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The Drama School Diaries Part 5: Hidden Expenses

So, you’re planning on auditioning for drama schools, but you’re not sure if you can afford it. You factor in the course fees, the accommodation, living costs etc. but there are also lots of other things you are going to have to pay out for while preparing for drama school.

  1. Auditions are expensive, as they are around £30 – £55 each, and when you audition for 5+ drama schools, it all adds up.
  2. If you are accepted onto a course, you will be given a list of things that you need to purchase for your training, such as leotards, ballet shoes, knee pads and much more. Again, this all adds up, especially when one pair of dance shoes can cost up to £50 alone.
  3. Your accommodation may not be within walking distance of your college, so you’re going to need to pay for your travel. Also, if you are living in London, you are most likely going to be relying on public transport to get around, so you should consider how costly travel is going to be.
  4. Nights out may not be a cost that everyone needs to consider, however most drama schools run freshers events during the first week of term, and if you are living with other students the chances are you will be going out and experiencing London’s nightlife. Tickets for freshers events can be expensive, and then nights out (especially in London) will be even more so, so this is also a factor to consider.

 

I hope this is helpful if you are trying to budget for drama school, and the best advice I can give is to save as much as possible now, so you can have the funds to make your dreams come true and afford drama school life.

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The Drama School Diaries Part 4

Dealing with Audition ‘Competition’

Obviously when preparing for auditions and during your auditions your number one priority needs to be you and what you’re doing. However, as you look around the room you will see countless other applicants, and the reality of how many people apply for these courses becomes very real. Naturally, you will try and compare yourself to them, you may think ‘if this many people are at one audition, how many people am I actually up against?’ and the competitive nature of these auditions can make you want to give up. You can’t see the point because that girl over there is more flexible than you, and that girl next to you has an incredible top range and the boy to your left can do back flips. Don’t get into this downward spiral of thoughts. Look at the boy doing back flips in the corner, and remind yourself that while he may be talented, he isn’t you. He does not have what you have, and neither does anyone else because you are one of a kind. This can be a hard thing to keep sight of when you’re surrounded by your competition, but you can’t let this phase you. Make friends with people, have a chat about how their other auditions are going, what songs they’re singing etc. It will make you feel much more at ease if you have a few friends who you can discuss the whole process with (after all, you’re all in the same boat anyway). Also when you are listening to other people singing and watching them dance or act, don’t judge them as if you are a member of the panel. Be supportive, and never for a second think ‘oh they won’t like him’ or ‘I’m way better than her’ because you shouldn’t bring others down to bring yourself up. A better response would be ‘they were good, and now lets show them what I’ve got’.

Often you will have to work in teams during your auditions, and if you don’t work well with others (you’re bossy, you shy away from the task or you are only focusing on yourself etc.) then the panel will notice this and this will go against you. Actors collaborate and work closely together, it’s not all about one person, especially when there is an ensemble of about twenty to thirty people onstage at the same time. So again, talking to people at your auditions will help you out when it comes to the workshops. Alternatively, if there are any current students at the auditions, ask them as many questions as possible (so you get more of an idea about whether the school is right for you). Basically, although you are effectively ‘competing’ against the other people in your audition, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Be the best you can be, focus on yourself, but get to know the others and support them along the way as well.

I hope you’re all enjoying this series and finding it useful, and I’m open to topic requests so just let me know.

Lots of Love Lucy x

The Drama School Diaries Part 2

Top Ten Tips for Selecting an Audition Song

At a lot of drama school auditions you will be required to prepare two songs of a certain length (generally around two minutes long). However, at a lot of auditions you will only be required to sing one of these songs. Here are my top tips for selecting audition material:

