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How to choose the best drama training outside London

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
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Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to move to London to train in drama. True, some of the best drama training institutions in the world are based in the capital but living away from home can be prohibitively expensive. Elsewhere in the UK there are many celebrated courses at universities and colleges offering thorough training in acting, leading to a degree.

While the courses below all tend to result in university-awarded degrees – and there are many other universities also offering theatre and performance-related subjects – there can be a big difference between one university and the next when it comes to how much of the training is vocational and how much is theory-based. This is worth investigating fully when choosing which course is right for you.

Starting in the Midlands, the Birmingham School of Acting has a long history of excellence in drama training. The school’s affiliation with the Arts, Design and Media faculty of Birmingham City University make it the biggest producer of creative professionals outside the South East. The three-year BA (hons) acting course prepares the student for work in live and recorded drama and involves specialist training in voice, movement and singing.

In Liverpool, the internationally acclaimed Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts delivers its own BA (hons) acting course. Offering around 36 places per year, entrants are expected to have attained a minimum of 64 UCAS points but the faculty is also looking for key attributes in their students, including self-awareness, commitment and an entrepreneurial spirit to create new work.

Emma Kniebe is originally from Oxfordshire and, following a foundation course in London, chose to study at LIPA. She is currently enjoying her second year in the city.

“I think the main benefit is that Liverpool is such a student-friendly city. I absolutely love London and there is so much going on, but you can’t really afford to see many shows. Here, we get discounted tickets for the Everyman Theatre, so we get to see quality live theatre more often. It’s also a lot easier to create your own work, as there are so many spaces that are either free or very cheap to rent. At LIPA, we have access to so many great facilities, the space to create our own work and we get many visiting tutors from London, too.”

The Academy of Live and Recorded Art opened its Wigan campus – ALRA North – in 2010. Principal Adrian Hall says: “The first reason for opening ALRA North was that it allowed us to reduce the fees for the same level of training – not by a huge amount, but it was enough to make a significant difference. The second reason is that, at the moment, a flat in Tooting, shared by several students, will cost about £600 each per month or thereabouts. At the moment we have two students sharing a luxury canal-side apartment in Wigan for £220 per week.

“Beyond financial reasons, London can be an intimidating place to live for some people who maybe aren’t used to big-city living. We are also in extremely close proximity to MediaCity in Salford, home to more than 100 independent producers, not to mention the Bolton Octagon and Liverpool Playhouse.”

The nearby Manchester Metropolitan University has its School of Theatre, offering a BA (hons) in acting. For the last two years, the school excelled in student satisfaction league tables, with 100% of graduates going on to either further study or employment. With refurbishments taking place, its new arts and cultural hub is due for completion in 2018.

In the south of England, students have several options for world-class training to degree level. In Clifton, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is recognised as one of the country’s leading conservatoire drama schools, providing foundation courses and the three-year BA (hons) in acting. The school has an international reputation training in voice, movement and creativity in preparation for a career in all aspects of the entertainment industry.

If you are not specifically seeking a degree course, there are also diploma-level courses at organisations such as Dorset School of Acting and Liverpool Theatre School, which both operate diploma-level courses of various durations. The Oxford School of Drama  runs a demanding three-year course, based on the traditional values of classical acting adapted to suit the needs of contemporary media, leading to a level 6 diploma.

In Guildford, the Italia Conti Arts Centre operates a rigorous three-year diploma course that combines performance training alongside optional teacher-training qualifications.

Also in Guildford, and within easy commuting distance of London, the Guildford School of Acting is part of the University of Surrey. GSA students have access to excellent facilities including purpose-built state-of-the-art studios the Ivy Arts Centre, which includes a 200-seat theatre plus on-campus accommodation, a recently refurbished library and access to the Surrey Sports Park. Within this well-appointed complex, GSA offers a BA (hons) in acting, which aims to develop a clear set of individual technical skills, from singing to stage combat.

In the south, Arts University Bournemouth boasts a burgeoning BA (hons) acting course in a vibrant, student-friendly coastal setting. Regular open days take place to help prospective graduates get a feel for AUB, offering a chance to explore the campus and chat to the tutors.

The university’s film, costume and make-up courses constantly draw on the actors for assistance with projects, helping nurture an understanding of other mediums and establishing early industry contacts.

Northern Ireland may not have a full-time performing arts course at present, but Drama Studio at the Lyric, Belfast offers a term of Saturday workshops that have helped students attain places at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Lir Academy, Dublin.

The RWCMD in Cardiff has an international reputation for excellence and its BA (hons) acting course has twice been voted the top institution for drama training in the UK by the Guardian University Guide. It was also shortlisted for the school of the year prize at The Stage Awards last month. With only 22 places available on the undergraduate programme, tutors work with students in small groups, building close working relationships and nurturing individual strengths.

In Glasgow, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has been classed sixth in the world of performing arts education in the QS World University Rankings. The BA (hons) acting degree accepts only 24 students for a three-year course developing skills in acting, voice and movement to equip the graduate for a career in film, television and theatre.

Facilities include the 340-seat New Athenaeum Theatre and the 125-seat Chandler Studio. Glasgow is consistently in the top 10 most popular student cities in the UK, offering even more incentive for those questioning an early move to London.