How I got into Drama School in the UK | Tips for auditionins and interviews

How I got into Drama School in the UK

Written by on | Acting Tips

Having just come out of the drama school audition process successfully, I know how nerve-wracking it is. That said, I now know how to handle it. It’s not just an audition—which would be hard enough if it were the only hoop to jump. It’s a personal statement, it’s multiple self-tapes, it’s in-person cattle calls and all while your friends (who have chosen more sane career paths) can focus on the school work that you are still expected to keep up with. And if you’re a performing addict, you may also be doing shows throughout this process, like I was. The work load is HEAVY. But this is how you know you want to do this for the rest of your life. You live off the adrenaline auditioning gives you.

In this article, I’m going to talk about how I got into a drama school in the UK. I’ll tell you about all the things I learned (or stumbled across) in my journey, and give you some tips that might make your own path a little easier. The one thing to remember throughout all of this is that it’s never easy: it’s never a matter of being discovered and being told how brilliant you are. It takes research, planning, hard work and thick skin.

Now, all of this is easy for me to say: I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop on my gap year! My place at a drama school is confirmed and the process, for me, is all wrapped up. But the reality is it’s not all good adrenaline that gets you to this point. Adrenaline can quickly turn into anxiety; sometimes, when you don’t hear from your schools for weeks, it gets you down and it makes you nervous. It’s not all fun and games … but I believe that’s exactly what makes it worthwhile. No pain, no gain. So don’t give up hope just yet. Grab something to eat (you’ll need the energy) and sit down for the ride.

Finding the right Drama School

The first step to any UK degree-level course starts with UCAS. Create an account, search up the schools and courses you may love, and start the application. A little insider’s tip: apply to conservatoires as well as universities. You only get five university options, but you can apply for six conservatoires as well, meaning you get 11 options instead of the usual five! Some of the UK drama schools such as LIPA and Bristol School of Acting are classified as universities not conservatoires, so I would really recommend applying to as many as you can. It’ll give you more audition experience and more options in case you change your mind.

After sending off your UCAS application, the real grind begins. Don’t be surprised if your friends are getting interviews left right and centre and you are still hoping for an email reply. That’s just how it works. Patience is a virtue.

First Audition Round: Online Edition

In our post-COVID world, first-round auditions are often online. This means your self-tape game has to be perfected (I used StageMilk’s guide and I also loved reading Peter Skagen’s Screen Acting: Trade Secrets, which helped me to get my technique right.) Here are quick tips for this stage that I had to learn from experience:

  • Learn two contrasting contemporary monologues, two contrasting classical monologues, and a piece of verse beforehand. This will generally cover any possible monologue you will be asked for. Trying to learn a new monologue for every audition will burn you out. You’ll end up forgetting them because (let’s be honest) you won’t have enough time or brainpower for it. Learning monologues early ensures you have time to know them inside and out, and fully familiarise yourself with your characters.
  • Schedule Zoom call auditions at a time when there is either nobody in your house, or only the people who understand what you are doing. Zoom call auditions are the worst. Somehow, my dog always managed to bark at something and I seemed to forget everything, including my name. Something about having the panel on my phone looking at my bedroom wall really put me off my game, but everyone is different and you may prefer this type of audition. If you’re still in school, it might be worth doing the call at the drama department at school, or in an empty space during a free period.
  • You will get used to it. Which means you will get better at it the more you do. Try to schedule the auditions you care about less earlier than the ones you care about the most. That way, you can use them as practice in order to ace the ones you’re really passionate about. This may not always be possible, but it’s something I wish I had done.
  • Try to have a set up in your house that you can put up easily with no fuss and no stress. I just used a blank wall, an old easel I had to stand up my phone, and my bedroom lamp for lighting. It’s that easy. The lamp needs to be quite strong, especially if you are filming after school when it’s dark. I did resort to standing my phone up on a stack of books before I found the easel, but I would recommend investing in a tripod because you will need it later in your career.
  • Remember: the people at the school know how difficult it is. They want it that way because they want the best of the best.

This next piece of advice is so common I didn’t take it seriously until I actually understood it: be authentic. Don’t bother about whether or not you are a good fit for them. Worry about whether they are a good fit for you. You are spending your time and money on these auditions and on this school. So be yourself, because if you aren’t you won’t get into the right school for you (and you will not enjoy the next three years of your life.) ‘Being yourself’ is such an overused phrase and it can be so difficult to find out what it means for you. Personally, I journal. It gives my brain space to breathe and allows me to discover what I like and don’t like about the world. Apply ‘likes’ and ‘don’t likes’ to the drama school audition process and be picky. It’s your degree, your career.

