Drama school – how to apply and audition
Staff and students at some of the UK’s top institutions tell Samantha Marsden how to select the right school for you, offering advice on which audition pieces to choose, how to face the panel and what to do if you don’t get in the first time
Which drama schools should I apply for?
Drama schools differ in their training methods, so it’s important to audition for ones that are a good fit for you. Research the schools you are applying for carefully. Most have informative websites detailing teaching style, modules and unique opportunities. Ask yourself: “What do I want from my training?” Then find the courses that best fit your needs. Try to speak to recent graduates and look at the type of work that alumni from this school tend to specialise in – is this the type of career you want?
Choosing your audition material
For their acting courses, most schools require you to have prepared a contemporary monologue and a classical one. Some require a third monologue so be careful to check each school’s requirements. Musical theatre candidates are often asked to prepare two songs and will take part in a dance class.
Choosing the right speeches and songs can be a challenge. Here’s some advice from people who sit, or who have sat, on drama school audition panels.
Richard Mulholland, programme leader, BA (hons) in musical theatre, Italia Conti:
Nona Shepphard, associate director and head of RADA audition panel:
“Choose at least one speech from a character close to your age – a speech about which you are excited as a performer, and can imagine playing one day. Don’t worry about how original your choice of speech is.”
Kim Duran, actor, freelance teacher and former course leader, MA in professional acting, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School:
“Audition speeches are becoming gender-fluid. I’ve seen plenty of good women Hamlets, a very good male Cressida – even a rather good female Biff from Death of a Salesman. Now our major national institutions are embracing gender-neutral casting, it’s a legitimate option.”
Will Hammond, head of acting, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts:
“Be faithful to your own life-experience and your background, so select material that’s honest to you. At LIPA, we’re interested in the individual: your experiences make you unique and come together to make the actor you will ultimately become. Use the material you select to tell us a story about yourself.”
Geoffrey Colman, head of acting, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama:
“Reveal your creative response to the fictional world of the character. Your response will be different from that of your fellow auditionees – so it doesn’t even matter if you arrive and find that someone else is doing the same piece.”
On the day: dos and don’ts
…keep it simple
“Successful auditions are surprisingly gentle, unfussy, revealing and creative – as opposed to pushed, complex, full of tricks and formatted.” Geoffrey Colman, Central
“It really does remove a good 50% of the nerves if you feel comfortable with your material. Also, try to think of the audition as a learning experience.”
Courtney Ward, former student at the MTA, 2014-16
…be open to taking direction
“Often we see more in how an auditionee takes direction than in their initial performance. Be brave and adaptable – it shows us a lot.” Richard Mulholland, Italia Conti
…know the intention of your speech
“Be very clear who you are talking to and what effect you are trying to have on them. Make the speech about them and what you are trying to change in them rather then demonstrating what you are ‘feeling’. So be very clear about the intention of your speech.”
Kim Duran, former MA course leader, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
…be a curious and well-rounded human being
“I look for openness, respect, generosity, resilience, flexibility, humility and kindness; a willingness to play and to celebrate making mistakes and to learn from them; a level of social and political engagement and a curiosity as to how the power of theatre and screen and radio can change the world.”
Ali de Souza, BA acting programme coordinator, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
…be kind to yourself
“Auditioning is a long and tiring process, so be kind to your body and mind. Every audition is a chance to learn and play so don’t worry about the result: go in prepped, do your best, leave and forget. Remember: most of us don’t get in first time, so no pressure.”
Madeline Charlemagne, first-year student at Central
…believe in yourself
“You have to convince yourself that you can do it before you can convince anyone else.”
Megan Marston, first-year student at the Urdang Academy. Watch her vlog about auditioning for drama school
…stay focused on yourself
“Speaking as someone who suffers from anxiety, I’d advise auditionees not to listen to the one-upmanship-style chatter that goes on outside the audition room before your solo pieces. Keep focused, keep calm and remember; they want to see you do well. Panels are not there to catch you out.”
Alex Andlau, recent graduate from the MA in acting at Mountview
“The biggest mistake is trying to second-guess the audition panel and trying to give them what you think they want. Trust your instincts and be yourself.”
Will Hammond, LIPA
…apologise or be apologetic
“Often, the auditionee enters the room having given up before they’ve opened their mouth. They can bring in an air of apology – ‘I’m so sorry I am taking up your valuable time’.”
Ali de Souza, RCS
“Many candidates assume that the audition is about ‘good pretending’ – they often select pieces that require really stated or extreme performance choices, as though this might be different enough to catch the panel’s eye. It is far better to select pieces that reveal something of you – no tricks required.”
Geoffrey Colman, Central
What should you do if you don’t get in?
Don’t panic. With thousands applying for drama school and not many spaces, most who audition will not get in. Many don’t get in until their third or fourth year of auditioning.
If you are really committed to a career in acting, it may be beneficial to apply again the following year if you feel the training will really benefit you.
The Stage offers a huge range of online resources to help you make the right training choices. Here is a small selection of some of the features available on The Stage website