Drama School Audition Advice / Life at Drama School (Applying this year? Click here)

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Aiko
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This post is intended for those seeking to apply for NCDT (National Council for Drama Training) and CDS (Conference of Drama Schools) accredited undergraduate and postgraduate 'Acting' courses at drama school. This will cover the audition process and how best to prepare before your audition. The second post in this thread, from the member 'francescarella', will detail what life is like once you're at drama school.

My own knowledge is primarily derivative from supporting and accompanying my close friend and former flat mate during the audition process at six to eight separate accredited drama schools for several years running, upon which she finally gained and accepted her place at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) on their undergraduate Acting course. In addition, during my time at CSM (Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design), I encountered several acting students that were studying at the Drama Centre London, an integral and previously separate drama school of CSM, who had underlined the process they went through. Lastly, in order to help my friend, we both did the necessary research to heighten her chances during the audition process, namely by reading a variety of resources written to support those applying to drama school. Accordingly, I will list these at the bottom of my post.

Drama School List

As of this post, this is the current list of accredited drama schools:

Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA)
The Arts Educational Schools (ArtsEd)
Birmingham School of Acting (BSA)
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
Guildford School of Acting (GSA)
Gygnet Training Theatre
Drama Centre London
Drama Studio London
East 15
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Italia Conti Academy
Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA)
London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)
Manchester Metropolitan University (School of Theatre)
Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
Oxford School of Drama
Queen Margaret University
Rose Bruford College
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA)
Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

NCDT and CDS

NCDT/CDS accreditation is supported and recognised by employers in the theatre, broadcast and media industries, including employee representatives and training providers. The purpose is to ensure that only the courses of the highest standard are accredited. The teaching provided is purely practical, vocational training, with Equity status gained upon graduation. If you would like to find out more about what the NCDT and CDS do, be assured to visit their respective website. It's worth noting that both governing bodies are, by and large, separate. As such, certain institutions and/or courses may not be accredited the same. The above list is, for all intents and purposes, applicable to both governing bodies. However, there may be slight differences that should be noted when selecting the drama school and course for you.

Place to Applicant Ratio

The competition for places onto accredited 'Acting' courses is known to be notoriously high. Each drama school will annually receive anywhere between 1,000 to 4,000+ applicants each for an intake of 25 to 150 places across all accredited 'Acting' courses. The more 'famous' drama schools will likely accept 1 applicant in 100, this proportion will rise to 3 and 5 per 100 at the arguably less famous (although not necessarily less good) drama schools. Many of these accredited courses are offered by drama schools that are internationally renowned, producing many of the most eminent actors and performers for decades. As such, it's only natural to find these statistics daunting. What will follow is impartial advice and support to heighten your chances throughout the audition process.

Research

It's important to carefully research each drama school, preferably by attending an Open Day (crucial to gain an individual insight into the courses offered by each drama school, in addition to viewing the campuses and facilities available), and to possibly see a production offered (in order to observe current and past students). Spotlight, a professional acting and dancing website, have an excellent calendar system to centrally view all of the productions held by accredited courses, which can be viewed here (http://www.spotlight.com/calendar). Most drama schools will averagely charge £5-15 for one ticket, although LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) is free (as of this post), and subject to availability (advisable to book early, places are filled incredibly quickly). The CDS also publish a very useful booklet, which provides a comprehensive description of each accredited drama school. You can order this booklet for free, or alternatively, you can view and download a digital 'PDF' of the booklet, both found on their website. In the same vein, the NCDT has a directory of all of its accredited courses.

