Last month I asked whether or not foundation courses are worth doing, given that students on them almost always have to self fund, and I suggested that the part-time option might be an affordable compromise.
So how do they work? No simple answer. There are almost as many ways of structuring them as there courses and course providers. A foundation course, remember (not to be confused with a foundation degree – we suffer from a shortage of vocabulary in education) prepares students for drama school by giving them skills training and, crucially, masses of audition preparation and coaching. If all secondary schools took performing arts careers seriously and employed staff who really know the industry, foundation courses probably wouldn’t be necessary – but that’s another issue.
Some part-time foundation courses are taught on two or three days per week so that participants have time and space to earn their fees. Blair Underwoode, who did a part-time foundation course at Dorset School of Acting (fee £4,750) last year, worked as a waitress in Poole on the days she wasn’t training. She has just started on CSSD’s Drama, Applied and Education BA (Hons) degree course so clearly, for her, the part-time foundation course did exactly what it was supposed to do.
Other courses are taught on weekday evenings with some weekend commitment so that participants can have a full-time day job at the same time. This is the pattern ALRA South (Clapham) and ALRA North (Wigan) use. Students attend for 8 hours a week – 2 weekday evenings and part of Saturday for an annual cost of £1895.
Bridge Theatre Training Company, now in new premises in Finchley which I’ve written about in a forthcoming article in The Stage, is launching a new, part-time foundation course in January. It will operate for 12 hours per week on two weekday evenings plus several hours on a Saturday. This one however is setting out to be very intensive – the course lasts just 10 weeks and Bridge TTC is hoping, eventually, to fit in three groups a year. The fee is £850 for 120 hours.
So how do you judge whether these courses – and there are many more out there – are any good? I’d say look at the outcomes. Ask where the students go, or what they do, afterwards. Last year DSA got all its students on to vocational courses at DramaUK schools which is a fair achievement. But, bear in mind that for some a foundation course is an activity in itself – a “gap” year activity as it were. They don’t actually want to go to drama school from the outset or soon realise that they don’t.
New courses, obviously, have no history so it’s bit of a gut-instinct leap of faith. Ask about the staff, though. How much teaching/industry experience do they have? Which other schools have they worked in? And the best schools will bring in experts and established practitioners to run one-off workshops so ask about that too.
Meanwhile I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who has done a part-time foundation course with experiences and thoughts to share.