Drama school graduates ‘not being made aware of industry reality’

Steve Winter. Photo: Nadie Attura
Steve Winter. Photo: Nadie Attura
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Drama school graduates are not being made aware of the time it will take them to gain success as an actor and the reality of the industry, the outgoing director of the Old Vic’s talent development arm has said.

Steve Winter, who is leaving Old Vic New Voices to pursue freelance work after nine years leading the London organisation, said: “Often, we are mopping up those who have huge expectations when they leave [drama training] and don’t realise that it’s the long game, that it’s a series of jobs and can be erratic. You can be above a pub, at the National Theatre and then before you know it back to a temp job.”

He added: “In general, drama school is out of reach for most people, and certainly those that come out of drama school don’t always appear to be ready for the reality of it [the industry] anyway.”

Winter said that, after leaving training, most graduates lacked the understanding of how long it would take them to gain a profile as an actor, and that they would be out of work for “90% of the time”.

He added that they were also not aware of the contacts required to achieve success in the industry and how to connect with producers, director and writers.

“A lot of our job initially is showing them pathways and making them understand that you are the business and the one that drives your own career. I’m not sure that is entirely explained often. The reality is you should be planning for five years and working out what your personal barometer of success is,” he said.

Winter added that drama schools should be providing more information to graduates about how competitive and “crowded” the industry is.

“If there are 18,000 actors in training, it’s possible they cannot all be good enough to succeed, so why are we telling them they are?,” he asked.

Winter, who joined the Old Vic’s talent development arm in 2004, will be succeeded by Alexander Ferris - who is currently senior manager of OVNV’s community work.

During his time with OVNV, Winter has produced five major productions and commissioned more than 60 plays.

9 Comments

  1. Would it make that much difference to the majority of aspiring actors? Of course it needs to be made clear how difficult it is but I wonder if the vast majority students will seriously pay any attention?

    The most that is said is ‘you need to really want it because it’s tough’ which only made me more determined.

    Always in your head saying ‘Yeah, but i’ll make it’.

  2. The issue under discussion is more complex than the article allows for.
    I will address one fundamental issue overlooked re actor training.
    The article and previous comment utterly undermines what drama school training is. Many students enter drama school from at least one ‘performing’ A Level(s), school drama clubs, etc – a host of amateur work. Or the aforementioned, plus an undergraduate degree(complete with uni drama soc experience), if entering as postgrads. Actor training in a UK drama school is about progressing beyond prior amateur experience and learning a craft in a safe, creatively alive, rigorous and supported environment and towards the end of the training, furthering the process through engagement in full scale productions (screen and stage).
    I don’t know one drama school which doesn’t include a ‘professional development’ module towards the end of the course, in which students meet with various industry ‘professionals’, many of whom, (in my experience of such a module) are only too keen to band about statistics of out of work actors, earning potential (lack thereof), as well as teaching the ‘five year’ rule ie the first five years out of drama school is a further training ground, don’t expect to make any money in this period, network like crazy, continue classes if poss, and be prepared to undertake temp work in order to survive.
    Getting into drama school and training as an actor is often the accumulation of a long held individual ambition, which is surrounded by dedication and passion – a whole host of emotions in fact. Once there, the craft is the thing. And it is the responsibility of those at the drama school to protect and pass on that craft – which means a focus on process by all involved; the major (accredited) drama schools in the UK do this excellently. The professional/business side of things should be, and is (in my experience) communicated as well. However, it is certainly not the responsibility of the drama school to tell a student they will not ‘succeed’ – to suggest it is, is a ridiculous statement. Students are at drama school precisely because they have displayed a high level of ability in their respective performance art prior to undergoing training. (Whose / what barometer of success is being referenced in the article anyway? Is success purely financial?)
    Drama schools first and foremost teach a craft, and make the students aware of the over saturated industry they are entering, advise on agents, networking, tax procedure of the self-employed, etc. It is the responsibility of drama schools to train actors, not to tell them ‘don’t bother following through into a profession we are training you for because you may not have the same financial stability, security and rewards etc, as if you were to enter a different profession’. What a silly thing to expect drama schools to do.

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  4. There seems to be an article on this on a fairly regular basis. Should something be done? Probably. Is it? Not really.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with this!
    A lot of actors don’t seem to realize that they are their own self-employed business, their own ‘Brand of One’.
    So as a business they still have to market themselves, promote themselves and network, like a business.
    Drama schools and colleges need to start adding a ‘Business of The Business’ type class to their curriculum to let actors know about the reality of an actor’s life after drama school.

  6. I agree with Lizzie to a certain extent here as I’m at Drama Centre now, approaching my final month, and we’ve had for the last 2 months ‘professional preparation’ sessions in which industry people have come in and all of the above article has been discussed with us. Yet, I can’t help but feel that there are people on my course that don’t listen, I’m an impatient person and of course I’d love to be able to go straight in to work but I know that it’s unrealistic which is why I’ve done some writing alongside the acting training that I’ve received. I can’t speak for any other drama schools but mine has covered all of this to such an extent that some of the people that have come to talk to us have simply been repeating what we have all been told in previous weeks… Unfortunately no matter how many times they hear it, some people will always remain naive to what they’re getting themselves in to. That’s just the way it is.

  7. I trained at GSA in musical theatre and I think they tried their best to prepare us for what was to come, but in reality, you just don’t understand it fully until you’re out there. In theory, you can be ready for rejection and the long spells of unemployment but when it actually happens to you, you can react in a way you never expected. It’s hard. Very hard. I don’t see how drama schools can really do anymore than they are doing. They have to fill students with hope, confidence and drive otherwise everyone would graduate expecting to fail and that would be a whole new problem. It all comes down to the individual and how they choose to take on the information given to them.

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