » Fri Oct 31, 2014 11:27 pm

Hi all!

I would be so grateful for any advice, im in a bit of pickle!

Im 19 at the moment and since A levels I have been pursuing both acting and writing work but nothing really of any note. Ive contacted agencies before but feel at my age, they will only consider drama school graduates or people with lots of professional experience. I have considered drama school but the fees are so daunting! We arent exactly rich and while i know the course is governement funded, im concerned about having so much debt in such an instable career. Does anyone know drama grduates who are doing well or is there anyone in the same mind as me?! Dont know whether im worrying too much and not dreaming big enough?! Also, if i didnt pursue a drama degree, im completely clueless as to where to go from here?

Id really love to hear your ideas as i feel completely clueless!
Thankyou, Charlotte

paulears
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by paulears » Sat Nov 01, 2014 1:44 pm

There aren't many fellas on here - but you're probably not the first or last to ask the question.

The facts are pretty simple - but the endless choices you have mess the facts up!

The business you want to go into is split into two critical areas. Talent and contacts. As you can see by the terrible stuff on TV, success and talent don't always come together. If you have talent then there is no real need to go to drama school, but to get work you need a decent agent, or loads of contacts. Agents won't take you on unless you are a 'product' they can market, so they need to see you in things. The questions they'll ask are what productions you have been in. They realise these will probably be am dram and that is NOT a problem. They'll expect you to be a member of all the local societies, and have been doing chorus or supporting cast roles for a variety of styles - so plays, musicals and in the acting side - serious and lighter stuff. Being a member of a Shakespeare company is good too. They are aware that A Levels mean you probably didn't do anything of note at school - A Levels don't need script learning skills more than a few pages long - never a complete play. So don't try to pass off school stuff as real experience, because while useful, it's just not what an agent wants to hear. Are you in any upcoming productions that the agent might be able to see? Are you in any videos they can watch? This kind of thing is important.

If you don't have any real performance experience, then continuing education, with the associated multi-thousand pound debt is the usual course.

Being frank - the degree matters little apart from it being good to put on a CV when you apply to work in an office! It never gets you a job acting. However, the contacts you can make very often do. Having the XYZ trained stamp on your CV does mean something. That said, loads of successful actors fell into it. There seem to be two breeds of actors nowadays. Those that just get cast as themselves and those that know how to act, as opposed to just learning the script. Eastenders is a good example. Some of the actors are drama school trained and when you meet them, they are a totally different person to the one you see on the screen - they walk, talk and behave totally differently - and some have very different natural accents that stand out. Others are exactly the person you see on the TV screen. This is what a drama school teaches you - how to be a character and do it convincingly.

Even when you graduate it's never cut and dried, and it boils down to a dose of luck and having the right look for a job. Two people at the same audition will be judged on the right fit, and that's sensible. Getting the audition is the key feature, and as a non-trained newcomer, you won't even know the audition is happening because you have no agent and no contacts.

I was reading some information on Avenue Q, and the production company have three executives - all ex-actors now producers - and all under 30! One of my ex-students is the general manager. Doesn't surprise me she stopped performing and did this because she was great as a performer, but her family are all in business, so I guess this rubbed off on her too. Lots seem to drift into teaching, doing a PGCE.

Only you know how good you are. Some people (like X-Factor candidates for example) actually have been told they are good by idiots who really don't know, so do you have friends who really do know the business who can be honest with you. If this person agrees and says you are good, then you need to either get in to as many productions as you can locally, then get an agent, or bite the bullet and go to drama school or study it a one of the decent universities.

You should be aware that in sheer numbers, Musical Theatre is the more likely work area, so not being able to sing or dance does limit your possibilities - BUT - if you are a great actor, then you might be able to ignore the MT genre and still get work in the more serious side of the industry. Acting also doesn;t have the age related problems when you can't do it any longer, so might for some have longer legs before you give up.


I don't think anyone can really give advice, just help you along. I all depends on how skilled you are and how realistic your goals really are. So many people have "a passion" and often little talent, and get nowhere. You need to find out where you are.

Best of luck. I'm sure others will give their versions of this too. Just read it all and decide which works best for you. Ask questions, many people here may have already gone down that road with their own family members and can advise better.

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risingstarxx
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by risingstarxx » Sat Nov 01, 2014 2:35 pm

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TalyaB
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by TalyaB » Sat Nov 01, 2014 3:46 pm

That's an informative and insightful overview, paulears. My DS is a few years away from making these kinds of decisions, but I'm saving your post to look back at in the future. As someone who knows nothing about this world beyond what I've recently experienced through him (local drama groups, Matilda in WE, NYMT, Billy Elliot), it wouldn't have occurred to me that the primary reason for going to drama school isn't to learn acting skills. Do you really mean that if he has a good non-child-only agent, then he should be thinking about work straight from school rather than training? Thank you.

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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by TotallycluelessMum » Sat Nov 01, 2014 4:04 pm

Very interested by the Drama school or Oxbridge comment!