  1. Always have a back up. Create a repertoire folder with around eight to ten songs in, so that if the panel ask you if you have anything else prepared you can confidently and calmly select another one of your songs. Make sure they are all fit for purpose and adhere to the schools criteria, and that you know them all like the back of your hand.
  2. Ensure your sheet music is neat and clear. This may sound like an obvious or strange tip, but the amount of auditions I went to where people got in trouble for not properly taping their sheet music together was ridiculous. Tape it all together neatly, or put it in a folder, and if you have any cuts in the score make sure they are marked clearly (and talk them through with the pianist before you begin). Know who composed the song, the lyricist and make sure you know the tempo at which you want it to be played (so you can go through this with the pianist also).
  3. Don’t go for the obvious songs. I think this goes without saying, but try and avoid Phantom, Wicked, Les Mis and the big hit shows at all costs. The panel have heard it all before, and they will have heard it sung better, so don’t even attempt it. Even musicals like Hamilton are a risk, as they are so popular at the moment, so try and find smaller more off the wall shows. Don’t go mad trying to find a show that no one has heard of, and make sure it is still from a published musical, but try and think outside the box.
  4. Ballads are great and they show off your voice, but sometimes they can be a bit dull. The panel may start nodding off if they have to sit through too many sad love songs, so pick a few songs that are more upbeat, funny or that tell a story. Character songs are more risky and some schools specify that they don’t want to hear you sing them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sing a more upbeat solo.
  5. If you can’t belt, don’t chose a song that is traditionally belted, and if you can’t sing high, don’t select a soprano number. Sounds simple, but a lot of people go for something that is a bit too high or low in their range, and then when they are nervous they can’t hit the notes. Pick something you can sing comfortably, and then even under pressure you should be able to pull it out the bag.
  6. Never tell the panel that you are ‘ill’ or that you ‘have a cold’. Even if you do, they will be able to hear it and it just seems like you’re making excuses. They are professionals, and even if you are full of cold they will be able to hear if your voice has potential or not.
  7. Don’t be afraid to sing the same song as someone else. I’ve done it at auditions before, and the panel don’t mind at all. As long as you bring something different to the song and you show your personality and interpretation, you will be fine. Don’t let it phase you, just do your thing and don’t worry about how the other person sung it.
  8. Comparing yourself to others at the audition is also a no. If you have the chance to go near the beginning of the audition order then take it, because then you will be less likely to worry about if the girl sat next to you is going to have a better voice or not. If you don’t get to listen to the others sing, then just focus on yourself and think about how good you are going to be. If you do have to watch the others, then just be supportive of them, and don’t put yourself down by assuming the panel will think everyone else is better than you. Focus on you, and don’t let the pressure or competitive atmosphere get to you.
  9. Also, if you are listening to other people audition, the panel may look to see what the other candidates are doing. If you are slouching in your chair, uninterested and not even looking at the person auditioning, you aren’t giving the impression that you are present and engaged with what’s going on. You can still listen to the others and appreciate their work, and the schools are looking for team players, so you don’t want to come across as bored or jealous. Keep focusing on yourself, but respect the other performers and appreciate their work.
  10. Go with your gut. If a singing teacher or someone gives you a song to sing or gives you advice about a song that you don’t feel is right, go with what you think. At the end of the day, it’ll be you standing in that audition room singing it, so you and only you can decide what you are going to sing. Do take suggestions and advice, and if you get recommended a song that you love then go with it, but if someone tells you ‘don’t sing that song it won’t be good enough’ or ‘that song is too boring’ that may just be their opinion. Take all advice with a pinch of salt.

 

I hope these tips will help some of you out, and please let me know what other posts you would like to see in this series!

Lots of Love Lucy x

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

The Top 10 Shows I Want to See Next

  1. An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre) – A beautiful Gershwin musical that is the talk of the West End, which I cannot wait to see in May!
  2. Mamma Mia (Novello Theatre) – This is a long running show, but I am still yet to see it. I love the film, and all of ABBA’s classic songs, so I think this show would be very entertaining.
  3. Motown the Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre)
  4. School of Rock (New London Theatre)
  5. The Girls (Phoenix Theatre) – After their stunning Olivier Awards performance, I would love to see this show written by Gary Barlow.
  6. Jesus Christ Superstar (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)
  7. Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre) – Who doesn’t want to see this smash hit musical?
  8. Judy! (Arts Theatre)
  9. The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wale’s Theatre)
  10. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Duke of York’s Theatre)
  11. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 (Palace Theatre) – Technically, this makes my list a top 11, but I couldn’t not include this play that was highly praised at the Olivier Awards!

I hope this list has given any theatergoers some inspiration (if you’re looking for an idea of what to see next). Of course there are tonnes of amazing musicals and plays in London and on tour right now, and this list names but a few. Let me know what shows you’ve seen recently (ones you’ve enjoyed, or even ones you didn’t).