Second Audition Round

The next round(s) of auditions vary from school to school. Actually, if you don’t know which school you want to go to, the audition process can be a really good indicator of how the teaching will work. So start being critical of their process and attitude, and how the school fits your ‘likes’ and ‘don’t likes’. This could include how easy you find it to understand their instructions, or what kind of speeches they ask for. For the school I focused on, this round was in-person, which was a relief. But drama school auditions are very different to normal auditions.

I like to be anti-social in auditions. I plug my headphones in, listen to music, stretch, and run through my lines and annotations (I use the Ivana Chubbuck Technique.) However, at drama school auditions, they want to see how well you get on with the other applicants. Being anti-social will not give you the best outcome. This is another reason why learning your monologues as early as possible will help, as it will mean you can socialise without worrying too much about messing up your lines. Practicing to others will help too, and if you have no drama friends then make self-tapes. Practice, practice, practice until the characters BECOME you and until you cannot mess up.

The Dreaded Cold Read

At my audition, we were given a cold read: a script to perform without having seen it first, often with little or no character description. I would say most drama school applicants haven’t had much experience with cold reads, except from maybe at a drama class. The only advice I can give here is to use your imagination to create a backstory and a personality to your character based on clues you have in the script.

I spent a few minutes at the beginning of the day choosing the script that most resonated with me on that day. It’s best to choose a character similar to yourself. Some have specific race or hair colour or gender, but other than that choose the one that most represents your comfort zone in acting. There will be plenty of time later to be brave, but now is the time to show you at your best. 

Once I’d chosen, I read through it a couple of times, trying to pick out clues about my character that I could use to give her a personality, motives and thought processes. Again, I use the Chubbuck Technique to delve into the character. It helps you do more than just ‘acting’; it helps you to understand the character, their objective and how to attach them to your own life experiences. This will set you apart from other drama school applicants and show the panel you are capable of creating a meaningful piece of art. It’s also helpful in cold reads, because it means that you can pull the words around a little and still keep the momentum of the scene going. After spending no more than half an hour on this (got to get socialising), put the script in your bag if you’re allowed. Sneak in a cheeky run-through whenever you have a break. This will make you more familiar with the script, which, for a cold read, is a definite bonus.

The Interview Section

Then the interview section. This applies to almost every drama school out there. If you can find people who have auditioned at the school before you, ask them to tell you what it was like and what they wanted to talk about. For my school, they asked me Deep Questions. Thankfully I knew someone that had auditioned the week before, and I hounded him for information about the whole process, which meant I was prepared to be asked Deep Questions. This was the hardest part of the audition process for me, because I think I put on an ‘audition persona’ to fake confidence when I’m feeling nervous. I was so tempted to look up at the ceiling. Don’t let yourself. Take time to think about the answers, you’re not being timed. Plant your feet and ground yourself. Look the person in the eye. You are there for a reason. Don’t let that opportunity slide away. You’ve got this.

Something that is helpful to remember is exactly what drama schools are looking for in applicants. Funnily enough, they’re not necessarily looking for good actors—crazy, I know! They’re looking for good students: people who can be shaped and influenced by their teaching style. Nothing closes down a panel’s opinion of an applicant quicker than realising they won’t be taught or told they’re wrong. So when you’re sitting there show your positive attitude and willingness to be challenged and changed. If you’re auditioning for drama school for the right reasons, that shouldn’t be a stretch.

Conclusion

A big part of getting in to the school you want is to be human. Find little jokes you could make, or point out things everyone else is too nervous to point out. This will make you feel more authentic, more relaxed, as well as relaxing for other people in the room. Ask people to come and get a Tesco’s meal deal with you at lunch, or go on the hunt for an ice lolly even if it’s freezing cold. I made a friend because we couldn’t find Twister lollies anywhere in the city. We’re still friends now!

Finally, I will leave you with the words of a famous scar-faced lion we all know and hate… “Be prepared!” (If you don’t know that’s from The Lion King, don’t bother applying for drama school.) Do your reading on the school. Have a reason you want to apply for each one. Learn. Your. Monologues. And make sure to plan your travel in advance.

Break a leg!

By guest contributor Daisy Jaeger.

About the Author

Andrew Hearle

is the founder and CEO of StageMilk.com. He trained at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), and has worked professionally across film, TV and theatre. He is one of the most in-demand acting and voice-over coaches working in the industry, and the head coach of StageMilk Drama Club.

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