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How to fund your drama school training

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Moronke Akinola, who is currently training at Bristol Old Vic with funding from ALWF. Photo: Pamela Rudge
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Moronke Akinola, who is currently training at Bristol Old Vic with funding from ALWF. Photo: Pamela Rudge

A wide range of scholarships and bursaries is available across the training sector to help ease financial worries while studying. John Byrne shares advice on how prospective students should go about exploring their funding options

With West End credits including Show Boat and The Scottsboro Boys, Emmanuel Kojo is now a rising star. But when he applied to drama school, it looked like his ambitions might never get off the ground. “At my interview for ArtsEd, they asked whether I could afford to come,” he explains. “I told them that in a whole year, my mum wouldn’t earn enough to cover the fees. Fortunately, I was awarded a DaDA [Dance and Drama Award – a government scheme that offers promising 16 to 23-year-olds help with fees and living costs at one of 17 private dance and drama schools]. Then the school called and asked me to audition for the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation scholarship. Without that support, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my training.”

The ALWF scholarships, which support 30 students annually on courses ranging from musical theatre, acting and music to stage management, is one of a wide range of scholarships and bursaries currently available across the training sector. Some are funded by foundations, charitable trusts and individuals, some by the training institutions themselves. Each award has its own specific criteria, eligibility and ethos, and most theatre disciplines – not just performing – are covered.

As well as awards that are specific to individual drama schools, training institutions can nominate students for support ranging from the Laurence Olivier Bursary, established by the Society of London Theatre to help students progressing from second to third year on any BA (hons) acting course, to the Constellation Creatives Bursary, awarded by Yellow Earth Theatre to a student of East Asian origin to encourage greater participation and representation on stage and screen.

Society of London Theatre awards £72,500 in bursaries to help students complete training

“It is vital for the health and sustainability of our internationally successful cultural sector that we nurture the best and brightest talents from all around the UK,” says Andrew Lloyd Webber. “The scholarships awarded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation are an essential element of the foundation’s drive to ensure talented people are professionally trained, whatever their background or financial means.”

“My advice would be to always talk to the school you are applying to about your financial position,” says Liz Wilson, executive director at Oxford School of Drama where, in addition to the DaDA awards, students may be able to access support from the Garfield Weston Bursary for students in financial hardship and the Mhairi Armstrong Bursary, established by the family of the late vocal tutor and college trustee and awarded to a three-year course student at the end of their first year of training.

Other drama schools will have their own schemes. For example, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2019/20 will offer a range of scholarships including 10 major new £10,000 scholarships funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Sonia Friedman, Cameron Mackintosh, Gareth Neame and Michael Grandage. Richard Pilbrow also supports a student starting a BA (hons) theatre practice course in either production lighting or theatre lighting design.

Central School receives more than £400k to fund scholarships and support applied theatre students

“Start your enquiries as early as possible,” Wilson advises. “The more lead time, the better. Don’t start a course without a plan for how you will finance it – it is really hard to cope with financial worries on top of the training.”

ArtsEd principal Chris Hocking agrees that prospective students shouldn’t be shy about exploring funding options. “Nearly 50% of our students are in receipt of some form of financial support. In addition to the ALWF and Dance and Drama Awards, this includes the ArtsEd exceptional talent awards and bursaries from our own funds. There are various criteria for the different awards. The majority take financial need into account, some recognise exceptional promise, all require students to be fully committed to their studies.”

Miriam-Teak Lee, winner of best actress in a musical at The Stage Debut Awards 2017 and currently rehearsing for the lead role in new musical & Juliet, reiterates that, helpful as scholarships and bursaries can be, they are the beginning rather than the end of the hard work and commitment. “In my first year at ArtsEd, DaDA funding helped tremendously and made me study even harder to make the school proud,” she says. “In the second and third year when I moved house and the rent got higher, I worked as a teacher at the Brit School on Saturdays. ArtsEd was very supportive of everything.”

Wilson believes supporting students to access all the help they are entitled to benefits training institutions as much as it does the individuals receiving the help. “Remember, the school wants you, so they should offer you support and advice on finding funding.”

A spokesman for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland agrees: “We want to work with the most committed, passionate, talented students, because we believe there is a unique creative power in bringing different voices and backgrounds together, and our scholarship programme plays an essential role in making that possible.”

Engagement with drama schools has been a key element in The Stage’s own scholarship programme, which has been running for almost 30 years and offers a range of scholarships for stage and drama schools across the UK. “It is an initiative everyone at The Stage is really proud of,” says editor Alistair Smith. “But we couldn’t do it without the generous help of our partner schools that support the scheme by giving away free or heavily subsidised places. The Stage Scholarships have changed the lives of those who have won them. Many former winners have gone on to have extremely successful careers working in theatres across the country and also in the West End and on TV and film.”

One of the early winners of such a scholarship was Ben Caplan. He says: “Winning The Stage Scholarship gave me the confidence to audition for a three-year acting training course at drama school. Since then, I have been lucky enough to work on some brilliant projects, including an original Mike Leigh play at the National Theatre, a series regular role in Call the Midwife and in the Second World War drama Band of Brothers.”

Moronke Akinola, currently on the BA (hons) Professional Acting course at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and another ALWF recipient, agrees that the benefits of scholarship support cannot be quantified solely in financial terms. “I was confident in my capabilities but hesitant about applying to drama school due to costs. I was contacted directly by BOVTS to explain that I might be eligible for a bursary. When I think about the financial pressures I would have otherwise been under, I feel blessed and very motivated to encourage others to fully explore all sources of financial support when considering their own applications.”

DaDA-awards; Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation; The Stage Scholarships

Look for training opportunities on The Stage website

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