For 25 years, The Bridge Theatre Training Company has been training actors to the highest standard while combating elitism in the industry.
The Bridge was established in 1993 by Judith Pollard, Mark Akrill and others who felt strongly that drama schools were often prohibitively expensive. Their aim was simple: to make high-quality actor training accessible to all, to produce actors from a mix of social and cultural backgrounds and by doing so, to enrich the theatre, radio, film and television industries.
With free auditions, low course fees and no upper age limit for applicants, The Bridge ensures that your background doesn’t determine your future.
Based in Camden – an artistic hub in the heart of London and a stone’s throw from the West End – the school’s size ranges from 35 to 50 students at any one time. That small size means there is a close focus on the individual, as well as a strong sense of being a company.
Mark Akrill says: “The life of that company goes on after students finish their training. People come back for years afterwards, whether it’s to prepare for an audition or to check a contract or even just to have a cup of tea. They remain part of the life of the company.”
For graduate Suzanne Estevez: “The moment I walked through the doors of The Bridge I knew I’d found my new home. It helped me to find who I really am.”
Teaching at The Bridge comprehensively covers acting, movement, voice, singing, physical theatre and screen acting. The school is particularly renowned for its stage combat training, too – some of the students have gone on to become professional fight directors. “We try to demystify acting,” Mark explains. “There is an answer, and with hard work and enough technique you can get where you want to go in the industry.”
The school offers two routes: a two-year professional acting course, which includes career guidance, preparation for the industry and a West End showcase at the Criterion Theatre in front of agents, directors and casting directors, and a one-year course for people who either already have a degree or have drama experience, whether amateur or semi-professional. As alumnus John McGetterick puts it: “You cannot find a better place to train.”
“We place the actor’s own creativity at the centre of theatre training,” Mark says. “We’re called The Bridge because it’s about bridging different approaches to acting. It’s about the individual actor developing their own techniques and interests. We train them as professional actors, but also ask: ‘What are your goals, and how do you understand the stages that help you get to those goals?’”
Some students may have an interest in writing, such as graduate Hannah Khalil, whose play A Museum in Baghdad is currently playing at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Some may be passionate about improvisation, like Ruth Bratt, one of the founder members of the highly successful Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. Others may want to develop their own companies or forge a career as a director.
“We’re open to people pursuing their own projects within the framework of the course,” says Mark. “We put a big emphasis on how our students can sustain their career. By allowing them to develop their own interests, their own techniques, that’s what will keep them going in a difficult industry.”
Focus on the individual begins right at the audition stage. There are no audition fees at The Bridge, and unlike many drama schools which see applicants for 10 minutes and send them on their way, the audition process at The Bridge consists of a thorough, half-day acting workshop.
Applicants perform two contrasting speeches, then Mark and his team work with them in a rehearsal. “We hope that applicants will learn from the day and that there will always be a positive outcome to the audition. Some will be offered a place and some will be offered positive advice about their next step forward. Maybe they need more performance experience, or maybe we can recommend a foundation course. We see ourselves as helping people in terms of advice about how they develop, not just as recruiting for our course.”
“We’re interested in learning about them,” he adds. “We explain that there are no secrets to the audition. We’re going to tell you exactly what we want. You’ll hopefully come away from it having learned a lot about acting, as well as having a flavour of what we do.”
Beyond the audition process, fees for courses at The Bridge are lower than most other drama schools. This is vital for making sure that training – and the industry more widely – are accessible. It’s hugely important to The Bridge not to deter those who may feel drama is beyond their means. There’s no upper age limit for applicants and the school always has a contingent of older students, some who have not trained before, others who want to refresh their training.
Throughout the course, students are prepared for all aspects of casting, including self-taping. This doesn’t just happen at the end – it’s embedded in the school’s teaching. Every student also creates a showreel; an essential tool for actors in a digital age. At the end of the course there is a showcase at the Criterion Theatre in the West End in front of agents and casting directors, which gives graduates the best chance of finding representation and work straight out of training.
Bridge graduates are currently working across film, television, theatre and radio. Their credits include Game of Thrones, Skins, Little Britain, Coronation Street, Casualty and more, as well as countless productions with companies like the RSC, The Globe, and the National Theatre. “The Bridge is a place for hopes and dreams to become reality,” says graduate Libby Edwards.
With affordable and accessible courses, free auditions, and by welcoming students from all walks of life and backgrounds, The Bridge aims to combat elitism found in many other schools. “Whatever your background,” says Mark, “whether you’re 18 or 80, the experience of being in this company does change people’s lives.”