Drama school graduates from RADA, LAMDA, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Guildhall and Guildford School of Acting tell Samantha Marsden how they could have taken better advantage of their time studying
Drama school is a space to explore your craft, discover what you are capable of and hopefully find your voice and gifts as an actor. It is not for the faint hearted, with long hours and tutors pushing you to your limits. But the reward is priceless and it is no coincidence that many of the UK’s best actors graduated from prestigious drama schools. Drama school is a safe cocoon and the first flight into the real wold of acting can come as a shock. Graduates now working in the sector share their thoughts on what they wish they knew while training.
Worry less about the future
A graduate of Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Sam Phillips has appeared in The History Boys at London’s National Theatre, Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe and Inherit the Wind at London’s Old Vic. His TV work has included Far from the Madding Crowd and The Crown. He says: “I wish I had enjoyed the journey more and not been so concerned with getting to the finish line. I put so much focus into seeking out the right agent and daydreaming about being ‘successful’ once I’d graduated, that I glazed over some really important parts of the training, some valuable lessons and techniques. It’s only years later I’ve come to realise how precious some of those lessons and techniques were, even if they didn’t feel helpful at the time. So, in short, relish the training and worry less about the future.”
Ask questions and don’t be intimidated
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Anna Russell-Martin has starred in Nora – A Doll’s House at London’s Young Vic and the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, and in Panopticon for the National Theatre of Scotland.
She says she wished she had learned more about how to file a tax return. “Tax is still the most stressful thing I’ve faced as an actor,” she says.
“However, on a more actor-y note – I’d say not to be intimidated by the intelligence in the room. You have something to give. I often felt table work was the hardest part of the process because it was when you dissect the play, and everyone got to use big fancy words they learned from varying degrees of privileged backgrounds. I felt left behind sometimes in not knowing the meanings of words or famous people, because I didn’t know what they were famous for. I was too young and embarrassed to ask who they were in case people thought I was stupid, but I’ve learned now that isn’t something to be embarrassed about, always ask and then you can give your tuppence worth if you feel it’s relevant. And, that’s not actually acting. As long as you can get up on the stage to act well, it doesn’t matter if you can talk the talk, as long as you can walk the walk. Knowing that would have saved me a lot of time doubting my own ability.”
Be at peace with your creativity
Academy of Live and Recorded Arts graduate and winner of the Laurence Olivier Bursary, Romario Simpson has starred in the BBC TV series Noughts and Crosses since graduating. He says: “I wish I had known that my imagination was never wrong nor always right. This would have allowed me to explore more and be at peace with my creativity, rather than constantly judge it.”
Faith in your own talent
RADA graduate Ralph Davis, who has performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe, says: “At drama school, I wish I’d had more faith in my talent. Not in an arrogant or cocky way, just in a way that meant I could meet the training with my shoulders pinned back a bit more. That doesn’t mean to say you’re standing up to the training in some way, or not remaining diligent and hard-working, just that in a place that can get really tough, you have your own self-worth and quiet confidence, all of the time.
“When teachers spoke about the auditioning process, they said they took people on who they saw potential in, but I think it was more than that. You’re an actor even before you go to drama school, through deciding to stand up in front of a group of people and do something. So, holding on to that. Keeping faith, and letting it build you up rather than break you down.”
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
RADA graduate Hubert Burton, who has performed at the National Theatre and appeared in the ITV series Jekyll and Hyde, says: “I don’t think I fully appreciated the safety that was provided by drama school. It was an incredibly nurturing and nourishing three years of my life, but I only realised that retrospectively.
“At the time, I was scared of failing and always comparing myself to my classmates. I should have been taking full advantage of the safety of the place and the fact you were almost encouraged to make mistakes – it didn’t matter. In an industry that’s so unpredictable (as well as exciting and wonderful), safety and stability aren’t always a given. At drama school, for me at least, they were.”
Run your career like a small business
Graduate of Guildford School of Acting Edward DeGaetano, who has performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London, says: “While doing my master’s at GSA, the one thing I wish I knew was how running your acting career should be like running a small business: investing in relationships, personal development and seeking new partnerships, being organised, consistent and providing a reliable service that people will want to recommend. Bear in mind that your acting agent, even though one of the most important relationships is still a partnership, and needs to be nurtured and developed. And like all relationships, some just don’t work out. Onwards and upwards.”
LAMDA graduate Georgia Maguire, who has performed at the National Theatre and at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, says: “I wish I knew the importance of keeping creative. Not necessarily for career reasons, but for my own happiness and sanity. We’re all doing this because we need that area of our brain to be exercised and the job doesn’t always fulfil those needs. I didn’t anticipate the importance of maintaining my own practices. Apart from anything else, because they bring joy.”
It can be tempting at drama school to view the training as a stepping stone into a career you cannot wait to start. However, in years to come, when you are using the techniques you were taught at drama school, you might wish you had used your training more wisely.
One of the main differences between acting at drama school and in the ‘real world’ is time. At drama school you have time to play, study and to make mistakes. You have paid to be at drama school, so ask questions, explore and make the training work for you. The industry is unlikely to give you this amount of creative space again. Your time at drama school is yours. Use the time to expand and improve in ways that you may not dare to later on.