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How to keep your acting career up to date with a short course

City Academy foundation class graduates. Photo: Lotte Ruth Johnson City Academy foundation class graduates. Photo: Lotte Ruth Johnson
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Whether you are starting out or just want to freshen up your CV with new skills, John Byrne looks at some of the short courses that are available if you don’t want to take on full-time training

As a singer-songwriter and actor, Adam Bruce was looking for further training that drew both sides of his performing talent together. The Actor-Musicianship Summer School at Rose Bruford College proved to be an ideal solution.

“By the end of the intensive one-week course, we had gone from learning basic skills to creating a short piece of theatre, a storytelling piece riffing on Henry V,” he says. “In the year that followed, I obtained actor-musician work on stage and screen and I’m continuing to secure auditions in this area.”

Bruce is one of the many actors for whom short courses have proved an accessible way to augment existing training and, in some cases, make foundational training possible where financial or other commitments might otherwise be a barrier.

“In an industry that changes and develops quickly, it is always worth considering short courses to keep your skills up to date,” says Bonnie Adair, an actor and writer who teaches at the Actors Temple in London and other centres at home and abroad. “They are also a good option if you’re currently doing a day job, have a family to take care of, or simply can’t afford the financial or time investment needed by the more traditional drama school route. Courses can cover everything from working in voice-overs and learning the basics of motion capture to developing your capacity for accents or improving your understanding of how to market yourself. There are also an increasing number of short courses abroad that actors might want to combine with a holiday. I regularly teach my Business of Acting course in Switzerland, France and Poland and often have actors from both the UK and USA attending.”

Summer is traditionally an abundant time for taster days, weekend courses and summer schools all over the country, but there are also year-round options for those who might be considering short courses as an alternative to full-time training and seeking accredited qualifications.

At London’s City Lit, actors can choose between the Foundation in Drama (Extended Certificate Level 2), which is a one day per week course running 10am-6.15pm every Friday for 29 weeks, or the Level 3 Acting Diploma which runs on Thursday evenings and all day Saturday. Both qualifications are accredited by the Open College network, and course fees are substantially lower than the average full-time drama course. The Level 2 course costs £1,549 (which can be paid in instalments) while the Level 3 course costs £2,225. Concessions are available for those on benefits and the Level 3 course is eligible for an Advanced Learner Loan from Student Finance England.

Students at London's Actors Centre. Photo: Monica Mendez Aneiros
Students at London’s Actors Centre. Photo: Monica Mendez Aneiros

For those who might find even a long-term, part-time course daunting, in terms of time or finances, another option worth exploring would be institutions that offer shorter courses on a rotational basis, giving the opportunity to either combine a number of different courses on various evenings of the same week, or to dip in and out of training throughout the year.

City Academy offers a range of short dance, acting and music courses at locations across the capital including established arts venues such as the Cockpit, Sadler’s Wells and Clean Break. Course durations vary from one-day workshops to 5-8 weeks, with costs ranging from £139 for a workshop to £110-£220 depending on course length. Beginners, improvers and advanced levels are offered in several disciplines, with discounts available when several courses are booked at once.

“Much like singing or dancing, acting requires technique and an ability to play and communicate impulsively,” says head of acting Lotte Ruth Johnson. “It’s important to keep those fundamental techniques accessible. Short courses enable actors to dip in and out without the commitment of long-term expense, building their creative network and flexing their performance muscles without the pressure of the world of auditions and castings.”

A third option for accessing short-course training involves joining one of the industry organisations that include it as part of their membership offer. The Actors Centre recently launched an industry membership scheme that allows applicants who do not currently meet the actor membership criteria to access their well-established training and networking events.

“We encourage members to explore previously untapped methods or genres and take the opportunity to try something new,” says workshop programme manager Lauren McGee. “There are a host of specialist topics ranging from commedia dell’arte to the Uta Hagen method, which can be fantastic and influential building blocks for contemporary practice.”

From a customer perspetive, the final word should go to Helena Foster, an actor who has regularly built on her initial training via short courses at the Actors Centre, Actors Temple and elsewhere. She advises careful research as the key to getting the best value from this training route. “Lesser courses create a mystique about acting and encourage participants to keep returning if they want to know more, but the best teachers stretch you as an artist and give you individually-tailored exercises that you can incorporate into your own daily practise.”

Course details: actorscentre.co.uk; actorstemple.com; bruford.ac.uk; city-academy.com; citylit.ac.uk

For more training opportunities go to thestage.co.uk/training

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