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West End Producer’s guide to choosing a drama school (or how to become the next Dame Judi)

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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Drama schools are interesting places. They are institutions where friends are made, drama is devoured, and dreams are shattered. They contain the excitement of fame, the smell of greasepaint, and the taste of John Barrowman’s crotch. And on leaving them you will be a different person, you will be an actor-type person – someone who can understand Shakespeare, do the splits on command, and cleverly avoid Chekhov. But which school is best for you? And which one offers the best value for money? Let’s have a look at the most important things you need to think about, dear.

Many people say that when choosing a drama school the most important things are the school’s reputation, where it is located, and the staff. Now of course these are relevant – but are by no means the most crucial things you need to know. There are far more pressing matters, things that will make your drama school life far more enjoyable, and downright dramatic, dear.

If you can spot what tree each student is trying to be, then that school is for you

The best time to get a real insight at a drama school is on your audition day. This day can last anything from two minutes to two days – depending on the school. Some schools charge £60 to permit you to stand in front of three bitter old queens for two minutes – while others will enthusiastically fling open their doors to you for an entire day. At these jolly schools, as well as auditioning you will be given a tour – allowing you to witness students pretending to be a tree, ball-changing on command, and practising extreme drama (extreme drama is just like normal drama, only louder and with more spit, dear). If you can spot what tree each student is trying to be, then that school is for you.

It is also essential to know what kind of facilities a drama school has. Some schools have a bar, some have a gym, and some have a jacuzzi in the principal’s office (if you play your cards right you may be invited to have a soak in your final year). When looking around, ask if you can have a look at the bar, and enquire how much a pint of lager is. Obviously the cheaper the better – because if Shakespeare is being a pain in the neck, and Alexander and his technique feels like a waste of time (because it is) – it’s always pleasing to know that a cheap beer awaits you at lunch, dear.

‘A school is only as good as its teachers’ – no truer word was ever spoken (apart from the words that said Russell Crowe should never have played Javert, dear). You can tell an awful lot about a teacher by their dress sense – and this is something to look out for. A musical theatre tutor will be very fashionable, with Colgate-white teeth and an odour that split-leaps around the corridor before them. A good acting tutor on the other hand will be scruffy, tramp-like and will not have washed since their last season at Frinton. They will often wear a cravat and smoke rollies, and spend hours discussing the correct pronunciation of dramatic terms such as ‘Ralph Fiennes’. If they’re extra experienced they will have a little beard, long hair, and be rocking some double denim. A good female dance teacher will wear as little as possible, while a male dance teacher will simply wear ridiculously tight Lycra – which is done on purpose to see if it distracts you. Be warned. Never look at a male dance teacher’s panty region during your audition – it confuses and upsets even the most seasoned performers.

As a general rule, the better looking the teacher, the better at teaching they will be. If you’re going to spend £30,000 to go to drama school you might as well make sure you have lots of attractive people to look at, dear.

The canteen is another good indicator of how good a drama school is. Basically, if a drama school’s canteen has no students in it then the food served is rubbish, and the students will be eating at Wetherspoon’s. Never go to a drama school that serves bad food. After all, you are what you eat, and if you eat rubbish, you will act rubbish, dear.

Another thing to consider is the name of the school. If the drama school has the word ‘royal’ in it, then chances are that Charlie and Camilla will come along to your final-year performance of Privates on Parade. If a school’s name includes the word ‘music’ then you will also get to play on a trumpet every term – which is a huge bonus, because having a good blowing technique is essential in any performing career.

It may also be interesting for you to research the school’s history – which can be very revealing. For example, we all know that RADA now stands for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but did you know that it originally stood for the ‘Real Ale Drinking Aristocrats?’ – which explains some of our greatest actor’s drinking habits.

Some schools also have famous patrons who will pop in occasionally (usually about every 10 years) to offer support and advice to students. Be sure to know who the school patron is. You could have a theatrical great such as Judi Dench, or a theatrical not-so-great like Amanda Holden, dear.

Italia Conti love an all-over-body-wax, dear

Finally you should have a look at a school’s prospectus. This can be very telling. See how many spelling mistakes you notice. If there are fewer than 10 then there’s nothing to worry about (it was written by someone who studied drama and not English, after all, dear), however, any more than 20 is worrying. Also, a prospectus is useful to discover the kind of ‘look’ a school goes for. Every school prefers a specific ‘look’ of an actor – for example, some go for the posh look with floppy hair, some the fashionable look with trimmed hair, and others the bohemian look with no hair at all (Italia Conti love an all-over-body-wax, dear). If you’re particularly trimmed or hirsute then this will help your decision immensely.

Anyhow. The above are some of the most important things to consider when thinking about what drama school to go to. And if you’re still confused – just flip a coin, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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