CAH123
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by CAH123 » Sat Nov 01, 2014 7:18 pm

Thank you so much for your comments. Much of it is what I had in my own head but it's so difficult trying to decide the best route. Personally, the fees are what have put me off drama school but the contacts are just so appealing. I'm wondering whether a short or year long course might be a good option for me. I've been in lots of productions, short films and one feature film but I thought these wouldn't match up to massive Broadway or bigger film experience so your comment that that doesn't matter is reassuring. I have asked around everywhere and anywhere but unfortunately I am the only one in my family who seems to have the acting bug or no anyone at all who could be influential! I think much of the problem is I lost confidence in myself and need to build that back up again and get out there. I think I may need to get in a few more productions and try again :) Thank you again for your comments, it's always reassuring talking to people who can actually relate!

Charlotte

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Welsh Mum
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by Welsh Mum » Sun Nov 02, 2014 9:25 am

Can I just add that you get far more than just contacts from drama training? You get a chance to explore and develop different ways to approach your craft. You learn a LOT - and in a less judgemental environment than trying out these things in jobs and work. You have your mind opened up to different methods/techniques/possibilities. You are surrounded by like minded people all day every day. Finally you get a qualification - a degree counts for something in the word of (non acting) work, it often doesn't mater what it is in. And lets face it, the harsh reality is that many actors have to do different jobs most of the time, and many decide to pursue non acting jobs in the long term.
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by paulears » Sun Nov 02, 2014 10:52 am

I didn't mean to suggest you don't learn your acting skills from a proper drama college, but rather that for some jobs it probably isn't that critical. My son avoided drama like the plague at school, avoided it again in college - preferring to work with me backstage. The trouble was he really liked the environment, the atmosphere and the people. So when he should have been doing serious technical stuff he volunteered to cover one of the daft character dances in panto when one of the real dancers was always late for a fast change - bended up doing every other performance and the Director only noticed when he came back for one of the no notice visits. Next thing is he on a Shakespeare tour of National Trust Stately Homes driving the van, but then because of panto and the Director's observation, he's in costume, with lines, acting alongside a guy from Hollyoaks.

This is the weird business. Laines own agency is a good example of keeping it in the family. Auditions are horrible to organise and run - I always feel it's a bit like a meat market, so getting on the pre-invite list is important - public auditions seem to now be just for top up. Even the top turns can mess up auditions for the big jobs. I'm sitting in the corner of the posh office in covent garden, trying to work out how to squeeze in too many people into a small space, and a well known face bursts in and her and the producer have a hug. She stutters through a page or two of the script and breezes out with more hugs. The producer looked at me, eyebrows raised, rips up the piece of paper, and we carry on. She didn't get the job!

The biggest choice nowadays is at university time. A degree has become normal. Those people that go straight into work and do well are very lucky, but being unemployed at 21 and NOT having one is a huge disadvantage, because employers assume everyone has one, and if you don't, why not? Are you a bit dim, or lazy, or did you get chucked out? Perhaps not PC thoughts, but that is what happens. My own Higher Education came very late in the 1990s, because I wanted something that needed that piece of paper. I don't remember ever being asked what subject I studied on any form I've filled in.

It would be so good if there was some kind of 'test' for performers, to assess their staying power and real ability. There is no such thing of course. TV programmes have convinced younger kids that being famous is the quest, NOT, being good.

I've had many of these TV celebs in my productions and many are really nice people, but the lack of formal training means they are not able to function properly. Even Joan Collins, bless her, had real trouble settling into two shows a day, 6 days a week. In the movie industry, their actually working time is much gentler. The trained people cope, because college and drama school set them up for it. New script to script down in 3 days means the weak ones just struggle. Without training, these basic things become hurdles.

Looking at the older real thespians, the self-trained are in very short number, and for actors, their careers can go on forever. Dancers fizzle out by their mid 30s, and singers without proper training frequently often ruin their voices very early.

These are major decisions to be made by people when they can only guess what they will be doing in ten years, let alone 30!

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risingstarxx
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by risingstarxx » Sun Nov 02, 2014 11:58 am

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pg
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by pg » Sun Nov 02, 2014 1:50 pm

My son went to drama school, as did my daughter-in-law, as did I! We're all working (intermittently) as actors. DS has worked pretty solidly since graduating, daughter-in-law and I have worked less frequently.

My daughter went to a Conservatoire - but she's now in a non-arty job.

It is really sensible to consider the money aspect. Acting is one of the most uncertain careers imaginable - and to be honest, it's harder to get work (for most) than people outside the industry can begin to imagine.

I know lots and lots of actors, most drama school trained, some not. Even those who are very successful have times when they are out of work. The more successful you are, the more the work is likely to pay and the better able you will be to survive the out of work times. Unfortunately, a lot of acting work is NOT well paid - so surviving the almost inevitable out-of-work times is getting harder and harder. Fees for actors in some cases are going down, not up. Commercials used to pay well enough for people to survive for a year or more on the proceeds - those days are long gone unless you are big name. Now it is more likely to keep you going for a couple of months.

