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Careers Clinic: Which theatre course is right for me?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’m looking at my options for studying theatre when I leave school. My interests cover acting and backstage work, so I am considering quite a broad range of courses.

I understand the importance of doing my research properly as this is a big decision, finance-wise and time-wise, but I’m struggling to narrow down my choices. Each course brochure and website I look at looks more attractive than the next, and I don’t really know what kind of questions I should be asking to help me make my mind up.

Friends in my school year are already putting in their applications to the drama schools and tech colleges they have chosen. If I can’t make my own mind up I’ll probably apply to the same ones they have but that’s not going to make me sound very motivated in the admissions interview.

Can you give me some help to make decisions based on my choices, not theirs?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I understand how researching courses online can be a daunting task, with advances in technology giving colleges a whole range of high-tech options to promote their wares.

Prospective students often find useful methods come not from the latest cutting-edge technology, but old-fashioned talent shows, in which different elements of a performance were allocated points, and the winner was decided based on the combined totals. Think about the individual elements of a course choice that are most important to you. If you separate them out properly you can come up with your own low tech but no less effective decision-making tool.

Backstage and technical training

The specific topics covered on a course will be important to consider. For instance, you may already have a preference for the area of acting or tech in which you would like to specialise. Alternatively, you might be looking for a course that helps you to dip your toe in the waters of a wide range of disciplines so that you can make a more informed choice later on.

Drama training outside London

Scoring courses from 1 to 5 is a good first step for your grid. However, it is just as important to know about yourself and your own learning style as it is about course content. So, for the second category, what type of instruction works best for you? Academic, mainly practical or a combination of both? Are there work placements involved in the courses you are considering? How much contact time will you have with instructors, and are final assessments done on the basis of written work or by practical examination?

These and other practical aspects of course delivery can form another basis for scoring. A course that seems very appealing in terms of its content may look less suitable for your specific needs when you assess it using those criteria. Logistical concerns such as the location of the course, the fees weighed against your study budget and whether the course is full-time or part-time can be another area to consider.

Stage management training options

Once you have selected your own top three or four criteria for assessing each course, you can start scoring and totalling in earnest. Obviously, you’ll want to base those scores on solid information as well as gut feeling. If you are struggling to score a course under a particular category, based on the online information you have, that’s your cue to phone the admissions office and get more specific answers. Remember that a good admissions team is there not to ‘sell’ you a course, but to find the most suitable one for you. The more detailed your questions, the more you can help them do this.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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