For a large percentage of actors, teaching drama is the bread-and-butter work that sustains them between acting jobs. It’s a field that carries a healthy demand for labour and allows you to utilise your trained skills; teaching drama is also a great means of keeping these skills honed and ready for auditions and other opportunities. Some actors enjoy this line of work so much that they may start delivering their own classes. And while every performer should have the experience of doing this at some point in their career, it is not without its challenges.
Given the amount of planning, time and energy that goes into teaching a drama class, the last thing you tend to want to think about is how to drum up the numbers needed to fill all the spaces—let alone enough numbers to run the class at all. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies you can engage with when it comes to getting more students in your drama class—regardless of whether your students are killing time after school or honing their skills after ten years in the industry. Some of these strategies will be more suited to your situation than others, and some will be untenable with the kinds of skills/students you teach. As always, time and money are often determining factors. But each of these strategies are worth your consideration; even a modified version of just one of these could turn your weekly one-on-one with a loyal student into a sell-out educational experience.
Before you even step into a classroom, plan clear goals for the number of students you are hoping to teach. Calculate the bare minimum you need to cover expenses, and then think about what a healthy class size is for the kinds of things you’ll be teaching. For example: if you can afford to run a class at three students but your lesson plans requires at least six, you will likely need to modify your curriculum to compensate. Don’t be embarrassed by low numbers when you first start out—especially not in front of the students who have invested their money and confidence in you. Your class should be as engaging to the minimum number of students as it is to your class at its hypothetical capacity. And as your class continues to grow, those first few students will often be your cheer squad when it comes to selling the experience to potential newcomers and trial students.
Promise a Result
Your drama class should always build towards something concrete; clarifying this will attract more students as you are promising an actual result. Sometimes, this is something tangible like a showreel or a showcase: students know if they sign up, they’ll get themselves out there in the actual industry. Other results can be training in a particular skill such as auditioning, or stage fighting. Some classes sell themselves on training in a particular methodology such as Method or Suzuki. Spend some focused time on this: this is the equivalent of your class’s USP (unique selling point). If you can articulate what sets your drama class apart from all the others, you are guaranteed to attract more students than if you keep your sales pitch general and all-inclusive.
Plan a Curriculum
You’d be surprised how many drama teachers need to be told this. Plan your lessons ahead at least a term in advance: if students feel as though you’re making it up on the bus ride to class, they simply won’t stick around. If your classes feel as though they build on one another, it creates a greater sense of value, and helps sell the idea that students are progressing towards even greater knowledge and understanding. What does this have to do with people you haven’t even gotten in the door yet? Your greatest sales assets are your current students: you want them engaged, telling their family and friends to come along, showing off the skills they learn and feel they’re improving and, most importantly, coming back for the next class/the next term.
Build a Community
Beyond the content of your classes, aim to foster a sense of community in your students; make them feel part of something special when they attend your classes, and they’ll want to bring others with them to experience the same.
For young people, the ‘third space’ of extra-curricular activity equals freedom and agency that they don’t find at home or in school. If they have a good time, their friends will pile through your door faster than you thought possible. Their community also extends to their parents, who will provide excellent word-of-mouth advertising for you in their own social circles. For adult students, trained actors will look for that nurturing space to develop their skills further. First-timers will seek to engage with a world they’ve probably dreamed of entering their whole lives and have only now endeavoured to experience.
While you might be teaching drama, you’re actually selling what it means to be a part of these communities. Nobody wants to miss out, so make sure everyone feels welcome. You can exhibit this sense of community externally by maintaining a social media presence. Post daily on Facebook and Instagram with what is happening in classes, and how somebody might become involved if this community looks inclusive and enticing to them.
Targeted advertising on Facebook, or with Google Ads, can be an effective way of getting more traffic to your website. Consider a small-budget campaign at first that advertises one event: the first class of the term, a holiday workshop or perhaps a showcase you run with your students. Weekly advertising costs can be expensive, and also ineffective if you’re not actually selling something in particular. For getting your name out there in general, you’re better doing direct outreach in your community or on social media (see above).
Of course, this only helps if you have a strong web presence. If you don’t, think about printing out some flyers and putting them in the area around where you run your classes. Fancier printed flyers can often be left in cafes or theatre foyers for great effect. If you teach out of a rented space, try placing a poster or sandwich board on/near the door outside: many people will walk past where you teach and wonder what’s going on inside. These people can often be converted into customers, providing that they are able to find you without wandering in. The trick with advertising is being ready to pursue leads—that’s the people that express interest by contacting you. Unless you follow up with these people and give them information, they will forget about you within 24 hours and the money you spent to grab them in the first place is wasted. Make yourself available and chase down every opportunity. Don’t forget: you’re paying for them.
Whether your classes run weekly for a school term or exist as one-off workshop sessions, you’ll eventually need to start thinking about filling the next class you teach. Find incentives for your current students to come back. This is where your promised results and planned curriculum will pay off: students, happy with the experience of one of your classes, are more likely to return knowing their knowledge will continue to build. If you can afford to do so, offer discounts to legacy students. You may also like to offer discounts to students who refer friends that sign up—in the way of a voucher they can redeem at a subsequent lesson/term.
Once you’re operating with a business plan, promising a result and delivering planned lessons to dedicated students, the next step is … exactly that: plan what you’re going to do next! As you build your community and gain new leads, you’ll start to notice that there are demands for classes in areas you are yet to fill. Think about trying a new class that speaks to that demand. What is the next thing to learn after your current curriculum ends? When your frequent flyer students—the ones there with you from the very beginning—feel they’ve grown all they can, what would you teach them next?
From here, careful planning and cultivating gives way to uncertainty. As with any business venture, there are risks involved; you’re not always going to make the right call. But as you push yourself to innovate and diversify, you will often find that such pressures lead to your most exciting ideas. Be bold, embrace the unknown! And know that the community you’ve been building will be there to rally around you. Drama classes have always been places of experimentation, encouragement and support. Enjoy the feeling of that support from a space you, yourself, helped create. Be a little bit proud of that.