However, what you are wondering about, I think, is how to give yourself the best chance of being one of those in work - you are not wondering whether or not to pursue an acting career. That being so, I would say that drama school training is the path that is most likely to give you the chance to be one of those in work.

It holds no guarantees - there are lots of drama school graduates out of work, there are some who have had no paid work and have given up. It is possible to get work without drama school training, BUT I still think (and statistics do seem to bear this out) that drama school training on an accredited acting course (not a University Drama course) is likely to give you the best chance.

The debt is a concern - of course it is. My son and daughter-in-law (who both went to RADA) both came from families who couldn't offer them any financial support. They do have big debts - but - providing it's a student loan and not a Career Development Loan - you don't have to start paying it back until you are earning enough to be able to AFFORD to pay it back. They are struggling along, living in London, and they manage!

They have both had acting work - son has had more than daughter-in-law (he's back with the RSC again now). They are building up contacts and good CVs and they are doing OK.

I think you have to face the fact that it's harder for women. There are fewer opportunities and if you are young, white woman in your twenties you are in the most overcrowded bit of the market. That means that agents won't be as interested. If you happen to look really young (and I mean really young)
and you are very good - then you may get interest from agents.

I agree that contacts are hugely important. Either you already have them (in which case, make the most of them!) or you need to build them. People like to work with people they know - or people who can be vouched for by people they know. That's true in lots of businesses.

I agree with Welshmum that looking at drama school training as a way of getting contacts is the wrong way of looking at it. Drama school training may well provide good contacts - but those good contacts come because of the training. They come because of the contacts that the school has built up. People of influence are interested because you have got through those rounds of auditions and had one, two or three years of good teaching and the chance to fall flat on your face and pick yourself up again. However, going to drama school does not guarantee that those contacts will happen for you. It depends on whether what you have to offer is what's wanted by the people of influence - at the time they happen to be looking. Chance plays a big part.

I would also add that if you go to drama school in the hope that it will mean you will get representation and contacts there is every chance you will be disappointed. It doesn't happen for everyone. Lots of people don't get good representation on graduating. Lots of people go out in to the acting world with very few contacts. However, everyone graduates with training. Go because you want to learn - not to get contacts. That way, if you get them, they're a great bonus.

You can build up contacts without drama school. It will take time and effort and determination - but it can be done. It is also highly likely to cost you money.
You will probably need to attend workshops, maybe do some profit-share (which often means you can't work while you are rehearsing and you won't get enough money to eat doing profit-share in London), do countless student films in the hope of getting good showreel material. Do showcases in the hope that you can interest an agent etc etc.

The trouble with these decisions is that you can't know what will happen. Good fortune (right place, right time) is a big factor - and no-one can plan for that. We only see the successes - so we look at the path that those successful people have taken and try to copy it. What we don't see though is all the unsuccessful people who have followed exactly the same path...

I would go to to drama school if you can. I would also look at what you can do to support yourself when you graduate. Where will you live? What will you do? Are there any skills you could brush up on that would allow you to get/do a flexible enough job that isn't minimum wage or just above. Living on minimum wage in London is likely be pretty soul-destroying and trying to get acting work costs money in itself (Spotlight, Equity, photos, travel to auditions etc).

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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by paulears » Sun Nov 02, 2014 6:57 pm

Good stuff.

It's also quite interesting to spot the 'stamp' these places put on their students. I think I can spot the Laines people but RADA also has a distinct way of doing things and their take on safety is quite ingrained, which has to be good.

You can spot the proper actors in the rehearsal room rather easily, I've found. The Directors know this, so there is a balance to be struck between a 'celebrity' who might put bums on seats and a proper actor who can hold a production together.

Facebook is a great thing - and you can see those who go from role to role growing, and quite sadly you see others sink without trace. Looking at my FB friends - the trained ones are working more than the ones who learned their trade on the job.

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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by QueenBeexoxo » Thu Nov 13, 2014 4:13 pm

I'm 21 and sort of in the same boat, as in considering whether or not to apply for drama school - the fees are ridiculous and not everyone has two rich parents and descendants from the queen :p

I'd suggest doing some part time courses, apply for short films, learn script writing, NYT, NYMT, NYFA, Ideas tap and Mono Box are two good resources as well.

Drama school is NOT the only way to have a career, but it does help. Just as you are deciding you could train and concentrate on expanding your CV, use your time to learn new skills and explore each avenue of acting (i.e. do screen acting course, Shakespeare, Radio).

Good Luck!

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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by Welsh Mum » Thu Nov 13, 2014 5:54 pm

Fees for many places are the same as for other degree courses, with same access to student loans etc
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Re: Drama school or not? So confused!

Post by JayLou62 » Thu Nov 13, 2014 11:16 pm

True.....but for most courses student finance only part funds Arts courses needing a top up of several thousand pounds and the same with the maintenance parts. We were fortunate for one of dd's auditions in that her audition fee was waived and she received travel expenses as we live in a deprived area where few people access higher education. Sadly doesn't apply for most Drama/Musical Theatre or Ballet courses though :(

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