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How foundation courses can help you get to drama school

Foundation course students at Arts Educational Schools in London. Photo: Tom Packer Foundation course students at Arts Educational Schools in London. Photo: Tom Packer
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Getting into a drama school is notoriously difficult, with prospective students often feeling unprepared for auditions. Susan Elkin explains how foundation courses bridge the gap between A levels and degree courses

Many secondary schools and colleges are ill-equipped to prepare students for drama school.

“The difference between courses such as A level and BTec and a drama school BA (hons) course is enormous,” says Laura Roxburgh, co-principal of Dorset School of Acting, adding that because many teachers have not themselves attended drama school there isn’t enough good advice at sixth-form level about applying for vocational performing arts courses.”

That explains why it often takes a determined student several years of applying to get a drama school offer.

In recent years, foundation courses have been developed to bridge the gap. They are almost all self-funded, usually costing between £5,000 and £10,000 per year.

“Some students spend years auditioning and spend thousands on audition fees, travel and accommodation but just end up repeating the same mistakes,” says Roxburgh.

DSA’s foundation course has a 95% success rate in getting students into schools such as RADA, LAMDA, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Rose Bruford College, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, ALRA, East 15, Italia Conti, Arts Educational Schools, Guildford School of Acting and Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.”

Foundation courses are not necessarily just preparation for drama school. Some students have no intention of continuing into vocational training. They see the foundation course as a short break from academic study between school and university during which you can boost your confidence, learn communication and presentation skills and have a lot of rigorous fun.

Others think they want to perform but discover from the foundation course that actually they don’t.

Roxburgh says: “A foundation course gives students the opportunity to work out whether or not they really are cut out for the business or even for drama school, where expectations are very high. Students routinely work a 40-hour week at drama school compared with eight to 15 hours on most university courses. A good foundation course will help the student make the right choice for his or her next step.”

A few thousand invested in a foundation course could save more than £30,000 plus accommodation and three years of your life, if a career in performance turns out not to be the way forward. And, since you only get one chance at a first degree supported by a student loan, it’s important that you make the right choice in the first place.

Broadly, there are three types of foundation course offered across the UK. While drama schools themselves often run these courses, other institutions specialise in foundation courses or provide training through an entirely performance-based programme.

Drama Schools

Most major drama schools run foundation courses, although acceptance on one of these is never a guarantee of a place on the same institution’s three-year degree programme.

Typically these run for about nine months from September or October to the following spring and there is heavy emphasis on audition preparation. Liverpool Institute for Performance Arts is offering a new foundation certificate in acting, for example.

“It has been specifically developed to give you the skills, tools and knowledge to stand out from the crowd and improve your chances of securing a place at one of those highly competitive drama schools,” says LIPA’s head of acting, Will Hammond.

For drama school foundation courses, students are usually in the same building as the BA and other students and often taught by the same tutors. Arts Educational Schools, for instance, offers full-time foundation courses in musical theatre and acting.

Students at Arts Educational Schools in London. Photo: Tom Packer
Students at Arts Educational Schools in London. Photo: Tom Packer

“You get the full drama school experience and receive expert tuition from staff who also teach on our BA courses, so you receive the same professional training and guidance,” says Arts Ed spokeswoman Tess Henderson.

“And you discover what it’s like to be part of a theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith, where part of our foundation course is based,” adds Arts Ed foundation acting teacher, Yusuf Khamisa.

Not all drama school foundation courses are full-time because there is an awareness that students often also need to work to fund themselves. Mountview, for example, offers a two-term, three-evenings-a-week foundation course alongside its three full-time foundation courses. Students on the part-time course receive nine hours of tuition a week and the cost is a relatively modest £2,625.

Oxford School of Drama compresses its foundation course into two terms (32 hours of tuition a week) as opposed to many other schools that teach it over three terms.

Independent foundation course providers

Organisations such as Dorset School of Acting, Read College in Reading and Emil Dale Academy in Hitchin have made foundation courses a specialism and have a strong track record of drama school destinations.

Read had a 100% success rate last year for both its musical theatre and acting foundation students, listing Central, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Arts Ed, the Musical Theatre Academy, Performance Preparation Academy and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland among students’ destinations.

Emil Dale students performing
Emil Dale students performing

Emil Dale calls its foundation year a “gap year course” and includes Bird College, Urdang, Arts Ed and many more on its list of student successes. Sometimes its students go straight into professional work on cruise lines and elsewhere without further training.

Redroofs, a full-time stage school in Berkshire, does it differently. Its foundation course is effectively a third year in the sixth form, building on the professional training already gained or, for new students, sampling stage school before degree-level training.

Foundation through performance

Most foundation courses offer performance opportunities, but some organisations put the shows at the heart of the training.

Woking-based Peer Productions, for example, runs a one-year actor development programme that moulds 17 to 23-year-olds into a repertory company and takes shows into the community, including primary schools. Actors are carefully trained and many of them go on to top drama schools at the end of the year. Peer Productions charges no fees because it can pay its expenses by touring shows.

Fourth Monkey, based near Finsbury Park in London, positions itself as a “actor training company”. Its Year of the Monkey course, heavily based on performance, effectively works as a foundation course too. Some students use it as a bridge to drama school, others stay on to do Fourth Monkey’s two-year course. For some, it becomes the totality of their formal training.

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