Careers Clinic: Does it matter where I train?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I am a mature student who has been undertaking short courses in acting for the past year and a half.

I have loved every second and now wish to take a diploma course. My ambition is to become professional.

Unfortunately, I cannot take a full-time degree (mortgage must be paid) but have been encouraged by my tutors at the two schools I have attended to apply for their part-time diploma courses. One is a very well-respected drama conservatoire.

The course is not accredited, and there are no agent showcases or any other trimmings, but the diploma would bear the school’s name.

The other is a drama department in a college specialising in short courses. The course offers an agent showcase and a showreel, as well as training.

Although both schools have different styles, I feel both offer high-quality tuition.

I wondered how much weight the name of a school imports to career development, considering most actors must audition for parts anyway?

JOHN BYRNE'S ADVICE Drama training can be expensive at the best of times, and all the more so with a mortgage on the go. As any serious drama school will tell you (or certainly should tell you), there is no absolute guarantee of an actor getting work, no matter how good the course they train on.

Every part you submit yourself for is likely to put you in competition with other applicants, some with formal training and some without.

While formal training is certainly one of the many filters a casting director or producer may use to whittle down that list of applicants to a manageable number for audition, ultimately the casting process is all about finding the right person for the role, wherever they trained – and sometimes, whether or not they have trained at all.

Does that mean it is a waste of time and money doing a diploma course, or that it doesn’t matter which one you choose? Not at all. But you must bear in mind that there is no ‘one size fits all’ yardstick we can use to assess which course might be right for you.

My advice would be to think hard about where you want to take your acting career on the other side of graduation. As we have already noted, there are no guarantees that a career will go in the direction we want it to post training.

What we do have some control over is ensuring that, if you don’t end up doing the type of work you want, the reason won’t be that you didn’t give yourself the chance to acquire the most relevant skills and experience for that goal.

Looking at the areas of acting that most interest you and the roles you realistically feel you could be cast in, what are the key skills and areas of expertise that those roles require? Which course places the most emphasis on this kind of learning? Which course has the most alumni working in those areas? That’s also a good clue as to which type of industry people are likely to turn up to any showcases.

Thanks to advances in technology, showreel material is still very important, but not quite as unaffordable as it used to be.

Getting a showreel at the end of training is certainly an attractive offer, but I’m not sure it should be the main reason for choosing one course over the other. On the other hand, if your ambitions lean towards screen, does the showreel focus mean this course spends more time on camera technique than the alternative?

Basing your decision on your end goal and researching which course is closest to that is your best bet for making the right choice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to inform that decision.

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

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