The Green Room: How well does drama school prepare pupils for the profession?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
Gary Abblett, 38, is a jobbing actor with experience at the National Theatre, RSC, in the West End and on tour
Ros Clifford, 30, is a deputy stage manager. She has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years
Abi Egerman is in her 20s and has appeared at the Old Vic, the National Theatre and in regional rep
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer
John I graduated 11 years ago and I’m not sure my drama school prepared me for the outside world. There is a danger that drama school tutors have not spent enough recent time in the industry to know enough about its current state.
Annie Technique, discipline, intensity of the work, working together – all these things are the main focus of drama school. Loved it.
Albert Drama school is a bit like a job. Most people are so keen to get one, they will overlook the quality.
Gary The voice and movement work is good, and useful – particularly voice.
John I got damn fine vocal training. I wouldn’t be able to do a long run without it. The two weeks of film training spread over three years wasn’t very well thought out, though.
Gary Yeah, it didn’t do anything to prepare for screen work – its mundane side, its technical side. In terms of mentally preparing people, I don’t know how it could, or if it should. Surviving as a pro will be a big test – that’s just a fact.
Beryl One thing I heard from a graduate was: “We were told not to bother joining Equity.” This is not preparing anyone for the industry and is detrimental to the profession as a whole.
Abi I think that drama school overprepared me for certain aspects of the profession, while in other ways leaving me woefully unprepared. I can readily and thoroughly explain to you the difference between a bilabial plosive and an unvoiced fricative, but I can’t get over a botched audition without gin.
John Yes, I wish my drama school had had a better idea of what was required for auditions. Leaving with a folder of modern and Shakespeare speeches was a bit of a waste of time.
Gary I just think drama schools should act in the same way as rep theatres used to. They should present lots of public performances.
Jon As someone who didn’t train, I am grateful that I did so many shows at university. You learn so much so fast if you’re in front of an audience regularly.
Abi I trained in musical theatre, but have predominantly worked on straight plays since graduating. However, the course I chose to do was designed to produce ‘triple threats’, and therefore more than made up for glossing over Meisner by drowning us in triple time steps.
Albert We have the best drama training in the world here in the UK. It’s such a shame that so many schools have diluted their training with so many courses. I understand they now have to function as businesses, but when you have 52 students in a year, they can’t all get the training they should be getting.
Abi If being an actor required solely acting skills, then I suppose you could argue that drama school prepared us meticulously. But the real challenges of acting largely arise when actors are out of a job.
Ros I’ve learned more out of drama school than I learned in it, but it was good groundwork.
Albert Do they teach you to act or to be an actor? Different things. A lot of graduates never get the chance to act, as they don’t know how to make their lives work as an actor. Preparing people for longevity is not thought of. Many drama schools still seem to think that everyone ends up at the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company. Have they never heard of Doctors or Hollyoaks?
Annie More personal development work, more advice and regular modules on accounting would have been so helpful. Also, it would be great to look into organising ‘how to start a theatre company’. And how to build residual income instead of pulling pints would have been extremely useful to know about.
Abi I was given very little advice on how to present myself in an audition, while how to deal with an audition not going your way was mentioned precisely never. At no point was I armed with contacts or tips on how to make my own work (God, we were never warned that we might ever have to). And as for completing a tax return?
Albert It’s a case of preparing people not just to work, but to survive.
Abi My course basically produced 35 musical theatre machines: so well-drilled in every avenue of our field that we high-kicked out of the doors brimming with joyful certainty. We knew that we could handle anything that the industry threw at us. But therein lay the problem. Suddenly we realised that the industry wasn’t throwing very much.
Beryl I don’t know how to do this, but drama schools also need to be honest about the concept and fallout of rejection. And realistic about ‘in-between’ jobs, and how they are useful for keeping you grounded.
Gary What might have improved my drama school – and this would be a bit brutal – would be for them to be two-year courses, postgraduate, with an extra year for the people who are really serious about it. The third year could then be seriously practical.
John Leaving drama school is a bit like learning to drive a car – you don’t really start learning until you are on your own.
Beryl I have worked with lots of great young actors with good attitudes. I have also come across ones who don’t understand their responsibility to the company they’re in.
Jon In what way?
Beryl Understanding that you deserve to be in the room. You got the job, they want you – don’t be intimidated by others with more experience, talk to them and learn from them. I guess I mean schools should arm their graduates with confidence – and the ability to maintain humility, not be scared to fail in rehearsal and keep asking questions. It can always be better.
John I also had the best time of my life, so that was good.