When applying, it's crucial to read the audition requirements carefully, both on the website of the drama school(s) you're interested in before you apply, and once you receive your welcoming letter and/or e-mail. Although the audition process will be relatively similar, there will be a slight variation in what each drama school will require of you. For example, the Central School of Speech and Drama have been known to specify the 'Classical' speeches you should do for your audition with them (often associated with Shakespeare), whereas comparatively, most of the other drama schools will give you free rein with the speeches you wish to choose. On the same token, many of these drama schools advise against using the speeches chosen by the Central School of Speech and Drama, due to the frequency of these speeches appearing at audition (which may, in turn, lessen your chances, due to them being overused). By extension, generally most courses will ask you to prepare three speeches for audition, while another may ask for two or even potentially up to six speeches. Occasionally, the audition panel at a drama school may ask, after you've performed your audition speeches, whether you have prepared a few more. This will usually imply that they'd like to see something different from you before determining their decision. This is why it's important to prepare more speeches than the assigned 'amount' shown on the audition requirements.

Applying

It's imperative that you plan ahead, acknowledging the various deadlines each drama school set, since they all vary. It's also important to remember that once you apply, a drama school can contact and offer an audition date at any time. This can range from up to a month to possibly even a few days. I would advise preparing your speeches well in advance of actually applying to ensure that you're ready at any notice (ideally, a few months before). Given the high competition, drama schools will be reluctant to change the audition date they give you, unless there is a significant reason (clashing of dates, for example).

Most, if not all, drama schools will charge an audition fee. This fee is averagely £30 to £45, depending (for an exact fee, this will be stated on the respective drama school's website). Nonetheless, to exponentially heighten your chances of acceptance, try and apply to more than one school. In order to help your selection, read through each prospectus, paying particular attention to any 'recent' successes the school has achieved, especially in regard to their graduates and what they have proceeded to do upon graduation.

Another significant factor to remember is that applying to drama school is an experience in itself, which will be hugely beneficial even if you don't gain acceptance the first time around. Take note, it's rare for an applicant to gain acceptance during their first experience/attempt. In fact, I would wager that 50% of successful applicants weren't accepted first time round (for varying reasons), but were after two to three years running. My friend, in particular, applied for four years running, and with each subsequent attempt, improved her chances noticeably. During her first attempt, she was unsuccessful at every single drama school she applied to, but during her forth and last attempt, she was accepted at two (of which RADA was one), and reached the final round at three other schools. So, it's important to consider rejection as a step up, rather than a step down. During the audition circuit, you will end up meeting and encountering people from the previous yearly cycle, of which you may end up befriending. However, the application process is very much based upon variables. There's a possibility that you can do minimal research, apply and gain acceptance (although, this is highly unlikely, but plausible). The audition panel at a particular school may like your audition and put you through.

Speech Selection

Choosing the right speeches is arguably one of the hardest parts of the process, especially considering that they will account for much of your application, and will ultimately determine your suitability for the course(s) you're applying to. Unfortunately, these speeches will last merely a few minutes to demonstrate your potential. You could argue that at the very least, the process is short and the auditioning panel will have less to scrutinise. Conversely, there is also the concern and suspicion that the auditioning panel will deliberately be emphasising upon what you may have done wrongly, as opposed to what you may have done well. How could the panel, after reviewing over a thousand other hopefuls, determine your worth? The answer is that they simply can't definitively, or more appropriately, they will have a preconceived idea of what they believe an actor should employ, and more specifically, how they should have interpreted the speech you have performed. This is why it's important to do the necessary research into each drama school, reviewing the production(s) held at each to gain a general awareness of the techniques employed by their students.

It's important to ensure that you've selected the right 'type' of audition speeches. Many courses will define 'Classical' as 'Shakespeare' or 'Contemporary'. They will also state 'Elizabethan' or 'Jacobean', which is referring to the time period. 'Shakespeare' is often used simply because he is one of, if not the most eminent playwright during this period, thus his work has become almost the basis of 'Classical' theatre. It's worth clarifying with the drama school what they were referring to when they say 'Modern'. This can vary from drama school to drama school. Some may be referring to the last one hundred years, while others may only refer to the last ten years.

In addition, there is a possibility that certain drama schools may require a song (either accompanied or unaccompanied), regardless of whether the 'Acting' course you've applied to has an 'Musical Theatre' element. It's not imperative nor a necessity to have had vocal training with a coach, although this will invariably help. What the audition panel usually look for is the ability to deliver naturally and genuinely, almost like you're inventing the lyrics on the spot.

