Pick and personalise your postgrad training
What is postgraduate training? It usually means the training that someone undertakes when they are aged 21 or over, when they have completed a first degree or have had some experience of work. In many cases you do not need that first degree because somewhere in the small print you’ll find the magic words “or post-experience”.
This does not necessarily mean a higher degree. Many postgraduate courses – the musical theatre course at Royal Academy of Music or either of the full-time acting courses taught at Drama Studio London for example – lead to diplomas not degrees Most of the drama schools accredited by Drama UK, and many universities, run postgraduate degree courses in performing arts that lead to masters degrees, and sometimes doctorates.
The key difference is that MAs need to be accredited by an awarding body, usually a university. However, a school or college that offers a diploma can operate as it chooses without having to negotiate with an outside body.
MAs are inclined to involve a bit more theory and research than postgraduate diplomas, which can be almost entirely practical. But any Drama UK-accredited course has to be geared to the industry’s needs – so it’s really a matter of working out what you want, looking carefully at each course and asking questions.
You can’t generalise about acting, musical theatre, backstage and other performing arts postgraduate students and courses. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and guises.
Some students please their anxious parents by doing a “sensible” degree first in, say, geography or maths. Then they opt to spend just one more year or so having a serious go at what they wanted to do in the first place before deciding whether or not to embark on an internship in accountancy, or to start auditioning for professional roles in theatre, TV or film. The MA acting course at East 15, part of the University of Essex, and Bristol Old Vic Theatre Schools MA in Professional Acting (International) are just two out of many possibilities of postgraduate courses that can work for such students.
Others complete a first degree in drama or a related discipline and immediately want to take their studies to a higher level before they begin work. This can mean staying on in the same institution to complete what effectively then becomes a four-year training course, although many students choose to move to another provider for postgraduate work. Mountview has the occasional student who graduates from one of its BA degrees and then enrols on its postgraduate diploma in performance – acting, or the parallel course in musical theatre.
Then there are students who take a postgraduate course in pursuit of something more practical and skills-based than the original performing arts degree, especially if it is taught in a university rather than a conservatoire. The latter option often means transferring to a different, vocational, training provider.
Yet another group of postgraduate students have long since qualified and have worked for some years in a completely different field, such as in retail, health, finance or local government. Now, perhaps, armed with a redundancy package, they are looking for a change in direction. Of course, that training doesn’t even have to be in a school or college. The repertory style training offered by Fourth Monkey, which was shortlisted for The Stage’s 2015 school of the year, is primarily for people who have already worked in other areas. I interviewed a doctor still practising part-time to fund his course, when I visited.
Then there are working actors – and other performing arts practitioners – for whom a postgraduate degree, studied full- or part-time, is top-up training or continuing professional development. For some, it can lead to work in related professions such as dramaturgy, facilitation, therapeutic drama and teaching. Many of the larger schools run a good range of postgraduate options. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, for instance, offers 18 different courses, including research degrees. Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama has six MAs relating to drama and many more music postgraduate degrees and diplomas.
Although there is plenty of choice and diversity in postgraduate training, there are fewer funding options. Until recently there was no funding for postgraduate degrees – most students have already used up their loan entitlement on a first degree. This means self-funding unless you can manage to get a scholarship or some sort of usually extortionate private loan.
This situation has now improved a little. It was announced in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 2014 autumn statement that from 2016/17 postgraduate students aged under 30 who are doing approved degrees, will be eligible to apply for a £10,000 student loan to be repaid alongside any other student loan they have.
As an interim measure – to help students applying for postgraduate degrees this year – the government has given £50 million to higher education institutions so that they can offer £10,000 loans to students who meet certain criteria. This, of course, does not help anyone who fails to meet the criteria or who is doing a diploma rather than a degree.
The range of choices means you need to be as informed as possible to decide what is right for you.
The Stage and its corresponding website – www.thestage.co.uk – are probably your best starting points. We cover training and training issues, and many course providers advertise regularly. So, if you want to train and work in this industry, you probably need a subscription to make sure you don’t miss out.
Take a look at the undergraduate courses at University and College Advisory Service website – www.ucas.com – too, and there is a list of accredited vocational schools, ll of which list their courses, on Drama UK’s website www.dramauk.co.uk.
Once you’ve found a course, phone for more details or download them from the provider’s website. Read the small print and ask questions via a phone call or email.
Make enquiries, for instance, about the background of tutors. Find out exactly how much tuition is being offered and decide whether it is the right balance for you at this stage in your career. Talk to the institution about its culture and the sort of students it is looking for – and visit it before you make a decision.
Knowledge is power and you can’t have too much of either when so much money, time and commitment is at stake.
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