Drama School A Waste Of Time? Not Necessarily – But It Costs Too Much

October 25, 2013

When he says that going to drama school is a waste of time and money for the majority of actors, the National Youth Theatre's Paul Roseby is both quite right and quite wrong. But his healthy attitude to reality and the vast sums involved in three years' training is refreshing. It is time for a rethink.


Roseby is right to say that being an actor is hard, both in its delivery and its expectancy. Nothing trains you for standing in front of thousands of people and starting a long Shakespeare speech, or having to get the final take of the day right, because if you don't it'll cost thousands in overtime. No one can train you for simply waiting for the phone to ring.


Personally, I fell between two stools: I couldn't afford to go to drama school in the early 90s, so I went to Dartington College of Arts, now part of University College Falmouth, which gave me four years of wonderful performance training (for which I received a full government grant), but when I turned up in London ready to proclaim myself to the world, no one knew who I was or what I could do. My response was to set up a theatre company, write to every leading actor and ask them for money, stage shows and invite industry people to them time and again. I was taken on by an agent and got through a casting director's door. The rest was up to me.


In my view, there are two main reasons to go to drama school: the first is to learn something. The vast tendrils of "technique" – breathing, stagecraft, listening and generosity etc – are taught differently in each school, yet knowing something about yourself inevitably makes you a better actor. Training gives you the time and space to experiment – to fail, and work out why. It's wonderful to do that, and important.


The second reason is to meet people who are going to give you jobs. Agents use the main drama schools as a filter system. They can take actors on, fresh from school, and then put them in front of casting directors. In most cases, actors with no experience and no drama school training simply won't be taken on by agents, unless they have a USP that stands out, like being the child of a famous actor, or being stunningly attractive. Or if they can play the accordion while reciting Shakespeare on one leg.


So drama schools will give you something. But the cost these days is astronomical, and it's getting to the point where they're simply finishing schools for the wealthy – either that or they saddle people with so much debt that following a stop/start formative acting career is unthinkable. This is repugnant, and against everything the new wave of the 1950s and 60s stood for.


I want to be able to say that we should fight for our training, that any artist should be allowed time and space to fashion and fail at their craft before putting it in front of the public. But the cost of drama school is too high. We should be having shorter courses that last a year, maybe two, that offer technique and confidence and place actors in front of the industry people. Then perhaps we need replenishing and reinvigorating courses throughout the ensuing years.


Acting is all about practice and confidence. If you keep working or studying it, you get better. I am a great believer that cream will rise to the top, and if you work hard enough – raise money to do shows, keep on inviting people, get to know people, don't be an arse and keep your head above water – then you will get jobs and get through doors. If you're lazy and just wait for the phone to ring, then you will not last as an artist and certainly shouldn't be an actor.




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