Audience Members: Take Note

Yesterday evening I went to see Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End, and it was amazing! The cast were all extremely talented, the music was of course amazing and I can’t even begin to count the number of times I got goosebumps, it was so moving (I cried several times), the set was beautiful and so well thought out, the helicopter was spectacular and overall it was an amazing show.

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However, I am quite short, and I happened to be sat behind a particularly tall man. Now don’t get me wrong, they stager the seating very well in theatres, but our height combination just didn’t add up. Having said that, I would have been able to see perfectly if he had been sitting up straight. As theatre goers will be aware, seats are arranged so people have a gap to look through (in between the two people in front of them). But, this man decided to lean to his right throughout the entire show so he could talk to his partner. This meant that I had to lean the other way so that I could actually see the stage, but as I’m quite small I don’t think this caused problems for anyone behind me.

Even though I did manage to lean far enough over to be able to view the performance, it got me thinking about things that audience members should consider. Things that they should know are okay to do, and things which are not. So, here’s a list of 5 things I think audience members should not do when at the theatre:

1) Eating during the interval is perfectly acceptable, I mean they do serve refreshments at the theatre after all. But, when there is an emotional and intense moment happening on stage and someone behind you is unwrapping a sweet, it can ruin and distract from the masterpiece in front of you. So please, eat before the show starts, and during the interval. But as soon as act 2 starts, please for everyone’s sake, put it away.

2) Using your phone. Fair enough, check your messages just before the show starts or during the interval. However when the overture starts your phone should be switched off. It can be very off putting to see a bright screen shining out of the corner of your eye, and it’s very disrespectful to those on stage who have worked hard to perform for you. Also, if you have paid a lot of money for your ticket, why text through the whole show? Make the most of it, you can use your phone anytime you want, but don’t waste the opportunity to watch the show you have come to see.

3) Please do not talk the whole way through the show. I think this one speaks for itself. It’s rude and distracting, so please save your comments for the interval and the end of the show.

4) Please sit properly in your seat, unless you have a specific reason why you cannot do so. I discussed my annoyance for this earlier, so I think you get the picture now.

5) You should always check how long the interval is, and keep track of the time. There is nothing more annoying than being ready for the start of act 2, the curtain going up again, and then having to stand up to let someone in your row back in. It blocks the view of those behind you, and disturbs all those around you. Just be sure to make it back to your seat in good time before act 2 begins, and then no one will complain.

But aside from all of this, do give standing ovations to shows that deserve it, do be polite and respectful to other audience members, do clap at the end of every song, do read the programme thoroughly, and do enjoy the experience. Going to the theatre is supposed to be an enjoyable thing to do, so don’t spoil it for others.

Childhood Memories

I recently did a blog post about school musicals, and yes, most young children do take part in these. But I feel that not enough children are being taken to London or even to their local theatre to see professional productions. I think they should get to have those kind of experiences, as it could open doors for them creatively. And if not, at least they gave it a go.

As a child my whole family loved musicals, and they still do, so I was exposed to them from a very young age. I went to ballet at the age of two and a half, and then soon joined other dance classes as well. I loved musicals and performing throughout my childhood, and I had seen many local professional productions and other shows up until I was 7, but I had never been to see a West End show. So, on my brother’s 10th birthday, we went to see Disney’s The Lion King.

That day I realised what I wanted to do with my life. I had always known my purpose in life was linked to performing and musical theatre, but seeing this show changed everything. The actress playing Rafiki at the time (I sadly can’t find the programme, so I cannot name her) was incredible! She had such a powerful and rich voice, as did all the cast. I was blown away by the amazing costumes and talent I saw that evening. It really was a magical moment for me, because it confirmed for me that this was where I needed to be in the future.

I think that being creative as a child really helps as you get older, even if you just want a hobby. You never know, a child could be incredibly talented, but because they do not know much about an industry, or think it is a possible career option, they could never get to share their talent with the world.

So parents and teachers, please think about this and encourage your children and students to go to the theatre. If the West End is too expensive, then go to your local theatre one evening, or enrol your child in an art club or a youth theatre company, and maybe a child’s life could fall into place just like mine did.