Formal 3 year drama school courses are a waste of time and money for "the majority of actors", according to the artistic director of the UK's leading youth theatre.
Paul Roseby, who has been at the helm of the National Youth Theatre (NYT) since 2004, told a conference that most actors wouldn't benefit from three years of vocational training and would be better served with more focus on how to sell themselves in the industry.
Roseby told the event on cultural education last week: "Drama schools are incredibly expensive and the majority of actors don't need three years' training. They need various modular courses every so often to go to. But they don't need three years. You don't need to learn how to act, you need to learn how to sell yourself. You can either act or you can't."
The National Youth Theatre – which is currently in the middle of a three-play repertory season in the West End – counts a number of high-profile alumni, many of whom did not go to drama school. Doctor Who star Matt Smith, currently rehearsing to lead Headlong's new musical version of American Psycho, was signed by an agent after an NYT production, as were former Bond girl Rosamund Pike and The Hour's Romola Garai. Rafe Spall wasn't accepted into drama school on auditioning while an NYT member.
Speaking to the Guardian, Roseby insisted that he stood by his comments. "I was questioning the value of training, and trying to represent the diversity of options that are out there," he said. "Finding out whether you can act at that stage of your career is a waste of money; if you need to improve your vocal technique, or market yourself to get a film audition, you can learn those things on a modular basis. It doesn't need three years. You learn whether you cut the mustard by being in front of an audience."
He also denied that the small number of place available at the NYT – around 500 actors a year are accepted, from an application pool of over 4000 – meant that this option wasn't realistic for many aspiring actors: "The learning point is rejection. You have to learn the art of rejection as well as acceptance."
But Edward Kemp, the director of the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art (Rada), insisted that formal training is essential: "If Paul Roseby wishes to defend the arts from being seen as 'soft skills', it is strange that he chooses to attack precisely the institutions which have spent many decades bringing rigour and expertise to the training of actors and theatre technicians."
He added: "Student loans are available for all undergraduate courses, and drama schools are no more expensive than any other form of higher education."
Alistair Coomer, casting director at London's highly regarded Donmar Warehouse, argued that training can take different forms: "While three years at Rada or Lamda is a real advantage, a year or two with the NYT would work equally well for someone else. British drama training is probably the best in the world, and that's the reason that we've got such extraordinary stage actors."
Kemp added: "If Paul genuinely believes that improved marketing skills are all that are required to make a talented young person capable of performing Hamlet, or playing a lead in a West End musical or a major movie, then I am deeply saddened."