It’s the terminal question – do I have to go to drama school to have a career as an actor? The short answer? No. But it sure does help. The reverse is true, just because someone graduated WAAPA, NIDA or RADA doesn’t mean they are bound for success. Everyone is different and everyone’s talent and how that talent manifests is different. What you do get from going to a good drama school is technique, training and experience. If you can gain those things from other sources then maybe you’re the sort of actor who can have a career without going to drama school.
I have a friend, we’re going to call her Jane for the purposes of this article as I don’t want to put her on blast. But she is probably the most successful actor I know – and she has no formal training whatsoever. To give you some background, she moved to Sydney at the same time as me, had some local credits to her name, had a good agent and is an extremely talented actor. When an opportunity came up for a small role on a US TV show, she smashed it out of the park. She booked that job and since has been consistently working in the USA, England and Australia. Easy peasy right? Well, maybe not quite…
Let’s look at some practical steps that you can take to mimic that sort of career path.
To be frank, you need something that works. When I’m talking about technique I’m referring to a method that you can use to approach your preparation that keeps you active and alive in performance. Whether that’s one of the big ones like Stanislavski, Meisner, Chubbuck or some combination or amalgamation of their ideas and other stuff you have picked up on the way doesn’t matter. What matters is that it works for you, it’s consistent and reliable.
Crucially you need a mechanism of protecting your emotional life from the potential trauma of the character’s life. I was working with an untrained actor on a TV show recently, and they were worried about their mental health suffering because of the trauma the character had been through on the show. I tried to help as much as I could, but quickly realised they might need more professional help. Now anyone in that situation might suffer a similar response, but equally having a reliable technique that can help you connect and disconnect from a role is vital for any actor.
You don’t need to go to a three-year course to get the training you need to have a successful career. But you can never stop learning. Acting is a wild beast, performance is mercurial, transient and inconsistent. You can never let yourself stagnate in your craft. Even if you feel like a method or technique isn’t your thing, try it and see if there are things you can add to your process.
If you have no idea where to start, or there aren’t good options in your area, we have an awesome group of actors working to improve and learning from industry professionals right here at StageMilk! Check out https://www.stagemilk.com/scene-club
Just like in any other job, the more experience you have working as an actor, the better your work will get. Malcolm Gladwell famously studied the habits of successful people and found they had all spent over 10,000 hours mastering their craft. If you are just starting, then say yes to everything. Do student films, short films, amateur theatre, indie theatre, whatever you can get your hands on. Build up a CV of credits that shows your talent. Get some professional headshots, get a reel together and move onto the next step.
One of the things that my friend Jane had going for her (outside of being a beautiful human inside and out and talented as hell) is that she had a really great agent who not only utterly believed in her work, but also was able to get her the sort of auditions that could really drive her career forward. A good agent who really believes in you will change your career, training or no training.
Don’t have an agent yet? Have no idea how to go about getting one? StageMilk has you covered here.
Now this feels like a bit of a misnomer of a point. But to be successful as an actor, trained or untrained, you’re going to have to get lucky. Simply because so many elements of our success comes from other people. Writers have to write something perfect for you, casting directors have to get you in, your agent has to believe in your capacity to do the job, the director has to think your the right fit. There are a lot of variables there. All we can do as actors is keep improving those skills, make sure the reel, headshot and CV is up to date and hot as hell. Outside of that, there’s a lot of the rub of the green.
So you don’t need to go to drama school to be a successful actor. There are many ways to skin this cat, but if you don’t go you need to approximate the kind of things you’d learn and experiences you would have at drama school off your own bat. Get your technique, training, agent, and CV up to scratch, get a few lucky breaks and who knows! It could be you, on the plane to LA having just booked your first job! Just remember us here at StageMilk when your famous okay?