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Dear West End Producer: ‘In auditions, is there a bias towards certain drama schools?’

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There is definitely a bias towards drama schools – and this happens before you even get offered an audition.

In straight acting, if you have trained at RADA, LAMDA, Guildhall or Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, you are more likely to get offered good auditions and be taken seriously as an actor. If you trained at other drama schools, it’s possible to break into the casting circle, but it will take a little longer (unless you are young, good looking, and a big agent fancies you).

For musical theatre, Mountview, Guildford School of Acting, Arts Educational Schools London and Urdang Academy are the ones that’ll give you a head start. These schools are seen to manufacture quintuple threats (performers who sing, act, dance, play instruments, and have white teeth) – with West End casting directors often going into these schools to audition directly for long-running shows. And that’s a fact.

The business is based on tradition and connections – and the reputations of certain drama schools will always exist. It adds a certain ‘clout’ to a cast list if most of the actors trained at RADA, as it is universally recognised as being ‘the best’. Of course that is utter twaddle. Many directors and tutors teach at numerous drama schools, giving the same training everywhere.

But the old boys and girls who run the business often aren’t prepared to change their dusty thinking. I was asked only the other day if I would advise someone to turn down a place at a lesser-known drama school and wait another year to get into a top one. I said “yes”. You may hate the idea of working in a shop selling groceries and condoms for another year, but the fact is that if you manage to get into one of the most respected drama schools, your career will have a head start. I’m not saying it’s fair, but that’s how it works. Just look at the current casts at places like the Royal Shakespeare Company, National, and the Donmar – it really is a pic’n’mix of RADA, LAMDA, and Guildhall grads (with the odd actor from somewhere else given the esteemed role of ‘understudy’).

However, I digress. Your question is about whether there is a bias once you are in the audition room. Again the answer is “yes”. If you have a CV with a big drama school attached, then directors will presume you are of a certain quality. The only time your training becomes irrelevant is when you have a CV crammed with lots of good credits. And then you have a chance of dramatically challenging those floppy-haired posh actors. I even know some actors who have taken their drama school off their CV – particularly if they trained somewhere with a musical theatre reputation and they want to be straight actors.

The fact is, where you train will have a direct effect on your career. So do plenty of research, chat to professionals, read actors’ biogs, and decide exactly which drama school is for you. And if you can’t get into the one you want, try again the following year. Your career will thank you for it in the long run, dear.

This week’s question was submitted by @lmariakjames. Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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