Why musical theatre students are choosing the high-quality training at Emil Dale
The Hertfordshire-based Emil Dale Academy is less than 10 years old, but has already established a reputation for high-quality, intensive yet affordable musical theatre training that propels its students into the industry
One of the UK’s youngest training academies has also proved to be one of the most innovative in offering high-end quality teaching on its foundation and vocational courses at some of the lowest fees currently available in the sector.
Not surprisingly, demand for places at the Emil Dale Academy has been growing, with students recognising its value-for-money offering and choosing its three full-time courses over some of the larger and longer-established colleges.
Student choice is key for the academy. Its one-year ‘gap year’ course, two-year ‘sixth-form’ musical theatre programme and three-year musical theatre course provide a range of options of young performers at different stages of development and readiness.
Based in Hitchin, Hertfordshire – a 30-minute train journey from London – the academy focuses exclusively on offering “extreme, triple-threat musical theatre training” to students aged 16-24. And with courses offering up to 36 teaching hours each week, the onus is on quality at affordable prices, says founder and academy director Emil Dale.
“It would be hard to find a school that provides as many contact hours with tutors as we do for less money. We operate over three terms (where some provide just two) and our fees start at £3,900 per year for our foundation courses – less than half of what you pay elsewhere.”
He adds: “For that, students benefit from one-to-one singing lessons and intensive classes in singing, acting and various dance styles from jazz and ballet to contemporary and commercial with a teaching faculty of 11 full-time staff and a pool of visiting tutors drawn from highly experienced West End, theatre and television performers.”
Established in 2009, the academy has been delivering intensive full-time courses since 2014. Its reputation for providing training that draws out students’ talent and provides a springboard into further training and the wider industry is second to none.
“So wide-ranging and intense are our one-year ‘gap year’ and two-year ‘sixth-form’ courses that many of our graduates have gone straight into professional work in national tours, the West End and television,” says Dale.
The academy’s value-for-money proposition sees it treating its foundation courses as if they were full degree courses. For students, that means a teaching environment unlike any other they will encounter – and at a cost they can afford. In fact, pledges Dale, if students “can find a course anywhere in the country that offers what we do and costs less, we will teach them for free”.
Housed in a three-storey, 12,000 sq ft former factory equipped with state-of-the-art facilities including eight air-conditioned studios with sprung floors and a 200-seat theatre with a revolving stage (the Factory Playhouse), the academy offers students vital ‘real world’ experience in applying skills learned in class in three full-scale, publicly performed productions each year complete with a full West End orchestra.
Budgets allocated to those shows demonstrate the academy’s commitment to quality, 2016’s Grease costing £94,000 and recent stagings of Hairspray and Les Miserables an astonishing £250,000 between them.
Fees for the two-year ‘sixth-form’ course are £3,900 per year, although, says Dale: “If we think someone is brilliant, we’ll find a way to help them financially.”
Equivalent to attaining three A levels or a BTec qualification at a higher-education college, students can expect, says Dale, “equal training in all the performing disciplines – singing, acting, dancing – at a far superior standard, with more teaching contact hours and no hidden ‘top-up’ fees for lessons that are integral to us but expensive add-ons elsewhere”.
Beyond the triple-threat lessons, Dale also provides classes in “private singing lessons every week, song workshops, choral singing, audition technique, West End masterclasses and body conditioning”.
For students moving to Hitchin, the academy also offers help with accommodation, its network of ‘host family’ supporters generously providing board and lodging for about £90 per week during term time.
The ‘gap-year’ foundation course for students aged 18 and over offers an identical curriculum – “We never compromise on quality,” says Dale – in the more intensive time-frame of a single year. Both courses “prepare students to go on to the country’s top musical theatre courses or into work”.
Auditions for both courses are held throughout the UK with application fees of just £30, although students are often “talent spotted” during the academy’s regular free West End masterclasses and workshops.
With class sizes for its three-year course deliberately kept small, students can be sure of dedicated individual teaching time and not finding themselves lost or overlooked in the larger throngs that feature at other training establishments. Currently, the two-year sixth-form course operates with just 36 students.
Simply put, says Dale, “we won’t offer places to prospective students we don’t think can make a sustainable living in the performing arts. That wouldn’t help us or, more importantly, them”.
The newly launched three-year ‘extreme musical theatre course’ is designed with a simple aim: “To get students industry-ready.” Costing £7,400 per year – at a time when the average fee for comparable courses elsewhere is around £14,000 – it ups the ante for students with 36 weekly contact hours, a dedicated London showcase performance for agents and casting directors and guaranteed professional representation with the academy’s own agency.
“We keep contact hours high and class sizes low because students with talent deserve all the time, effort and concentration on developing their skills they have paid for. We never oversubscribe our courses in the way that some others do because it wouldn’t benefit the students.”
It’s the academy’s sole focus on triple-threat training in musical theatre that makes it a triple-winner proposition for students, with all disciplines treated with equal importance.
“If you want to succeed in a business that is intensely competitive, you have to be able to act, dance and sing equally well. That’s why we devote so much time and energy to all three disciplines. Casting directors now expect the complete performer, and that’s what we aim to produce”.
Proving that small really is beautiful, the Emil Dale Academy provides industry-standard training at a cost that doesn’t expect its students to break the bank to realise their potential and their dreams.
Evidence of the academy’s success is best measured by the fortunes of its many graduates who go directly into professional employment in UK tours, regional theatre and television.
The results, says Dale, “speak for themselves. Students who come to us pay a lot less, get a lot more and, ultimately, find work in the business. We’re as passionate about making that happen as students are about getting into – and staying in – the business”.