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How to train as an actor without doing a typical three-year course

The National Youth Theatre rep company in Consensual at Soho Theatre. Photo: Helen Murray
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Not all performers follow the traditional BA route into acting. Samantha Marsden looks at a selection of shorter, intense courses – at home and in the US – that you can undertake to fast-track your stage career, some in as little as nine months


Three years at drama school is often considered to be the typical training route into acting, but there are a variety of alternative ways to train as a performer, from one or two-year intensives, to evening and weekend courses. If you choose to take an alternative route to three years at drama school, you will need to make sure that it offers everything you need to develop as an artist. Here are a selection of the professional training options that don’t involve a three-year BA degree.

One-year intensive

Foundation courses should not be confused with professional one-year intensive training. A professional intensive course should be offering 40-plus hours of teaching a week and a high percentage of graduates should be going straight into professional work, rather than on to further training.

Acting Coach Scotland offers a one-year intensive Stage and Screen Course. The course puts on 24 public performances and students also perform in three professionally made films. Alongside regular acting and voice classes, the course includes intensive acting for camera training, performance psychology and business of acting lessons. Students are offered membership of Spotlight and Equity on graduation.

Former student Alastair William Duncan says: “Nine months on from finishing the full-time course at ACS and my life has never been better. ACS has provided me with the tools and mindset to achieve my goals out there in the big, bad world. I came into this course green as the hills, and less than a year from finishing, I have an agent and get to do what I love.”

Associated Studios in London offers one-year intensive diplomas in musical theatre, acting or opera. Saskia Hannah Hirsh trained on the one-year musical theatre course and says: “I feel that the rigorous training schedule really mimicked the reality of the industry. Furthermore, our musical Spring Awakening was rehearsed during an intense four-week period. The four-days-on, three-days-off schedule allowed me to support myself while training.” Since the course, Hirsh has secured representation and has attended several auditions.

Year Out Drama is a full-time, intensive practical course based in Stratford-upon-Avon. Current student Izzy Cryer explains: “Oozing from every corner is this all-encompassing sense of continuous support, joy and acceptance. I’m getting the feeling that even when we fail, we are still going to be spectacular. I’ve never felt so spurred on to have no limits on my ability to create, laugh, learn and feel accepted and safe.”

Students performing in a Year Out Drama Company show. Photo: Stewart Hemley
Students performing in a Year Out Drama Company show. Photo: Stewart Hemley

Two-year intensive

The Musical Theatre Academy in London has previously twice been named school of the year at The Stage Awards. Principal Annemarie Lewis Thomas says; “One hundred percent of our students have secured independent agent representation before graduating. 74% of our graduates are still in the industry, and 23% of those have secured West End or No 1 contracts. I believe our fast-track programme works because of the combination of high contact hours (a minimum of 40 a week, a minimum of 40 weeks per year), and small year sizes (maximum of just 22 per year). Plus, our pioneering pastoral care policy means that our students are truly seen and trained as individuals.”

LAMDA, also based in the capital, offers a master of fine arts in professional acting, which provides accelerated conservatoire training. Student Elizabeth Hammerton says: “Our second year really helps prepare us for the industry. We perform in four reps of public performances and a West End showcase, as well as creating short films. It’s an industry-focused course that provides plenty of opportunities to build connections and work with established professionals.”

Continuous training

In the US, it is common to train continually throughout one’s career, rather than taking an intensive three-year degree at the start. Some actors in London also practise this model and, with more high-quality studios available, it’s becoming more commonplace.

One such example is Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop in London. Here, students start with a six-week acting class that meets twice a week. After graduating from this foundation course, actors are evaluated by their instructor and placed in one of three phase levels for ongoing instruction.

Current student, actor Joseph Steyne, says: “I did a three-year drama school training course and it didn’t help me. After training, I was riddled with insecurity and, though I learnt loads of theory, was preoccupied with using all this knowledge rather than committing any sort of truth.” He says of his current training: “It is all about honesty, trusting your instincts, relinquishing control and enjoyment of process, rather than fixation on goals.”

Repertory theatre with training

Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company in London offers a two-year repertory, accelerated actor-training programme. Darren Strange, head of acting and the two-year rep course, explains: “Fourth Monkey offers hard-working actors the opportunity to hone their craft in just two years. Students are in class from 8am to 6pm every day. No time is wasted, and there are no long holidays in which to forget the skills they have learned. The accelerated nature of the course also incurs a lower fee and associated living costs.”

The National Youth Theatre’s NYT Rep Company gives free, practical, industry-based talent development over nine months to 16 NYT members. After 10 weeks of workshops with leading industry partners, including the National Theatre, the BBC and London’s Royal Court, the company stage three productions in leading theatres. More than 95% of graduates have gone on to work professionally in the creative industries.

Former members include Sope Dirisu, who played Coriolanus at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2017, and Hannah Morrish, who was recently nominated for the Ian Charleson award. Actor Ian McKellen says of the rep company that it is “as good a way into the business of acting as any drama school”.

Going to the US

There are many world-class acting studios in New York and Los Angeles, many of which offer training options lasting less than three years. It’s possible to audition in London for a place to study at the Stella Adler Studio in New York or Los Angles. Applicants can audition for the three-year conservatory, but also the two-year evening conservatory, two-year LA professional conservatory or the summer conservatory.

Make sure the training path you take is the right fit for you. For some, that will be three years at drama school, but for others, it might be an alternative option. It depends on how much training you think you need and what’s a good fit for your own needs.

Find more courses and training opportunities at stage.co.uk/advice


Samantha Marsden is author of 100 Acting Exercises for 8– 8 Year Olds

How to pursue a stage career without going to drama school

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