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Schools Clinic: choosing a course

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I have always enjoyed performing arts at school and I am very clear that I would like acting to be my future career. My problem is that I don’t yet know what kind of actor I would like to be. In fact, that is one of things I was hoping a good drama course would bring out in me. I’m not expecting a course magically to turn me into an actor – I’ve worked hard throughout all my performing courses at school, and my parents and I have discussed at length whether I am serious enough to make a proper go of drama training.

I’m not innocent about how much commitment it will take from me (and them) both dedication and finance-wise, and know there will probably be a lot of sacrifices to make along the way. But for all those reasons, I feel choosing the right course at the outset is going to be very important, which is why, as I wade through the brochures all over my bedroom, I’d really like some help in choosing which specific courses I should be targeting.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I’m glad you are not expecting a drama school magically to turn you into an actor, because there isn’t a magical sorting hat that will help you choose the right one either. Steven Green, artistic director of Fourth Monkey Theatre Company, which will shortly be receiving similar applications to your own for its courses, offers this advice: “Thumbing through brochures is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process, but definitely worth it if you are to end up training at the right school for you.

“Ultimately, an actor’s training environment should feel like your home. You should feel comfortable to fail gloriously, as well as being able to learn and develop in the best creative and supportive environment for you as an individual.

“Every school will claim to offer this and, in its own way, many will, but that is the fundamental point: they will do it in their own ways. Which way works best for you? Learn how each school differs in philosophy and approach – there is not a ‘one box ticks all’ approach to actor training.

“For that reason, ticking every school on the list available to train at, in the hope that one of them will take you, is the wrong way to look at it. It may feel bold, but if you want to train somewhere, set your heart on it, know why and focus on that. You’re looking for a home to learn in and belong to, not somewhere to merely be ‘accepted’ – there is a profound difference.”

If you are wondering how you can find all that out from a pile of brochures, I suggest you can’t. What you can use brochures and promo material for is to create a shortlist and then, just as you would (I hope) with any other expensive investment, such as a car (which may well cost less than drama training), start more targeted research. This could be on the internet, by attending open days, or, if possible, by speaking to graduates, including, hopefully, working ones.

You may not yet know what specific ‘type’ of actor you want to be, but you do know how you learn best, and, if you take some time to reflect, what type of performing you burn to do, rather than just can do. Best wishes with your research, and do come back to us if you need further advice once you narrow your shortlist down.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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