What types of drama school are there?

What does a drama school audition panel look for in an auditioning student?
There are so many schools and courses to choose from, and choosing the right one is a task in itself. But before you choose the right course, you will need to define what sort of performer you want to be.
There seems to be three distinct types of drama school for the wanna be performer. These are musical theatre, acting for the stage and screen and acting for collaborative and devised theatre. Each one is as demanding as each other and you will study different practitioners and techniques depending which route you take.Some drama schools may offer all three types of course.
Here is a quick guide to the three types of drama school, hopefully it will make your final decision a little more clearer.

Musical Theatre

If you want a career in musical theatre you will be trained in acting, movement, dance and singing skills. Contemporary musical theatre demands versatile performers of a high musical and vocal standard, with strong dramatic and verbal ability, together with dance and movement skills. Musical performers need to excel in all these areas and it’s a good idea to develop these skills before your musical theatre drama school audition.
As well as group classes in all forms of acting, dance and movement, students may also benefit from individual singing classes. You will sing solo, in duets and in ensemble pieces. The courses may also cover vocal techniques, the history of musical theatre and useful insights on how to prepare and perform in musical auditions. You will work with professional singing tutors, directors, choreographers and musical directors.
Students may also take part in masterclasses and workshops from visiting professionals who are in the business. More than likely you will also take part in numerous musical productions while being at the school, the final one being your examinational piece or ‘showcase’. Here is the ideal opportunity to invite casting directors and agents to see you at your best.
It’s a good idea to have a very good trained singing voice when applying for a place at a musical theatre drama school in addition to good acting and movement skills. There should be some good singing teachers in your area who can help you on preparing songs for a musical theatre school audition, check the internet for your local tutors.

Acting for Stage or Screen

If you want a career acting on stage or on screen then there are quite a few drama schools to choose from. Even though it’s not a musical theatre course, you may still be asked to perform movement and perform songs at your drama school audition.
Drama schools that train you for the stage and screen will usually concentrate on the two separate styles of acting. Theatre acting needs to be a lot larger and vocal work needs to be projected for tha large auditoriums you will work in.
Acting for the screen is a whole different ball game. Here you will learn how to internalise emotions and feelings and keep facial expressions and body movement to a minimum. The movie camera picks up every little thing. Even vocal work needs to be homed in and subtle. Learning the two contrasting styles of acting will be the main focus of the course.
You will also learn how to prepare your body, mind and voice before rehearsing and performing. You may study stage combat, physical theatre and dance. You will learn how to approach a play or text and learn all the different acting styles used to interpret your work. You will be looking at historical theatre in addition to contemporary practitioners, playwrights and styles.
You will be trained to act in front of the camera and also on microphone technique. You will also be taught how to critique your own work in addition to that of your fellow performers.
Any good drama school worth it’s salt, will also help you prepare for the professional world of acting. There is the audition technique to conquer, knowledge of how to market yourself and even help on how to get an agent. Usually a drama school will stage a final showcase where you can invite agents and theatre professionals to see your work.

Acting for collaborative and devised theatre.

These type of courses are good for the actor who wants to learn and train in theatre but wishes to use the skills to create their own original theatre work or maybe produce performances which are staged ‘outside of the theatre’. The devising actor may also want to create their own theatre for educational purposes. Devised theatre is created as a collaboration rather than from one source or from an individual writer. It can be created using improvisation like the work of Mike Leigh for example. Many theatre pieces and film works have been created using this method.
The student actor on a devising theatre course is usually asked to experiment with ideas and techniques to help them discover their own creative voice. Recently in 2011, a group of recently graduated students from Central took SOLD (a play they devised as part of the course) to the Edinburgh Fringe and won the Amnesty International Award and a Media Award from the Human Trafficking Foundation. This type of ‘new theatre’ is becoming more and more popular and is being shown not only on stage but on screen.
The devising drama school may also offer a course that introduces the student to a variety of methods for devising theatre in group contexts. There will no doubt be an historical look into devised theatre and practitioners that have done so like Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and Joan Littlewood of the Theatre Workshop.
The course may also introduce the student to the aspects of theatre production like lighting design, stage design, costume and props. A theatre devisor will need an insight to all the elements of putting on a production from start to finish.
The backbone to all this training will be an insight to the work of the actor themselves. You will learn how to prepare yourself physically and vocally. You will learn how to approach a text, dissect it and create your own interpretation. You will get to understand that any object can be used as inspiration, from artwork, letters, photographs and recordings.
Students will more than likely take their work out to community groups, schools and prisons. Like Bertolt Brecht, you will learn how a didactic theatre piece can reach and inspire an audience that are not familiar to the theatre and it’s techniques.