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The Drama School Diaries Part One

Hello everyone, I know it’s been a long time since my last post, but now that I’ve finished my musical theatre course at college, I am going to be writing a series of blog posts called ‘The Drama School Diaries’. I’ll be talking about my experiences with auditions, giving advice and basically just being brutally honest about what it is like to try and make it in the musical theatre industry.

Since being offered a place at a drama school on a foundation course, it occurred to me that later this year I will have to apply for more three year courses from September, and I hadn’t even decided where I wanted to audition. After a lot of research I came to the conclusion that I’m going to do more auditions this time around, and I’m going to audition for acting courses as well as musical theatre. So there’s a little update on what my plans are, but I’m now going to talk about the first drama school topic I’d like to cover: Auditions.

Auditioning for Drama School

A lot of the books, articles etc. I’ve read about auditions don’t really give an accurate description of what being in an audition is actually like. I understand everyone will have different experiences and be auditioning for different things, but I don’t think there are a lot of brutally honest accounts of auditions because there is a lot more than meets the eye. Before I attended any drama school auditions, I knew that they would be difficult, but the reality of the number of people applying for about 20-40 places didn’t really sink in. Just to put it into perspective, the number of people on average who will audition for the same drama school course as you is roughly the size of the population of Namibia in South Africa (around 2,000 people). That’s a lot of people right? Of course in a situation like that you need to be confident that you will stand out from the rest, but I think I lost sight of the fact that I needed to be myself and show them what was unique about me, as I tried so hard to be like the kind of person I thought they would want to accept. If you’re confident in yourself, having accepted your weaknesses and acknowledged your strengths, and you can stand in front of a panel at an audition as if to say ‘this is what I’ve got’ then you’re going to go further than someone who tries too hard to come across as something they’re not when under pressure. With that many people competing against each other, people will start to fall into categories in the minds of the ‘judges’. Some people will simply have no experience, lack technique and lack confidence, and the panel will instantly write them off. Fact. Some people might be amazing at one thing, such as acting for example, but then they may not be able to dance a step or sing in tune, and again that’s a write off (because the musical theatre industry requires you to be at least a triple threat now, but in an acting audition this may be different). You also have the dancer types who are incredibly flexible, and are fairly good actors and singers, so they may get through to the next round because they are seen to have potential. There are also a few unique characters who you’ll meet along the way, whose audition you may watch and think they’re odd or outrageous, but often they will get called back as well (because they are unique). Boys always stand out more in auditions because there are less of them, and a lot of girls will fade into the background because there are loads of them. Also, I made an observation during my auditions, which may just have been a coincidence or something only I’ve noticed, but I would like to share it in case anyone else shares the same opinion. When it comes to your looks in acting or musical theatre, they are your brand and your image, because the work is so physical and requires you to use your whole body. In my auditions, two kinds of ‘look’ were often picked for a call back. Firstly, the more ‘alternative’ or ‘unique’ look. Someone who may not necessarily be considered conventionally ‘attractive’ by everyone, but someone who is striking and you could tell apart from the group. Then, of course, a lot of the best looking males and females were chosen. Muscular, slim, not a hair out of place, well dressed and in general well presented people were very popular with the panels. A lot of the drama schools specified that they didn’t want you to wear makeup to the audition, but it was clear that a lot of people were wearing it, and some of them still got called back. Obviously, you have to be castable, and a lot of roles do require actors who are attractive and that’s a fact. Even if being attractive isn’t a requirement, which I don’t think it is, I think they do take into account the way in which you decide to present yourself at the audition. I think age can also affect the drama school audition process, as often a panel will think that an 18 year old who has just finished A-Levels won’t be ready for the level of training at drama school. Of course, you can never tell what the judges are thinking, and most drama schools don’t give anyone any audition feedback (as they don’t have time to do so) so you may never know what you did ‘wrong’. The panel may have already accepted someone onto the course that looks like you (which is possibly a reason to try and audition earlier), they may be looking for a specific type of person depending on what’s on in the West End currently (they want graduates who will get work once they leave, so they have to consider what the industry is looking for at the time as well) and who knows they may have thought that you were amazing, but they might think you’re right for a different course or that you need more life experience before going to drama school.

I met a lot of people at my auditions who had already auditioned the year before, or that this was their third or fourth time auditioning. Can an 18 year old compete with that kind of experience? I personally think it shows a lot of commitment if you try again, because each time you try you will have learnt more about the audition process and about yourself as a performer. I am also a big believer in not auditioning until you feel you are ready. I applied very early on and had auditions from December, when some of my friends didn’t even apply until February onwards. Early applications are good if you know you are ready for the auditions (all your material is prepared and your skills are where they need to be) as then a lot of the places are still up for grabs and the panel won’t have seen hundreds of people before you. However, later applications are also good as you will have more time to prepare, but you risk missing out if the places are filling up quickly. I wouldn’t apply too late in the game, otherwise you may be disappointed, but I think somewhere in the middle is just about right.

Another thing I think the judges took into consideration was where you were already studying/training. Often they aren’t interested in A-Level drama students because the drama school environment is so different to a school one, but if you are what they are looking for this shouldn’t be a problem. With college and drama school students, they definitely take into account where you train. If you went into an audition and said you were in the sixth form at Arts Ed or you go to one of the big colleges like EDA, you may automatically stand out, as you have a lot of experience. Some places may not want someone who has already had a different kind of training from somewhere else, but it could stand you in good stead.

The most honest point I can make about auditioning involves a controversial topic in the arts industry: money. Lets face it, if you have money in this industry, you’re going to get further. I know some people will not agree with this statement, as obviously the arts is all inclusive and you can get scholarships and things, but I will explain my point. There are only a few drama schools in the UK that offer student finance funding (a student loan that university students are given) to students on their musical theatre or acting courses. Often, this is because they are associated with universities, however the majority of schools require students to privately fund their training. Realistically, a lot of people don’t have £14,000 to spend per year on their tuition fees alone, when they will have living expenses etc. to consider also. This does make it a lot harder for people auditioning for drama schools, as this means you can’t audition for as many places, and therefore you don’t have as many opportunities. Yes, you can get funding in some places, but this may only cover part of your fees and not much funding is available. As well as this, if you have money and have been at stage school all your life, of course you are going to have an advantage at auditions because you have so much experience. At the end of the day, if you can’t pay the fees, you can’t go to the school, and that is a harsh truth that many people (including myself) have to come to terms with. So if you can’t afford to audition for some of the top drama schools because they are too expensive, you then face a hard job getting into the schools with funded places, as more people want these places so that they can get funding. Of course, people still have to be talented to get into any drama school, and I’m not saying that people buy their way into the industry, but I do often wonder if I would get into the drama schools that you have to pay for if I could afford to go.

I hope that this helps some of you who will be auditioning for drama schools or are considering it, as I feel if I could have read some honest accounts of people’s experiences before I auditioned I could have had a more realistic idea of what it would be like. Don’t let this post put you off, as your experience may be totally different to mine, and if it’s what you really want then don’t let anything stop you from trying your hardest. I just hope this series will help prepare anyone for what they may experience, and how they should deal with it. The next few parts of this series will be geared towards giving advice and finding the school that’s right for you etc. but if anyone has any specific questions they’d like me to answer about auditions I’d be happy to, so just let me know.

Thank you so much for giving this a read, see you soon!

Lucy x