For directors: how necessary is an MA these days?
— Lou VOTE LABOUR Corbyn 🌹 (@loucorben) October 22, 2019
My dear, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary at all – but it can help. Like any kind of formal training, one of the perks is access to those all-important contacts.
Breaking into the industry is hard enough, but knowing the right people gives you a huge advantage – most of your tutors will be actively working in the business.
Of course, if your daddy happens to be a famous actor or director then an MA isn’t important at all, as you’ll have made lots of contacts at your annual family ‘swingers’ party.
Most drama institutions (an appropriate name, given you can end up institutionalised), offer an MA in directing courses, such as Central, LAMDA, Mountview and ALRA, to name a few. These courses give an excellent, broad training in all aspects of directing.
However, it’s useful to know what kind of directing you want to do before deciding on your training.
It’s the same for actors – these days it’s really hard to be a musical theatre actor who is also a serious TV actor (unless you are the composer of Hamilton). You have to decide which one you are because people will look to pigeonhole you. And the same goes for directors.
If you want to direct TV and film, then it’s vital you go to a school that specialises in this. Places like MetFilm School, National Film and Television School, Central Film School and Goldsmiths all offer these courses. They have superb equipment and studios, allowing plenty of practical training with the newest modern equipment, which is vital for keeping you up-to-date with the ever-changing industry.
But, if you can’t afford training and the time it takes to train, then you could create your own work.
I know many film directors who use Vimeo and YouTube to get their work noticed. However, you should only upload your best work – people will be put off straight away if your 50 videos are all low-quality shorts that were taken on your iPhone (other brands of smartphone are available, dear).
In terms of theatre directing, there are many routes available. Try looking at part-time courses or attending directing workshops. There are lots out there (City Lit for one), and they will cost you a lot less money.
You could even bypass training altogether and start putting on your own productions. Look at small fringe festivals like Camden Fringe to find out the (very cheap) costings of putting on your own production.
Also, it is worth approaching directors you admire and asking if you can assist them. These positions often involve spending most of your time making tea and buying Hobnobs, but simply being in the rehearsal room can be an invaluable lesson. Keep an eye on smaller venues’ websites, where you can find information about upcoming assistant director vacancies.
So no – it can be helpful but it’s not necessary to have an MA. In fact, in the time it takes to do an MA, you could learn far more by working in the professional business.
Dear West End Producer: ‘How do you know if a drama school is right for you?’