So You Want to go to Drama School?

Arts - DramaI’ll never forget morning I met Peter Campion. My dad had organised the meeting, as I was eager to meet a real working actor. I was sitting in a coffee shop in town, anxiously awaiting what was going to come through the door.

In keeping with his character, Peter’s entrance was dramatic. He rushed over and hugged me as if we were long lost friends. Immediately intrigued, I sat back and observed every inch of him. From his piercing eyes to how he guzzled double espressos. I wanted the answer. I wanted to know what set him apart from thousands of other hopefuls, like myself, to be gifted with a place in one of the best drama schools in the world.

Peter graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2010 and fashioned a successful career; from a stint on Love/Hate, a lead in a Channel 4 comedy to a starring role in the Gaiety Theatre. He overtook many of his classmates in achieving success.

I wanted most to journey back a few years with Peter, to when he was an eighteen-year-old student in Clongowes Wood, applying to all the top UK drama schools. I was hoping to tap into his brain and unlock the secret to getting one of these places, which are quite literally like gold dust.

When applying for drama schools in the UK you must do extensive research on each institution you’re applying to. Visit the school, find out the credentials of the staff, go to any productions they have on – generally take an interest. It is pivitol you read each school’s audition requirements. Usually you are required to prepare two Shakespearean monologues, a contemporary monologue and sometimes a song. Afterwards the panel will interview you, so it it imperitive that you practice your answers! Thousands of people audition for these schools, it is tough, so be prepared.

When people think of drama school, they think of RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). Alumni include; Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes and Roger Moore. Despite its intimidating appearance, the RADA panel is the nicest one you’ll meet. RADA’s Associate Director, Nona Shepphard is very encouraging to auditionees.   RADA is rumoured to give more callbacks than other schools, which is encouraging, and takes on an average of 25 students per year.

Similarly, Guildhall is one of the world’s leading drama conservatoires. Located in the artsy area of Barbican in north London, a hub for budding performers. Guildhall also enroll 25 students each year. Some argue that it is the most difficult school to get into, as many current RADA students were cut first round from Guildhall auditions. Their audition comprises of group work followed by individual auditions. Unlike other schools, the auditions are then summond to a room. The names of those progressing to the next round are read aloud (on average, two out of fifteen will get a callback). Alumni include; Ewan McGregor, Orlando Bloom and Daniel Craig.

Another hot favourite is LAMDA (London Academy of Dramatic Art). This audition was strange for me. Auditionees had a nice room to wait in and a LAMDA student waited with us to answer any questions. What I found unsettling was that the audition had two separate panels. I performed my pieces for a panel of two in one room who didn’t utter a word to me. I was then ushered into a another room to have my interview with a different panel. It was a disjointed experience and I felt no connection with the auditioners, though perhaps this was the idea. Nevertheless, LAMDA prides itself as a welcoming conservatoire with a variety of courses. The BA Acting course accepts an average of 28 students each year. Alumni include; Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Cox and Dominic Cooper.

Moving away from London, Bristol’s Old Vic is another stop on the drama school auditions train. The school is located in a quaint townhouse in the city centre. Roughly 26 acting students are accepted annually. The Vics’ alumni include; Daniel Day-Lewis, Jeremy Irons and Patrick Stewart. Upon my arrival, auditionees were left waiting at reception. This was one aspect I disliked about Bristol. I felt unwelcome and as though auditionees were disrupting the students. Individually, we went upstairs to audition for the panel. Whether it was intentional or not, we were all able to hear one another’s audition. For some this was uncomfortable, especially hearing each other sing.

There are many other fantastic drama schools across the UK. I also auditioned for the Welsh and Scottish Conservatoires which run excellent acting programmes. Research is key and it is often a case of the school fitting the student, rather than the other way around, something in which I am a firm believer. My run at auditions was successful in that I got to the last round of RADA. Despite not getting a place, I have to remind myself that that was still a huge achievement. As cliché as it sounds, it is best to enter the audition as yourself rather than presenting a false exterior. Mallory Adams, a good friend of mine who was accepted to LAMDA but opted to study at The Lir has this advice for budding auditionees:

You get a lot of rejection and it can be hard. But with each round and each school you audition for you learn a bit about yourself. Sometimes the schools put you in strange exercises, group exercises, ask you to sing or do something inevitably embarrassing…So what I found was to just ‘let go’ and have a bit of fun with it. If I was enjoying myself, then I wasn’t over-thinking what I was doing, and remembering that they really are on your side. The teachers want you to do well and they want to help you. They want you to find the joy in the audition or exercise

Author: Deborah Skeffington

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