Where’s best to train in screen acting?
While many general acting courses are available, specialised training in acting for camera is not so widespread. Samantha Marsden investigates a range of the latter options out there, including some hidden gems
Location: Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire and Central London (near Holborn)
Screen acting courses at the Actors Studio include a one-month diploma, a one-day workshop and a five-day intensive. Many of the classes are taught by director Tim Kent, who covers practical rehearsal methods, technical screen craft and immersive acting techniques.
Graduate Sally Horwill says: “In such a short space of time I felt and saw my onscreen technique come on leaps and bounds, thanks to Tim’s classes, culminating in a showreel to be proud of.”
The Arden School of Theatre
The Arden School of Theatre is based in the heart of Manchester, home to Red Production Company, ITV and the BBC. The school offers one of the few BA (hons) available in acting for screen: its BA in Acting for Live and Recorded Media, recently accredited by Spotlight and Equity. The school requires a screen test as part of the audition process, as well as traditional monologues.
Actor Alex Williams, who will be appearing in new Netflix series The Innocents, speaks very highly of the course: “I left the Arden with a professional showreel, an audio showreel and showcase performances at venues that include London’s Leicester Square Theatre. The training can be very personal, which brings out the best in you, and gives you all the tools of the trade. Tutors are still involved in the industry too, which I think is a great plus. The Arden was a great kick-start to my career.”
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Location: Swiss Cottage, London
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama offers a dedicated MA in Acting for Screen. The course focuses on acting in film, television and screen-related media, primarily for those with previous training or professional experience.
Course leader Amanda Brennan explains: “Recent short films have been shown at international film festivals such as Sundance and Slamdance. Many graduates move on to create their own production companies, making their own work for stage and screen.”
MA graduate Johana Lopez, actor and filmmaker, says: “I loved how practical the course was. It is intensive, with amazing teachers that guide you according to your particular needs. You learn from industry professionals, who are guest tutors at some classes, and work with directors in their short films and scenes for your showreels.”
The University of Chichester
The University of Chichester offers a dedicated BA in Acting for Film.
Ellen Constable, who is in her third year, will be in the first year to graduate from this relatively new course. She says: “A lot of our studies focus on adapting and tailoring performances for camera. So alongside the standard acting technique and method, and the vocal and physical training that are offered on most acting courses, we look inclusively at working for the camera, reducing a performance to its simplest truth.
“A lot of our work includes the technical aspects of working on camera. I feel the course and the experiences it’s provided have put me on the front foot in terms of entering the industry. Where we don’t have the agency interest that many drama schools do, the technical training and knowledge we have gained will allow us to step into an agency meeting or casting with the advantage of having three years’ experience of working with a camera.”
National Youth Theatre
Location: London, Guildford and Manchester
The National Youth Theatre offers a six-day masterclass in screen acting. The course is open to non-NYT members and no audition is required, but you need to be aged between 15 and 25 to participate.
Graduate Duncan Butcher says: “It was extremely useful as a beginners’ guide to screen acting, really guiding you through the basic techniques you need to know as a screen actor. For me, one of the great things about the course is that there is plenty of personalised feedback and reflection, including a mock screen audition in front of an industry panel.”
Robert McKee’s Story Seminar
Location: Regent’s Park, London
Robert McKee’s three-day Story Seminar is a rite of passage for screenwriters, but many actors also find merit in McKee’s teachings. Screen actors, including Geoffrey Rush, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Diane Keaton and John Cleese, have taken this seminar. Actor Brian Cox says: “McKee illuminates those underlying principles too few actors know.”
It’s a three-day intensive course (10 hours a day) and places are still available in May for McKee’s London leg of the world tour. There is a 20% discount for actors with Equity cards.
Michelle Danner Acting School (US)
Location: Los Angeles, US
When it comes to training for the screen, New York and Los Angeles have a huge amount on offer. The Michelle Danner Acting School offers short and long-term acting Intensives for international actors, and through the M1 visa international actors are able to study and work in Santa Monica, California. The intensive courses are an opportunity to explore the acting scene in Hollywood and can range from eight weeks to 12 months. The varied-level classes can be customised to meet specific needs and goals. Danner was voted favourite acting coach by readers of entertainment magazine Backstage and has coached Oscar-winning actors.
The Michelle Danner Acting Studio’s philosophy is that artists can draw upon all different acting techniques (Meisner, Lee Strasberg’s Method, Stella Adler, Stanislavski’s System, Uta Hagen, and the Chekhov technique) and form an individual toolbox of their own: The Golden Box.
Danner says that “the camera is like a dangerous lover – you have to risk letting it capture the most secret parts of you.”
Other notable schools with specialist courses in screen acting include:
• The International School of Screen Acting
• Identity School of Acting
• Drama Centre London
• Met Film School
• City Academy
• The Actors Centre
• Giles Foreman Centre for Acting
• Yorkshire Academy of Film and Television Acting
• National Film and Television School
• London Academy of Media, Film and TV