Useful Resources and Links

Below is a list of useful resources to support your application to drama school:

Governing Bodies

National Council of Drama Training (NCDT)
Conference of Drama Schools (CDS)
National Association of Youth Theatres (NAYT)
National Operatic and Dramatic Association
Creative-Choices
Equity

Bookshop and Online Scripts

Amazon Books (UK)
Samuel French Theatre Bookshop
Project Gutenberg
The Internet Theatre Bookshop
Play Database
Doollee

Organisations and Communities

The Stage
The Spotlight
The Actors' Centre (London)
The National Campaign for the Arts
The Independent Theatre Council (ITC)

Other

British Theatre Guide
The UK Theatre Web
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francescarella
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Drama School Lifestyle: what it's like once you actually get in.

Housing
The vast majority of accomdation for drama schools is privately rented. This means no halls, and you will have to find other housemates, usually with other drama school students, and househunt. You will pay bills and rent just like any other rented house, and as it is London (if it is indeed a london drama school you attend) , expect to pay anything between £90 and £130 per person per week for rent, excl bills.
Also,Central is part of Uni of London, so you can apply for intercollegiate halls although there are only about 20 places available, so apply early. The hall you will get is Nutford House near Marble Arch and is pretty much standard student halls accomdation but has a great location (right near Oxford street!)
I lived in a privately rented house 4 stops from Central and I thouroughly enjoyed my time there. true, it got messy and bills are annoying, but it is such a learning curve, as you have to cook, clean, wash up, wash clothes, iron, tidy the house and it really does prepare you for truly living on your own. it is a daunting experience, especially if you have never had to support yourself and do all these things in a big city etc, so it is something to consider if you don't think you would cope very well. bare in mind the location of the drama school, as some are further out of teh city centre than you think. For example, RADA is in bloomsbury (zone 1), Central is is swiss cottage (zone 2), Arts Ed is in turnham green (zone 3), mountview is in wood green (zone 3). and so on. so accomodation will vary on the location, as will the standard.

Workload/hours
Drama school is not a course; it is not a degree; it is not a hobby. It is a lifestyle choice and it will take over your life much in the same way going to med school would. your hours will be long and you will be expected to be up and in school by 7am usually, for an hour of body conditioning and stretches, and then you have a variety of classes and rehearsals, depending on the production. The basic timetable per week is 10-5 every weekday. This of course changes when it becomes nearer to production/showcase weeks (end of every term). you will be doing essays as an actor (yes you cannot escape them even at drama school!) you will learn a variety of techniqies, methods, roles, workshops, games, meet mane practitioners etc. you will be expected to come in after school hours, to not only rehearse, but also research and you have the chance to make use of all the tehcnical people on courses at drama school.

Different Acting Courses

there are three very distinct type of course. these are: Musical Theatre, Acting for stage and screen, Acting for collaborative and devised theatre.
each one is very demanding and fulfilling. you will not work on the same productions nor will you attend many classes togther. you will be expected on all courses, to be able to move well, and sing fairly good. Though movement is especially usefull for MT and CDT, and singing is obviously required for MT.

Social Life
Most drama schools have a bar (if not all), and this is where a lot of your after class entertainment takes place, much like other universities' unions. drama students party hard and work hard. There will also be lots of house parties as not only will you live together, but your houses will usually be quite near to each other so house parties are occure very often. Of course, since you are in London, you will have the opportnutity to explore nightlife, including clubs, shows, bars, plays etc in fact whatever you want and can afford! it can sometimes be expensive, but you jsut have to be savvy with your money. you will probably not have time for a job in term time as your days are pretty packed as it is and what little time you may have left will be spent on sleep/eating.
also, with Central, you also have access to the ULU (uni of london union) in bloomsbury, so can mingle with all the other uni of london college students and enjoy all the union benefits such as Senate House Library.

