Dear West End Producer: Where is the best place to study degree level musical theatre?
There are many different drama schools that offer degrees in musical theatre – most based in London. Places like Mountview, Arts Ed, Guildford, Urdang – all offer BA (hons) courses in musical theatre. Each of these degrees is awarded by a university affiliated with the school – for example, at Urdang the degree is awarded by the University of East London. In all honesty, a degree doesn’t help an actor or dancer in their performing career at all (we never ask if you have a degree at auditions, dear). But obviously a qualification is important these days – as it allows easier transitions into other vocations and training (and many parents are far happier for their children to go to drama school if they are going to leave with an academic degree). But as for the question of which place I think is best – I couldn’t comment. All the schools listed above are accredited by Drama UK, and are recognised in the industry for training performers to the highest standard. However, some schools specialise in one area. In the industry, the reputation of a school often varies, and schools become known for producing performers who specialise in dancing, acting or singing. At present, I would say Mountview, Guildford and Arts Ed all produce performers who do all three disciplines to a good standard, while Urdang tends to produce performers who are better dancers than the other schools. So it is important that you decide what kind of performer you want to become. And as this week’s edition of The Stage is about dance, I’d like to quickly touch on some thoughts about dancers. As I’ve said before, most schools produce actors who can ‘move’ – but the ones listed above, and also Italia Conti, train their students to dance to a good musical theatre level. Of course, if you are interested in specialising in dancing and working for people like Matthew Bourne, then there are schools that specialise in this – places like Bird college, Performers College and Laine Theatre Arts all focus on dance. But what does it take to become a dancer? Well hopefully you’ll have done some dancing when you were younger and learned the basics. You will own at least three different types of Lycra leggings, and have a drawer full of Pineapple T-shirts (and a signed copy of Craig Revel Horwood’s book). You will own a pair of tap shoes, ballet shoes, and split-sole Capezios. And you will always do leg stretches in front of the TV when your family is trying to watch Midsomer Murders (to be honest, anything is better than that bloody awful show, dear). When going into dance auditions you will always have a bottle of water, and skin tougher than any rhino. Actors and singers are competitive – but dancers are on another level. If they see any possible competition, they have been known to get aggressive – it’s called ‘dance anger’. And there’s nothing more frightening than an angry Louie Spence, dear. Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer