As the new academic years have started and we have passed the Halloween, Christmas and New Years distractions I thought this was the optimum time to start researching and starting drama course applications for the coming year, especially if you’re going for schools that require auditions a while in advance of the course start dates so I wanted to put together a little post about a few options of drama courses that the UK provide that you may want to look into 🙂
With so many options it can be very overwhelming and rather difficult to find the type of drama school you want to attend. You have to decide what sort of course you want, what skills to focus on, which area of the UK you want to study. Do they have student accommodation attached? Are they part of UCAS or are they independent? You have to work out budgeting, if you can work alongside (if you want to be able to), do you choose a full time or part time course… So many questions, so many decisions, so much pressure. BUT, if this is what you want to do you have to at least give it a try, right?
I am a total stress head and put off even applying for drama schools for years after I graduated from Aberystwyth University. I finally decided to bite the bullet and started looking into universities and conservatoires, available courses, costs, accommodation, loans, audition speeches/songs etc and felt so lost within all the options. I decided I would like to focus on musical theatre courses that were not too far away from home which narrowed it down a fair bit.
As I had to pay for each audition, I narrowed my options down to three; Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and Royal Academy of Music in London via UCAS, then applied separately for an independent training programme with Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company in London-not at all a musical theatre course but after speaking to a current student and attending an open day I fell in love with their building, ethos and how it would be an ensemble focused experience covering so many different skills within their one year part time course ending with a performance season at Edinburgh Fringe festival (the 2 year full time course also included a trip to Italy to learn Commedia dell’Arte). Fourth Monkey was the course I was most excited about but it was the most financially difficult, had no student accommodation and had no connection to musical theatre whatsoever… so obviously that’s the one I ended up going for…
But I thought I’d get a few other drama student friends of mine to speak about their courses to give you an idea of what is out there.
Where did you study? Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company
What course? Year of the Monkey (1 year course rather than the 2 year)
What was included? Modules on: Voice, Fundamental movement, Contemporary texts, Classic texts, Acting through clown, Red nose clown, African Dance, Period dance,Circus skills, Puppetry, Grotowski, Ensemble, Devising original theatre, Acting for Camera, Stage combat, Decroux mime, Circus skills, Physical Theatre
Accommodation options: London living, advice given but privet accommodation only, no student accommodation connected.
Fees? Around £7,000
Living costs? Depended on your living costs, most people on the YOM course worked part time jobs alongside it. I was paying £500 pcm just on rent, plus bills plus food so you do have to be careful with spending- London is more expensive than most uni towns.
What had you done prior? I had performed in various groups through school and at university, had done a joint honours degree at Aberystwyth University- English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies.
What have you used it for since? My course mates have gone onto direct, produce, and perform in multiple shows, teach the practices, form their own theatre companies, workshop companies amongst other things. Sadly I have not used the specific skills since but it helped me with my confidence and helped me realise what I wanted out of life. It was also how I met some absolutely amazing people who I am SO proud of for all they are doing as they have used the course to start their own theatre companies and to perform in professional companies- love you monkies!!! <3
Where did you study? Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
What course? MA Stage & Event Management
What was included? Full-time contact hours (9am – 6pm minimum per day), certifications, training in stage management and technical theatre, production management training. Three show placements (7 weeks each) and two external placements (6 weeks each).
Accommodation options? Student halls (which I went for) or advice on housing.
Living costs? Moderate – I lived on about £120 a week on average
What had you done prior? BSc Econ International Politics with Intelligence Studies. I had worked heavily at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre and was a very keen and active member of Curtain Call.
What have you used it for since? Worked for Agrekko & Live Nation at Leeds Fest & BBC Proms in the Park (Hyde Park), job was sought for me by the college. Also my external placements were very flexible as I had declared I wasn’t going into Stage Management, I did these as internships for Kenny Wax Ltd (West End and Touring Producer) and Grantham Hazeldine Ltd (Theatre, TV and Film Agent). These both were invaluable for me and helped me to launch my career in theatre business, programming and producing! I use my training daily when giving advice and negotiating on the production aspect of touring musical theatre productions, concerts and events, that I programme into the Ambassador Theatre Groups 21 UK Regional Theatres.
Where did you study? Royal Central School of Speech and Drama aka CSSD
What course? Acting MA-1 year classical training (a contemporary training is also offered which covers the same techniques but different texts are studied).
What was included? Ancient Greek theatre, Shakespeare, Chekhov and others with a sense of ensemble work interwoven throughout. In a similarly redacted fashion, the Contemps’ course looked as follows: Shakespeare, Chekhov, Early Modern, Contemporary, Devised. This does not mean to say that one course will not be heavily influenced by the content or practices of the other. For example, our final piece was a brand new translation of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, while the Contemporaries began their foray into public performance with a production of The Heresy of Love, written by Helen Edmundson, which was published and first performed in 2012, but which was set during (and therefore, heavily influenced by the customs, politics and practices of) Mexico’s colonial period at the latter end of the 17th century.
