What to do if you don’t get into drama school

what to do if you dont get into drama school
Photo Credit: Elliot Brown via cc
There has never been a harder time to start an acting career. We are in the wars, with credit crunches, recession and double dips happening everywhere – the arts have suffered. The ‘Rep’ system has almost disappeared, new theatre is not being funded, television is full of big names ‘slumming’ it in the small cameo roles (which newcomers used to get) and ‘reality shows’ like ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and ‘Made in Chelsea’ are filling the schedules with cheap to make TV. Most theatre projects are now looking for ‘names’ to help fund their productions and to get bums on seats. It is a really hard time to break in, and especially hard if you haven’t been trained.
A three year or one year training course at one of the accredited Drama Schools certainly gives you a foot in the door. Not only do you get intensive practical training, you also get career advice, an introduction to and student membership of Equity, but also you most importantly get a showcase in front of agents, so you hopefully leave with representation.
I think the point to be understood is that we’re all different. I’ve never been a fan of theories of acting. I didn’t go to drama school, so I was never put through a training that was limited by someone saying, ‘This is the way you should act.’
Ian McKellan
Training can really help at castings, “Where did you train?” is a familiar question to most young actors starting in the industry and being able to answer with confidence, knowing you are part of an illustrious alumni, shows the director that you have talent and commitment.
But what if you just never got a place at Drama School, what if you were one of the people who didn’t fit in that year, what if your finances meant you couldn’t go? Firstly, you are not alone. There are lots of actors out there who didn’t have a formal training.
Me, for example. I didn’t have a formal training, I learnt on the job, I persevered, stuck with it through the hard times and it paid off. I now have a great agent and work on TV and film. Yes, it might have been easier with a formal training behind me, but would I be where I am today? I don’t think so, the struggle, the fight and the journey has made me the actor I am today and I wouldn’t change it for a second.
If you are thinking about ‘going it alone’ and trying to make it without a formal training, I would recommend you think about doing workshops, short courses or individual training.
It is better to keep growing and to do on-going training all your life than to go to a three-year course at eighteen and then think you are trained and that’s it.
City Lit in London offers teaching at a low cost with evening and weekend courses to fit in around other commitments. Keep your eye on the website and as soon as the new term is advertised get applying as they fill up fast. You might feel that not everyone is at the same level of talent and this could lead to some frustration but what you will get is confidence and a network, which are hugely important for survival in this business.
Morley College also in London offers great courses with some terrific teachers, you can sign up to both ongoing courses or one off workshops. Morley is really popular too, so do your homework now and be ready to strike as soon as the iron is hot!
Check out the accredited Drama Schools and look to see if they offer Summer Schools or evening classes. These won’t give you the exposure which a full time course would offer, but they will add to your skill set, build your confidence and introduce you to a support system of people in the same boat as you. If you enjoy what is on offer, you could even consider a one year post grad course if you can afford it.
If workshops and courses are the way you want to go then please check out our page on London Acting Courses for a list of classes, courses, and schools which can help you on your journey.
  • Whatever your budget, there are some good actor classes out there to suit actors from beginners to refresher courses. From Improvisation to film techniques, there is something for everyone. Here are some recommendations from Actor Hub of good acting classes based in London.
Once you are out there trying to survive it is important to try to get an agent as soon as possible. To get an agent you need to be seen, often to get in something you need to have an agent! The ultimate ‘catch 22’! However it can be done.
Work is your best training ground. To be honest, a month’s solid work probably offers as much training as a year at a college.
Get good headshots taken, with some research and googling you can often find a photographer who is starting out and wanting to build a portfolio, this is a cheap way to get your first headshots done. Often they will be looking for models and be more than happy to take your shots if you are happy to pose for them to use in their portfolio. Make sure you ask them to take at least ten ‘normal’ headshots of you before they experiment with their techniques and styles, you need something you can use as your end of the bargain.
Get in Spotlight straight away. You need to be in the directory for any agent or director to take you seriously. It is an expense but think of all the money you have saved by not going to Drama School!
Join Shooting People they advertise low or no fee films looking for actors and film colleges and student films looking for a cast. You will meet and work with young directors helping them to hone their skills. You also pick up excellent screen acting experience, build up your showreel and your CV, and build up a great contact book! Who knows where that student director, filming a short in his mate’s flat is going to be in ten years time!
Keep your ear to the ground and find out who is doing what on the Fringe and try and get seen. Write to Fringe theatres and enquire how they cast their shows, get known around the fringe circuit and be the one they know to call when they need someone for their next show. Being in a good fringe show is a great way to get seen working by an agent. If you are in something good, get everyone to come and see you. Write to agents early and invite them. You can find contact details for Fringe Theatres and Agents in Contacts
Whatever you do never apologise for not having trained, wear it as a badge of honour. Be proud of the road you travelled, be proud of the journey, it has made you who you are today.
Not having a conventional training makes you strong, resilient and self sufficient. You are not ‘in your head’ like a lot of formally trained actors can be. You are probably more flexible, in the moment, and spontaneous than a trained actor. You have a raw energy, a drive, and a freedom which they can never know. Remember to keep learning with every job, from every director, and on every course. Stick with it, its a tough journey and remember the harder you work, the luckier you get.