A beginner’s guide to applying for drama school
Prospective students are spoilt for choice with the variety of training offered by institutions across the UK. Samantha Marsden goes through the key questions you need to consider before applying
Am I old enough?
To apply for a BA, or a two or three-year diploma at drama school, you need to be 18 by the time the course begins. However, many applicants don’t secure a place until they are older than 18. For younger candidates, their level of maturity, rather than their age, may count against them. Drama schools need students to be emotionally mature, comfortable in their own skin and open.
How do I send in my application?
Lucy Skilbeck, director of actor training at RADA, advises: “Before applying and auditioning, do some research about the kind of training different schools offer.”
Once you’ve carefully selected the right schools for you it’s time to fill out the application forms. This gets done in one of three ways:
- Through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).
- With a postal application sent directly to the school.
- Via the school’s website.
Get someone else to read over your application to check for mistakes. Once you’ve sent it off, it normally takes one to four weeks before you receive an audition date. Be prepared for your audition to be held at any time from just a few weeks’ notice to as long as a few months’.
When should I apply for drama school?
October and November are good months to apply. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama strongly advises you to submit your application as early as possible – certainly before January 15, which is the Ucas deadline. Some schools accept applications at a much later date, but they may charge more for late auditions or the course may become full before you have a chance to audition.
What if I can’t afford the audition fees?
Drama schools tend to charge between £45 and £65 to audition. However, many of the drama schools now have audition-fee waivers available for students from low-income families. There are also other funding options: Open Door, for example, was created to help talented young people who do not have the resources or support to apply for drama school. It focuses on improving students’ audition techniques and provides free auditions to some leading drama schools. Details: opendoor.org.uk
Where will I audition?
This normally depends on the school’s location. Some schools in London and the South East, however, do offer regional auditions. Guildford School of Acting, for example, offers auditions in London, Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester. And RADA offers auditions in Los Angeles, New York, Manchester, Chester, Leicester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Bristol and Dublin.
What should I prepare for the audition?
For the acting courses, most schools require you to have prepared a contemporary monologue and a classical one. However, some schools require a third monologue so be careful to check each school’s requirements. Musical theatre candidates are often asked to prepare two songs and will be expected to take part in a dance class.
Gill Amos, artistic director of first and third-year studies at Drama Studio London, says: “Read the requirements of each drama school carefully. Often actors turn up with badly prepared or ill-advised speeches – a film or TV speech which is completely the wrong age range and in a different accent from their own, for example. Know your speech inside out, which scene it is from, who wrote the play and who you are speaking to.”
Once you are well prepared, Amos advises that, above all, those auditioning should be “brave and open”.
It’s also very important to take good care of yourself physically and mentally – for the audition and the training if you win a place.
How do I choose a monologue?
Skilbeck says: “Choose audition pieces you feel genuinely passionate about and connected to and can imagine yourself playing.”
Some students spend a long time trying to find an unusual monologue, but Alex Ayliffe, a third-year student at Rose Bruford College, says: “There is no such thing as overdone material, as long as you do it well.”
The most important thing to remember when choosing a monologue is not originality, but connection. Bradley Leech, acting teacher at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, says: “Look for monologues that are ‘close to you’ – similar age, casting and experience. At the audition, we’re looking for moments of simple, clear and truthful connection.”
One common mistake candidates make is to choose an overly dramatic monologue. Priscilla Morris, in charge of voice and acting at Loud and Clear, advises: “Don’t go for the over-dramatic. Natural responses are best.”
How do I ace the audition?
Be very careful whose advice you listen to. Sadly there are many poor drama teachers out there who will suggest monologues that don’t suit you or will over-direct you.
The audition panel is looking to see your authenticity and creativity, not your drama teacher’s interpretation of a monologue.
Will Hammond, head of acting at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, advises: “Instead of trying to give us what you think we want to see, do something that resonates with you. Use the material to tell us a story about yourself.”
Although you should certainly know your material very well, be careful not to become set in a certain way of performing it. Actor Kevin Leslie says: “Be prepared, but not so rigid that you can only do the speech in one way. They may want to work with you on it. Know it well enough so you can play.”
Another important thing to remember is not to get swept up in other people’s dramas on the day. Voice coach Pippa Anderson recommends: “Don’t give all your energy away to other auditionees by trying to be funny or entertaining. Warm up. Focus. Listen.”
There is an excellent video on how to master the drama school audition by Ali de Souza, the BA acting programme coordinator and lecturer in acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
For all of you auditioning for drama school: be prepared, be brave and be open. Good luck!