I told you in the last post that you don’t need to go to drama school, and now I’ll start the long series of suggestions of things you can be doing instead. The best place I can think to start is with training, which you are probably already considering in some form.
Training is important. 99% of the time you can tell which actors on a stage are trained and what sort of training they’ve received, just by the way they move and speak. Film is slightly different. ‘Raw talent’ is much more common in film because the camera loves actors who can move and speak ‘naturally’, which is possible without training. On stage, this naturalness would probably mean that nobody can hear you or that you’d create the dreaded ‘talking head’ effect. But eventually, film or stage, you are going to come across a particularly challenging scene where you are going to need to rely on ‘technique’ of some sort. Some actors are lucky and become very successful without training, but this is often due to a personal temperament that includes confidence, diligence, and intelligence, as well as natural ability. This is a rare combination, and whether you have it or not, it will almost certainly benefit you to get at least a little bit of training.
Training doesn’t have to come from a drama school. There are a lot of courses available to emerging actors, even in small cities – the tricky bit is not finding a course, but choosing one that is worth your time and money. And beyond that, it’s important to really understand what these courses offer – what skills you will walk away with and, just as importantly, which skills you won’t walk away with. Let’s have a look at the pro
s and cons of the options that are available to you.
Full- or Part-time University Courses
I’ll be blunt. A Bachelor of Arts, even specialising in performing arts, often won’t give you enough practical training to help you much in the industry. They are usually more theory-based than practical, and a lot of what you will cover practically will be pretty basic. What they are good for is meeting people who you can work with in the future, and providing a theoretical context for what it is you’re actually doing as an actor. This basically means understanding where you fit – knowing what’s come before you artistically, who’s out there right now that’s similar to you, what the current trends are, how you might make the most of them, and where it is you want to go. Uni can help you understand all that so you don’t try to reinvent the wheel, and so you have a star to aim for (pun intended). The downside is that the lack of practical training means you will probably still n
eed further technical training (voice/movement/acting) when you graduate. You may want to consider getting some private tuition in these areas while you’re still at uni, to save time later.
The pros and cons summed up:
– Meet future collaborators
– Figure out what sort of acting you want to do
– Understand why you want to do it
– Know who’s already done it and how you can learn from them
– Won’t be fully trained in voice and movement or acting techniques
– Won’t necessarily have a lot of production credits to add to resume
– Student loans debt
Part time courses
There are some wonderfully practical part-time courses available, of varying lengths and focusing on different techniques. They’re a great way to train your voice and body and gain an understanding of particular acting techniques, and are great if you have a casual or part-time job that you can balance with your study. Keep in mind they can sometimes take up a lot time, and they’ll generally only give you a glance at one type of technique rather than a wider understanding of lots of techniques – but if you did a few courses in a row you would be able to balance that out. If you’re dead set against uni unless it’s a well-reputed drama school, do yourself a favour and do something practical like this in the meantime.
If you find a course you like and it looks ridiculously expensive (some are unfortunately), ask first about payment plans. They want your money so they might not mind if it comes in instalments, even if they don’t advertise the fact. If it’s really impossible, you may want to find out if any of the tutors in the course offer private tuition, through the school or privately (which is sometimes a more financially manageable way to learn similar material). You may also want to consider taking 6 months to a year off to save up before you embark upon a course.
– Often very practical, will definitely help you with vocal/movement/acting technique
– Small class sizes means plenty of attention from teachers
– Can fit work/other acting endeavours into your schedule
– May focus only on one specific technique or skill (so you may come out with a great voice but terrible at moving around on stage)
– Can be expensive
Short Courses and Workshops
Workshops and short courses are essential for all actors, no matter how trained. Even Geoffrey Rush pops back into class every now and then to freshen up his skills. If you’re only giving up a weekend or one week night for six or eight weeks, you’ve really got no excuse not to. They’re a great way to meet people – lots of people, if you’re doing lots of workshops – and supplement what you’ve already learnt. The thing to remember with these is that they’re not really enough by themselves, because they only really have time to cover a small amount of one subject. Even if you do lots of them, you probably won’t be able to delve deep enough into the technique. So if you’re not doing any other sort of performance training, I would really consider adding some private tuition to your training plan.
– Easy to fit into schedule
– Great way to meet people
– Only time for a brief look at any one technique
– Can be hard to predict if a course will be at the right level for you.
Private lessons are a really efficient and effective way of learning a technique. Where possible, choose a teacher who comes well recommended and has an in-depth knowledge of the technique they’re teaching. If you work with one teacher for a while and you feel you’ve exhausted their knowledge, it’s ok to move on to a more experienced teacher or to focus on another technique. You want to get the most value for money so have a think about what you want to work on with your teacher. Ask questions about what they think you need to work on or whether they have any suggestions as to any ‘homework’ you can do to get better. If you’re worried about expense, many teachers don’t mind teaching a few pupils at a time for the same price or slightly more. You could also just have a lesson every fortnight or once a month rather than every week, especially if you don’t have time to practice what they’re teaching you – you don’t want to waste money learning the same thing over and over because you don’t have the time to work on getting better.
– Specific attention and tailored curriculum means you will improve quickly
– You can ensure quality control by finding a tutor who is at the right level for you.
– Can be expensive
So those are your options in a nutshell. Before you choose ANY course, do your research. Look carefully at how the school describes itself and hunt around for honest testimonials. There are usually people out there who are ready to have a whinge, so take them with a grain of salt. And a few last things:
Be professional. When it comes to any course, do NOT go to a school purely because you think it’ll give you ‘exposure’. That means don’t go somewhere where a teacher is also a casting director or sits on the audition panel for a school because you think it’ll increase your chances of getting cast/accepted. The teachers are there to teach, not scout talent, so even if you’re fantastic they probably won’t be looking at you for casting purposes. Go for the content of the classes, work hard, ask questions, be professional, and maybe you’ll find yourself in a situation later where it works in your favour – but don’t make it your primary goal.
What sort of training do I need to do?
If you’re not sure what you need to work on in terms of training, ask someone you trust – preferably an industry professional (like a director you’ve worked with or a teacher who also works in the industry) because they’ll have the perspective you need. If in doubt, work on things that interest you, or that you find very difficult! Chances are the things you struggle with are the things that need developing. If you’re not ready to do that, there’s no harm in developing the things that are already working til you feel confident enough to branch out. The chances of getting training that works against you are pretty slim – if what they’re teaching you is not helpful in the industry it’ll become apparent pretty quickly when you try to apply it. Take the plunge, learn some stuff – you’ve got nothing to lose. Plus it looks good on your CV.
What have you found that works for you?