How to get into Drama School
Essential advice for drama school applicants from Andy Johnson, author of The Excellent Audition Guide.
‘Why didn’t I get into drama school last year?’ is a question that’s often heard. In truth, there are many reasons why folks don’t make it. But the main dreamkiller is a serious lack of preparation.
You have to be prepared – mentally, physically and in terms of admin and paperwork. Getting into drama school requires a serious campaign. And it is a campaign that will go on for six or so months. Throughout this time you have to maintain your focus, your spirit and your freshness in performance.
Most people don’t get how stiff the competition is. No matter how talented you are and no matter how much potential you possess, if you are not organised and fully prepared, the chances are you will fail – because sooo many others are fighting even harder than you.
Each year there are thousands of students applying for only a few places. Some drama schools say they accept less than one per cent of the applicants who audition. A number of these establishments have as few as sixteen places on offer for a three-year course.
So it’s fierce in auditionland. You have to fight and fight hard and then fight some more against people who are just as hungry as – possibly hungrier than – you. So if you are going to spend lots of time, money, energy and even hope on such a venture, you have to be organised. Auditioning is expensive: some schools charge £60 for the audition alone, then there’s travel and maybe accommodation.
The chances are you will look at what you have to do before going to the audition, and then you’ll find something more pressing to do. And who can blame you? The audition alone can be a harrowing and daunting thing to contemplate. Let’s face it, not many people, especially youngsters, would even consider putting themselves through maybe six full-on encounters where their skills, personalities and aspirations are up for public judgement and harsh scrutiny; where their dreams could shatter so abruptly…
Any proper, thought-out campaign will involve:
- Extensive research into the schools that best suit you and your needs
- Lots of form-filling, on- and off-line
- Photos to take
- Fees to pay
- CVs to write
- Personal Statements to compose
- Pieces to choose
- Rehearsals to undertake
Then will come auditions and interviews. Before, if you are lucky, several recalls – each one physically and mentally tougher than the last. So once the ‘usual’ student works all this out, it is no wonder that they suddenly find re-cataloguing their iTunes collection and sorting through their mismatched socks a matter of the most pressing urgency and priority. But you do not have to be a ‘usual’ student; there is a way forward; the way of action. It’s essential for the serious applicant to get to grips with the odds and then do everything possible to tip the balance in their favour. They have to stand out and maximise their chances.
So start sooner rather than later. Get looking at and visiting schools in June/July.
Application-form filling and the dreaded Personal Statement. Lots of candidates get into a right old state about this. That they should know why they want to be an actor often comes as a complete surprise. The fact that they are also required to articulate this – without anyone laughing at them – can and does induce panic. People often end up writing effusive gibberish. Someone who has thought things through will be capable of stating clearly, and without cliché, why they want to go to drama school and what they want from their training.
While all this is in progress, speeches need to be found. Most people will assume the bare minimum of three (one modern, one contrasting classical and a classical back-up) will get them through okay. I reckon on a bare minimum of five. This is a crucial process and, for a determined applicant, there are no short cuts.
Exploration and rehearsal of possible choices needs to start as soon as possible and in conjunction with the things I have listed above. Starting work on audition pieces can be scary, especially for a student working on their own; scary because she or he is alone and, therefore, prone to anxiety and the judgements of the various demons who come out to play at this juncture. Anxiety about getting it ‘right’ or about getting into drama school will make a student desperate to look, sound and feel ‘right’ – i.e. like they are ‘acting’. They want to make the perfect piece straight away, without any exploration of possibility.
A thorough, anxiety-free (as far as is possible) and creative student will not merely choose a text, learn words, concoct character, do acting and expect to be ‘good’.
All performers battle with levels of anxiety. The anxiousness of the young and untrained will cause them to ‘hide’ behind false voices and postures in order to augment the work, in order to feel as if they are ‘doing’ something.
This is when the funny voices, agile eyebrows and silly, pulled faces show up along with arm-waving and jutted chins. All of this is a dead giveaway that the person in front of the audition panel is unfocused and not fully connected to the work and to the all-important words. This is technical stuff that needs detecting and dealing with in order to produce an audition with any truth to it – and truth is what they want!
Finally, there is the encounter itself to think about, and The Interview. How to ‘be’ when walking into The Hall of the Gods. How to wait before entering the room itself. How to walk into that room. ‘Be you be true’ is what I say to auditionees – and I say it often. ‘Be you when you walk into the room. Be you when doing your speech. Be you when you talk to the panel people. Be you because they want to meet the true ‘you’ and see a considered, focused, in-the-moment speech.’
So, all things considered, no wonder people prevaricate and leave things dangerously late before they take action. But if you act on the few points listed below – and prepare well – you’ve given yourself a fighting chance of achieving your dreams.
To maximise your chances of success:
- Get going early. Research schools. Ace that tedious paperwork! Get forms, make a start on bashing out that Personal Statement.
- Select and work on speeches as you go. Choose five at least. Explore them properly. The more work you do, the better you get at performance – FACT!
- Don’t try to visualise a final performance before you’ve even started. Let ‘possibility’ work for you. And remember: you don’t have to be good all the time, explore and experiment.
- When you get to the interview, make sure you have a proper conversation. Listen to what’s being said. Think about your answer, then talk.
The Excellent Audition Guide by Andy Johnson is published by Nick Hern Books,www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/excellent-audition-guide