Foundation courses can be a great option for building skills before embarking on a BA. Sarah Lambie speaks to teachers from Mountview and LIPA, as well as a foundation student, to discover the benefits of a shorter course
BA courses in acting or musical theatre are increasingly finding themselves oversubscribed. It’s getting harder to gain a place on a full-time vocational training course and for that reason, many who don’t succeed in being granted an offer first time round decide instead to pursue a one-year (or shorter) foundation course, to give them the skills and experience they need to boost their chances.
Who applies for a foundation course?
“You didn’t make it into drama school this year, or you know you’re not ready yet. Or perhaps you know that you want to act, but you don’t have enough experience yet. This is the course for you.” This is how Acting Coach Scotland, a private acting school offering a one-year foundation course, gives a neat summary of the motivations many people have for applying for pre-BA courses of this kind.
While many applicants are aged between 18 and 25, courses are occasionally attended by students who are much older and considering a change of career.
Eddie Gower is head of foundation courses at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. “The way we’ve designed the courses, they run from September to April – and that’s mainly about fitting in the audition structure of people looking to progress to a full-time vocation course, being that the main auditions are pretty much finished by the end of April.”
He’s keen to emphasise, though, that training people on their BA application monologues isn’t all a foundation course is about.
“We base the course on three foundation pillars: creativity, technique and readiness,” he says. “It’s the equal balance between those that a student actor needs. It isn’t enough just to have technique: you’ve got to have the creativity that brings your personal identity and spark, because it’s the individual the drama schools want to see.”
Likewise, the foundation course at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts covers advanced audition technique, knowing that further vocational training is most students’ ultimate goal.
But, as Judith McSpadden, course leader for the Foundation Certificate in Acting, explains, it does operate very much like a basic-level, one-year drama school course: “The programme includes training in acting, voice, singing, movement, personal development, preparation for drama school auditions and culminates in a production on one of our main stage venues or a Liverpool-based production house.”
At Mountview, there are foundation courses in both acting and musical theatre, and with financial constraints in mind, both full and part-time courses are available. Many students who end up on the foundation courses applied originally for a full BA, however an unsuccessful BA applicant who shows great potential isn’t automatically offered a place on the foundation course.
“We invite them back in to a similar but different audition process because it’s a very different course,” Gower says. “So what we want to do is put a cohort together and see whether it’s a company that’s going to develop well together”.
At LIPA, foundation course places are offered directly to some of those who don’t succeed in gaining a place on the BA.
‘Foundation courses are a useful testing ground’ – LIPA course leader Judith McSpadden
Lauren Foster was one such student: “I originally auditioned for the BA Acting course at LIPA in 2015, along with a number of other drama schools and universities. However, during the audition process I discovered that I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was,” she says. “Although I didn’t initially gain a place on the BA course, LIPA offered me a spot on the foundation programme. I saw this as a lifeline and a chance to build on my training to ensure that at the end of my time at drama school I was as prepared for the professional world as I could be.”
What happens when the course is over?
“There is no guarantee that a place on our foundation course will result in a student being accepted on to our BA Acting courses,” stresses McSpadden. “Some students who thought they would like to be actors quickly find out how much work goes into actor training and some decide that it is not the career for them. So, in a way, foundation courses are a useful testing ground.”
Gower tells me that between 60% and 75% of foundation course leavers at Mountview go on to train on vocational courses, and both course leaders also report that occasionally students succeed in gaining agent representation and going straight into the industry from their foundation year.
“My perception is that I don’t think any course is enough on its own,” Gower says. “I think development is a lifelong thing. What a foundation course doesn’t do is prepare you for the industry, and resilience within that industry. A three-year BA or one-year MA course gives you that resilience and adaptability for when you’re in the industry. What the foundation course does is lay the foundations of creativity and artistry.”
‘What the foundation course does is lay the foundations of creativity and artistry’ – Mountview’s head of foundation courses Eddie Gower
A foundation course can end up being the first of four full years of training to pay for and, while some schools offer scholarships and bursaries, others do not, so joining such a course is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Foster insists it was worth it: “It was absolutely the right decision for me. I came out the other side 100 times more prepared and knowledgeable than I was before. I felt comfortable going into the next round of BA auditions and this time I had the tools necessary to give me a chance of securing a place on the course.
“The course is fundamentally a growth experience. It helps you develop as a person and gives you many transferable skills that you can use in later life. I feel that it doesn’t matter if you choose not to pursue a career in acting, as the course is something that will give you amazing life experience.”
Acting Coach Scotland
One year, full time, £5,250
One year, full time, £5,250 (North) or £5,750 (South)
One year, full time, £13,799
Oxford School of Drama
Six months, £8,200
Six months, full time, £13,600
Six months (22 weeks), full time, £8,500
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
One year, full time (20 weeks, £6,250) or part time (34 weeks, £1,900)
One year, full time, EU: €9534.80 (£8,040), non-EU: €19,617.75 (£16,550)
Young Actors Theatre, Islington, in partnership with Guildhall and Mountview
One year, part time (half days), £1,950
For more advice on finding the right course for you, visit: thestage.co.uk/training