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Be sure to check under the hood before signing up to drama school

Guildhall School of Music and Drama students in Guys and Dolls. Photo: Clive Barda Guildhall School of Music and Drama students in Guys and Dolls. Photo: Clive Barda
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We’ve just bought a new car. It took quite a while to work out how to spend our money. Lots of internet research, a visit to the showroom, a long discussion with the dealer, followed by a test drive and then a discussion on how to pay for it all. Having been through such a thorough and exhaustive process, I’m pretty sure we’ve got a good deal and I’ll be thrilled when our sporty new red automobile is delivered next month. And all for less than the cost of drama training. Considerably less.

But just how would I have gone about the process had I been choosing a drama school instead of a car? How would I make sure I was getting the training that was right for me and getting value for money at the same time? When asked why you should go to drama school, most people recommend it as a bridge into the profession. I don’t think anyone can teach you how to act, but they can teach you how to be an actor.

The first two years of most courses are reasonably similar – skills, exercises, looking at different approaches and encouraging experimentation and exploration. The third year of any drama school course is concerned with helping its graduates make that leap into the industry. Some do this better than others, and for me, this is the time that I would want to start getting my money’s worth.

Having seen a few drama school final-year productions over the last couple of months, there is an alarming difference in the production values applied to them.

At the top end of the scale are schools such as Guildhall, whose offering of Guys and Dolls had production values that would not shame a major repertory theatre. An air-conditioned theatre, comfortable seats with good legroom, and every single student in it looked good. I have a feeling that they probably felt good too.

I think it would probably be wrong of me to attach names to another recent experience, but suffice it to say it involved plastic chairs in a small studio theatre looking at a set that could have been assembled from a kit. Sure enough the acting was down to the students themselves, but some looked overly exposed.

If this production was supposed to be a bridge into the profession, then it was the sort of bridge that Indiana Jones has to cross on a regular basis – wooden, rickety, and of questionable value. Both schools charge approximately the same fees of £9,000 a year, but I know in which of those two productions I would have felt that as a student I was getting my money’s worth.

And don’t forget the showcase – the lunchtime performance the drama school will hold to launch you to prospective agents and casting directors. Just where is it held? Some occupy West End theatres, some take place in less prestigious venues.

Having given up my lunch hour to attend these, on several occasions we weren’t even offered a sandwich to help us get through the hour or more of angst-ridden monologues that ensued. I can only hope the savings were going on costumes for the final-year show.

So perhaps when choosing drama training, it’s a good idea to look at the end product? All drama schools stage productions throughout the year. Some hold open days when they welcome prospective students to come and look around the building and see what facilities are on offer. It’s a really good way of getting a feel for a place. Like visiting the dealership and seeing the car for yourself.

Some drama schools have great facilities – and if you feel at home in a place, you will do better there. Have you thought about when you leave? Can you afford to still live in London after training or would it be better to think about basing yourself in Bristol or Manchester and give your post-training world some sort of continuity with where you have been for the last three years.

And take your chosen school for a test drive. Try and time your visit with seeing a final-year production. Look at the production values. Is that the sort of show you’d like to be in? If it’s an exciting piece of theatre, then it is likely to attract interest from within the industry – agents, casting directors, all of whom are essential to helping drama schools achieve their aim of getting their students out into the industry as working actors.

Does the drama school offer any support for its alumni? If not, you can always ally yourself with resources such as the Actors Centre, or the Actors’ Guild, but it would be great if your drama school did have some sort of after-sales service or support.

I could already drive, but getting the right car made me feel confident and sure of my abilities. You can already act, so think of what you want your drama training to do for you.

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