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What is the reality of work like for a drama school graduate?


A drama school helps prepare you for life beyond its hallowed halls, but the rest is up to you. Five graduates tell Paul Clayton how they are using the skills they learned while training to navigate the challenges of the real world

Drama school can be a cosy place – an expensive, boutique hotel of training where you can make mistakes in a safe and controlled environment. Given that no drama school can actually teach you how to act – it is to a great extent a natural talent – the best schools help you with what you need to become an actor. Skills such as voice, movement and the chance to strut your stuff seem to be top of most people’s list. But showcases and final-year productions that get you in front of agents and casting directors are equally important and provide a door into the profession.

However, once you step outside the hallowed halls and are out there in the real world, just how well has your drama school equipped you for what the real world will bring? Have you got what you need from your training? Or has your drama school let you down?

Will Kirk graduated this summer from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. “One of the best things my drama school gave me were brilliant radio classes,” he says. “I was lucky enough to win the Carleton Hobbs Bursary Award. From that, I got an agent.”

A five-month contract with the BBC Radio Drama Company is Kirk’s first job. “I’m loving it. Without the radio training at drama school, I would have been lost when I started this job, but I think the greatest thing drama school has given me is a sense of openness and fearlessness.”

Stacy Abalogun has also gone straight from drama school into work. Leaving RADA early, she filmed an episode of Casualty and then settled into a summer at Shakespeare’s Globe in As You Like It. Having previously worked as a dancer and then taken a choreography degree, Abalogun’s move to train as an actor comes when she’s already a parent. She’s realistic that unemployment will come, but believes that having a family to look after and spend time with will give her the strength she needs.

“RADA is also very good at supporting people,” she says. “We had lots of professional development chats from actors, both employed and unemployed. RADA in Business gave us a free week of workshops in skills to use ourselves and to give us a glimpse of the possibilities available for work in the corporate world.”

Robert Wolfe, who left Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in July, is waiting for his first job to start in late September.

Robert Wolfe

“I think the hardest thing is finding a day job with enjoyment in it. I sorted a job in a restaurant before leaving, and prepped myself for the fact that there might be no work for a while. That’s not admitting failure, that’s facing up to the world,” he says.

Being asked to draw up a business plan in his final year was something that Wolfe found very useful. His time since he graduated has been taken up with “the business side of being an actor, emails and admin mostly, as I haven’t had a chance to use my acting technique just yet”. So the focus has been on “auditions, and follow-up emails and calls”.

When I chat to Lydia Fleming, who is one of this year’s graduates from Guildhall School of Speech and Drama, she’s attending regular auditions thanks to having acquired an agent, though she is still waiting to pin down that first job.

“I feel very optimistic,” she says. “I go into auditions knowing what I want to do and feel very prepared by what we did at Guildhall. We had a life skills class, which I use all the time; using techniques about nurturing positive mindsets, keeping sight of how you want to deal with situations. I think what we were taught captures the balance of life and work, and has put things into perspective for me really quickly.”

So, even though she is not working yet, does she feel part of the profession? “Absolutely,” she says. “Sometimes you can come up against jargon in the industry that can make you feel a little vulnerable. Thankfully, I can ask my agent absolutely anything, for which I’m really grateful, and Guildhall has an amazing alumni network, which means I’m close to people who have been working for several years and who can offer advice if I need it.”

Alfred Clay, a Mountview graduate, is taking time to form a daily routine, while he waits for work. “Physical things such as working out, running, even walking in the mornings, help to start the day off right. And leaving the house to do work helps give your day structure. It can get really low. Especially with social media (where the grass always seems to be greener), but surrounding yourself with a strong support network and reliable friends is important to get you out of moments like that.”

Having talked to these five new actors in July and again in September, I was impressed with how they were facing up to the challenges of the world they found themselves in. They were drawing on the life skills they had learned at drama school, sometimes more than the acting techniques. Drama school may not teach you how to write a good email, or to edit a showreel – more practical skills might be useful – but the strength and resilience needed to survive a three-year course will stand you in good stead for the world of work.

Ultimately, if your drama school is to have any value, it’s down to you. Plan ahead. Give as much weight to the professional development classes as the voice and Meisner. You may find you need the former much more than the latter. You’ll also need luck – and sadly, nowhere offers classes in that. But the harder you work, the luckier you get.

It’s the job of a drama school to set you on your way and help you cross the bridge into the business. Anything more is down to you.

For more training advice, go to: thestage.co.uk/advice

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