Showcase/production season
This is usally in the penultiamte week of every term, of which there are three. Depending on your acting course, you will partake in two if you are doing straight acting, and one if you are doing musical theatre. These can vary in production size, but the big end of year musical is usually (as can be expected) the most costly, lavish and anticipated event. here is where the agents take note of the up and coming talent, and is a very anxious and tense week for all involved. the feeling that your whole career depends on your showcase performances is very daunting but you should be aware that not all actors who attend drama school end up with an agent as this is a very very competitive business. Usually the audience is made up of several agents, friends, peers and family. theyre open up to the public too, although depending on the profile of the production, not many general public attend. there are several times to impress the agents, and this is not jsut the end of year production, there are also other smaller productions/showcases in which you will act out a scene/monologue like a variet show, comprising of your graduating class.

Contacts/Opportunities
Now, a lot of what you will learn, experience-wise, will be from extra curricular prodcutions, workshops and activities. Not only are you expected to fully engage with your course material everyday, but you will also be encouraged to do many outside events and shows off your own accord. This is where the reputationa and size of your drama school comes in handy. For example, the alumni of your school will heavily determine the kind of shows/things you can get involved in. You will get emails every day asking you to audition for something/attend a workshop/ see a show/ get free tickets/come to a lecture etc. It is up to you to decide what you would like to apply for and take up on. But you should note that once you graduate you will not have the same amount of email influx opportunies, so take them whilst you can!
so far, i ahve worked with Jo brand, done a burlesque show in the docklands, worked with RSC director Cressida Brown, worked with Matthew Sharp, with Punchdrunk. julian maynard smith, been a black cat in a horror night, wrapped myself head to toe in clingfilm and dance around under a church substage, prop sourced at the natural history museum (and now have a 80 million year old sea urchin paperweight as a result!), been an assistant stage manager, directed, done visual dramaturgy, done set contruction, prop making, technical rigging, filmed an episode of the Apprentice, entertained Fulbright Scholars, and participated in a 3-workshop RADA mini course as some fine examples of my experiences as a first year.

Myths/Stereotypes busted
everyone at drama school is gay well, about 60% of students are gay/lesbian or bisexual.

everyone at drama school is a backstabbing ***** well it has to be said there are a lot of people who are egocentric and out for themselves, but it is a cutthroat business and drama school definitely reflects the mercurial nature of peoples' personalities. you will have to be very guarded on who you trust your ideas and weaknesses with, as there will always be people willing to exploit you and get one over you- like i said, it's not personal, it's business and most people will do whatever it takes to become an actor and make it. you just have to be aware of these people and rise above it. people will criticise you, hurt you, judge you, and make you feel as though you re not good enough, but there will always be people who help you, support you, give you advice and contructive criticism. it is up to you to decide whether you think you would cope with the emotionally demanding course.

everyone wears black this is only true of techies and actors, but only becuase it is an equipment requirement, for movement and rehearsals. it's not a pretentious thing: it's simply a case of safety and practical requirement.

to be cont.
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TinuvielSea
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Hi! My name is Maria and I´m from Argentina. I´ve just finished reading your post. I see that you wrote this in 2009, does that mean that you finished your course of studies at RADA?

I have a gigantic dream, and it's to study in a Drama School in the UK. I fell in love with RADA. However, there are two main problems which come before the fact of being accepted or not in any drama school. First, the distance, and second, the money.
If you have no time to work while studying, how do you pay for your bills and food? (among all the other things you have to pay for)

I have been taking drama lessons for 5 years now. As you portrait the audition process, it seems so difficult and unreachable. How much experience is expected from the pannel? I am also 31 years old, and I do not want to shatter my dreams. I want to become an excellent actor and never stop learning how to be one. Have you had any adult classmates while you were studying? Is it too late for me now?

Thank you for your post! It was worth reading it and very helpful aswell.

Regards,
Maria
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