Both courses also benefit from voice, accent and movement classes with industry leading professionals who’ve enjoyed careers at such places as the RSC, the National, and Moscow Arts. As a disabled actor, I knew the movement classes would be where I would find my most obvious (though not necessarily my biggest) barriers. CSSD has a rather rigorous regime for its MA Acting students, beginning with some rather yoga-centric explorations of form and some dabbling in the Feldenkrais and Laban methods, before also covering biomechanics and some rather more acrobatic expressions of movement.
It is important, nee vital, to remember at this point that while this is offering a breakdown of the course; these elements cannot, nor indeed can any element of actor training, be considered in isolation. Everything must constantly be brought into line, cross-examined and interrogated to find how you best respond to the provocations being offered to you. Your movement can offer freedom to your voice, which can alter your understanding of Greek chorus, which can really influence your physicality. It’s all very cyclical. Your training at CSSD will be further supplemented by the study of the neutral mask, commedia dell’arte, clowning, stage combat and period dance. It’s a fairly full schedule.
All remaining time will be wrenched from you by your SIP, or Sustained Independent Project. This is what affords the MA Acting course it’s degree status. Accredited by the University of London; there is a certain portion of all degree courses at CSSD that must offer some academic, rather than vocational, study. The SIP can take one of two forms. The first is to devise and create your own, 10 minute long, solo performance, in which you explore and challenge your engagement with a practice or practitioner of your choosing. This is accompanied by a 4,000 word reflection. The second is a 12,000 word dissertation exploring and challenging your engagement with a practice or practitioner, in a much quieter, leather-bound way. Cool if you want to go on and get a PhD in Advanced Theatre Practice, but perhaps of less use than devising a solo show if you’re looking to become an actor. That said; we each have our path.
Fees? I believe the MA Acting course is still sitting up somewhere close to the £18,000 mark. Couple this with a recommended annual budget for living costs of a further £15,000 and it becomes clear that a savings account is a must before thinking about actor training. To spend a year studying an MA in acting at CSSD, you need £35,000 behind you. There are, of course, cheaper and more expensive courses available at this, and other institutions, and there is nothing that says you have to train in London. Every choice has pros and cons, and you must weigh them out for yourself. Money is a major factor, but there are a lot of funding options available, such as local council sponsorship, grants, bursaries and loans, that mean money need not dictate your journey.
Accommodation options? While CSSD do offer and Accommodation Service, I found it far easier to go my own way looking for spare rooms in existing flat shares and family homes. This can be much easier than trying to strike up conversations with fellow students you’ve not yet met to try and fill a flat from scratch.
Living costs? You’re probably going to be looking at spending anywhere from £5-£800 per calendar month on accommodation. While it’s easy to spend far more than that in London; there’s no real need.
For those who don’t know, CSSD is situated in Swiss Cottage, North London, which is not by anyone’s definition a reasonably priced suburb of the Capital city, but it is fairly well connected. Local buses can get you to Camden, Golders Green, Hendon, Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, and all the way up to Edgware, if you should be so inclined. If The Inbetweeners have put you off the bus for life, the tube is also a solid option, and in fact the preferred provided there’s not a strike, and the tracks haven’t melted. Swiss Cottage is on the Jubilee Line and Belsize Park (Northern Line, Edgware Branch) is a 15 minute walk away. These transport links mean you no longer have to have Damien Lewis or David Mitchell as a neighbour and you can start to look at rather more budget-friendly postcodes. While studying, I stayed in Hendon. Some other popular options with straightforward commutes include Wembley (Metropolitan Line to Finchley Rd), East Finchley, Golders Green, Willesden Green, Chalk Farm and Camden.
What have you used it for since? It’s all well and good knowing all the details of a course, or pouring over an institution’s prospectus, but what does it all mean in the real world? It’s true that you don’t need vocational training from a top flight drama school to make it as an actor, but even aside from all it offers you in shaping and honing your performance skill; having a name at the top of your CV is a big boost. Since graduating from CSSD in 2016, I have worked as an actor. I have made a living, in London, for 2 years. I’ve toured the UK, and worked with some fabulous companies including the Gloucester Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Scotland. I’ve made friends for life and all this while in a job I truly love. I am lucky, but there are more success stories in this industry than you might be led to believe. You’ve just got to want it, but you know that.
If you’re looking for drama schools the more research you do the better, if you can get the opinion of a current or past student that is extremely helpful too in my experience, it’s what helped me start to narrow down places I wanted to visit and see for myself from the extensive list I started out with.
Good luck in your search and with your auditions, let me know how they go or if there’s any other places you’d like me to get info on – I have quite a few friends who have been to various places to study so you never know I may have someone with connections to where you’re looking into ^_^
Until next time, TTFN
Are these the places you are looking into? Is this helpful information for you? If you’ve been to drama school how has it helped you since? Let me know in the comments.
As always feel free to like, comment, share, subscribe, send me a message, work out a collaboration with me or get involved in another way 🙂