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Dear West End Producer: ‘Is it ever too late to train as an actor?’

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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It’s never too late to train. And in many respects the older the better, dear.

Most young cherubs attend drama school at the ripe young age of 18, just after finishing secondary school. Some go even earlier at 16 and study their A levels at the same time. And some go the moment they are born (but only if their name is Strallen).

Walk into any drama institution and you’ll be amazed by the calibre of fresh, wrinkle-free students step-ball-changing their way along the corridor. If you’re lucky, you may spot the odd person over the age of 30, but that’s only on a postgraduate course, and only if they still have hair. But this isn’t to say that drama training isn’t suitable for older actors: it’s actually what schools yearn for.

Mature students tend to thrive at drama schools – they are like a rare species of exotic bird. Older students immediately have the chance to play more interesting roles in shows, and stand out in showcases purely because of their maturity.

It is a fact that a huge percentage of graduates drop out in the first few months, giving the aged performer an instant advantage, as they have a lot less competition.

Of course, many older people don’t want to dedicate three years to training due to the financial burden – they want to just get out there as soon as possible. That’s why postgraduate courses are perfect. These condense a three-year course into a single one – and although they may not go into as much detail, most of the necessary work is covered.

Things like improv, acting, singing, movement, mask work, TV and radio will all be covered, but the more specialised areas will not. These include reality TV technique, sleeping your way to the top, knowing the difference between upstage and downstage, and how to act without getting an erection (once you’ve graduated, these can be learned while doing a Kenwright tour).

There are other options too. Many drama schools offer foundation courses, which can be a stepping stone into the business. And don’t forget about private lessons and individual courses. City Lit offers numerous one-off and part-time courses, many of which are taught by tutors from leading drama schools. This is a way of avoiding the ‘normal’ route of training, but will give you good experience and contacts, allowing you to plan your future theatrical success with professionals.

Every year, drama school tutors literally cry out for more mature students – often advising young auditionees to have a year out to gain ‘life experience’. As an older person you have a lot more of this – you have far more to draw upon when playing characters.

So never be ashamed of your age or fear it could hold you back, because the chances are it will do the opposite. Morgan Freeman didn’t become well-known until he was 52, after Driving Miss Daisy – and look at him now. His age worked for him, so let yours work for you, dear.

Dear West End Producer: ‘Is drama school right for an actor coming into the industry late?’


Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

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