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Which degree course should you audition for?

Final-year students at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama rehearsing All That I Am with director Adele Thomas. Photo: Kirsten McTernan
Final-year students at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama rehearsing with director Adele Thomas. Photo: Kirsten McTernan
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Few people can afford to audition for more than three or four drama schools and choosing which are the best fit can be difficult. Course leaders at some of the UK’s top drama schools tell Samantha Marsden what their degrees have to offer


RADA

RADA’s BA (hons) in acting offers a rigorous three-year training that provides excellent grounding for a career in acting for any media.

Director of actor training Lucy Skilbeck explains: “It is a classically based training – still the best foundation for any actor – but the course covers a wide range of text and styles – including Greek tragedy, Shakespeare and other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, Restoration and 18th-century comedy, 19th and 20th-century drama and contemporary writing for stage, screen and radio.”

The core pillars of training are movement, voice and acting, including Stanislavski and Meisner-based techniques and specific training in screen acting, microphone work, dance, stage combat, singing, improvisation, dramaturgy, reflective practice and the Alexander technique.

Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts

Italia Conti trains actors in a wide range of techniques and approaches so that students can begin to create their own way of working.

The acting campus at Italia Conti is small with only two programmes. Bradley Leech, head of the certificate of higher education programme and head of first-year BA (hons) in acting, says: “The small, family feel, gives our students the comfort and support needed to be open and brave and the freedom to fail – which we feel is incredibly important – while allowing for a high level of personal rigour.”

After two years of core training, the third is the ‘rep year’, during which students are in rehearsal and production 80% of the time.

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

The teaching ethos at LIPA is based on recognising that the students are not just actors, but also artists.

Head of acting Will Hammond says: “As actor-artists, students can specialise in additional skills associated with acting, such as writing, directing and producing – setting up a theatre company or business. No two actors are the same and we use that to produce independent performers who can approach a variety of styles across various platforms.”

There are three main blocks of study at LIPA: the actor’s technique, the actor’s process and the actor’s performance. LIPA considers the final year almost as an apprenticeship where students are working and collaborating at a professional, industry level.

Drama Studio London

The principal aim of Drama Studio London’s BA (hons) in professional acting is to equip actors technically and personally to meet the professional requirements of theatre and the recorded media industry with commitment, courage and integrity.

Gill Amos, artistic director of first-year and third-year acting, says: “All our staff are professionals, working in the industry as well as being experienced in their specialism. Our approach is to offer a non-doctrinaire attitude to acting, allowing students wide scope in their future employment.”

The course is 90% vocational, consisting of classes across all disciplines – acting, voice, movement, media and preparation for the profession – as well as scene studies and productions. The remaining 10% consists of written project work in reflective journals, blogs and recordings.

During the first two years, students train in core skills and in the final year there are multiple productions.

East 15

East 15 aims to create dynamic actors and artists. Phillip Weaver, head of acting, says: “The ability to play and create distinguishes our actors and is nurtured by an emphasis on improvisation work, especially in the first year, when students experience the Living History Project: a three-week improvisation based on a historical conflict or event.”

First-year students are introduced to the basic methods and theories of acting technique with community, verbatim, contemporary and text projects. The second year involves more intense rehearsal processes and projects, including Chekhov, Brecht, commedia dell’arte, Shakespeare, Pinter, devising, cabaret, screen and radio.

In the final year students perform full-scale productions to public audiences, agents, producers and directors. Each year is supported by specialist training in movement, stage combat, dance, voice production, singing and music, recording and film techniques.

Students at Central performing Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty. Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

The BA (hons) acting course at Central delivers comprehensive classical and contemporary actor training. The school aims to prepare actors to become world-leading artists in theatre, film and television.

Head of acting Geoff Colman says the course has four key principles.

The first is self-discovery, which encourages actors to investigate their world, challenging their preconceptions and opening themselves to the “journey of the training”. At the same time they learn to accept uncertainty and failure as part of the process of change and growth, and make curiosity, originality and artistic courage the cornerstones of their professional and artistic life.

The second pillar is artistry, with the course teaching the skills students need to build their craft, “so that imagination and creativity can find expression in truthful characterisation and the telling of profound stories that offer insights into our world and the human condition”.

Then there is empowerment: promoting the honest exchange of thought and ideas within the safety of the creative space and “the integrity of the acting ensemble”.

The final principle focuses on tradition and innovation. “Intrinsic to this course is a commitment to studying long-standing theories and practices while welcoming innovation and new vision,” says Colman.

Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Guildhall believes strongly in the ensemble approach. Christian Burgess, vice principal and director of drama, says: “Individual actors work together in a coordinated and complementary way, each contributing to a single, powerful result. We work in a collaborative atmosphere and encourage actors to connect emotion, intellect, spirituality and physicality – and, above all, to connect with each other – in everything they do.”

Guildhall aims to produce actors who are flexible and versatile, able to move with confidence between classical and modern theatre, film, television and radio.
The first two years are spent training; in the final year, the group forms a company. Most of that time is spent rehearsing and performing to the public and potential employers. Guildhall’s final-year actors also have the opportunity to write and create a solo performance.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

With just 22 places available on the undergraduate programme, the RWCMD has one of the smallest intakes of any drama school in the UK.

Teachers aim to work with students in small groups, build close working relationships and nurture individual strengths. Undergraduates are also given opportunities to create and stage their own work.

David Bond, head of actor training, says, “We see our training as a partnership with our students towards a common goal. All of our students are encouraged to create their own work. Many shows have been developed professionally from these beginnings.”

Throughout training, students study core skills including improvisation, character, relationships and text, vocal physiology, dialects, accents, singing technique, musical theatre performance, movement classes, combat and the Alexander technique.

In their final year, students join the college’s Richard Burton Company rep and perform in Cardiff, London and, for international students, New York.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The RCS provides modern training for the 21st-century actor. It is different from most drama schools as students perform to the public throughout the three years.

Ali de Souza, lecturer and BA acting programme coordinator, says: “We focus on enhancing, extending and empowering the individual to work as a professional actor. We don’t try to change the actors to ‘fit the dress’ – we enable them to create their own dresses.”

De Souza describes the structure of the course: “The first year focuses on voice, movement and acting skills that integrate in two classroom-based productions. The first half of the second year is classical acting – mostly Shakespeare. The students lead workshops and perform in schools, before doing their first full Shakespeare shows for the public.

“The second half of the second year focuses on theatremaking, new writing and the students creating their own work for our On the Verge Festival. The third year is a year of public shows and the showcase in Glasgow and London. Acting on screen and radio is woven through all three years.”

Other schools

Other excellent drama schools offering a BA or a two or three-year diploma in acting include:

More advice on how to choose your drama school

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