How to Nail your Drama School Showcase | Getting Noticed in the Industry

How to Nail your Drama School Showcase

Written by on | Acting Industry

’Tis the season. Can you feel it? All over the world, intrepid young drama students are prepping for their shot at impressing the industry—landing that all-important early-career agent and kickstarting their careers. It’s a scary time, a stressful time. It might even be happening to you! So what can you do to make yourself pop in a drama school showcase?

While a drama school showcase is undeniably an important moment in your development as an actor, preparing for one should be treated no differently than any other performance. Know your scene well, know how and where you fit into it. Context and circumstances are important to clarify, as you won’t have a lot of time on stage for world-building. Most importantly, let go of the “importance” of the showcase. Relax, let go and have fun: your audience will sense this ease and your performance will be all the better for it.

No time to waste, what with the year wrapping up. Let’s get right to it!

What is a Drama School Showcase?

A showcase is a performance consisting of short, usually unrelated scenes, designed to feature and promote the cast of actors participating. While not relegated solely to drama schools, they are often a firm fixture of an institution’s final year—during which soon-to-be-graduates are able to perform in front of industry figures such as agents and company reps. 

For many young or emerging actors, a showcase represents a coming out of sorts. It is a chance for them to be seen by the industry and to establish themselves as artists worth consideration. So while the commitment for an actor within a showcase may only be minutes of stage time, the pressure to maximise their exposure and create a strong impression can be extremely taxing.

If we can stress one point to you, let it be this: don’t let the importance of the showcase to your career get in your head. Treat it like any other acting gig.

Things to Remember when Performing in a Showcase

Let’s set out a few basics to keep in mind when prepping for a showcase:

Picking a Good Scene

You have roughly a 50/50 chance of being able to choose your own scene for a showcase. If it’s in a drama school, it’ll usually be chosen by your teacher (or the director they bring in to work with you.)

If you do have the chance to pick a scene, our advice is to follow our same rules for choosing a showreel scene. Something short and punchy, nothing too dramatic (no screaming, no crying) and something that showcases you and your scene partner. Look for scenes with dramatic stakes, but don’t be turned off by the idea of the scene being about connection rather than some over-the-top schism between characters. Find the warmth, think about the impression you want people to take away when the scene ends…

Know the Scene

Really, really know the material you’re working with. Is it from a larger script or play? Read the larger script or play. At the very least, see the damn movie. It is shocking how few actors bother to research where their scene comes from. This robs them of so much context and worldbuilding; the resulting performance alllways feels thinner for it.

Script analysis, as always, will be your best course of action. Odds are the piece will only be a few pages long. Pull them apart down to the individual words—the punctuation that the majority of actors skip over—and wrench the meaning from the page the writer has so carefully left for you to find!

It’s also vital that you’re aware of your given circumstances: those questions that keep you grounded in the here-and-now of the story world. Establish where you are, when it’s set, who your character is, what they want and so on. As you’ll only have a little time onstage, you need to hustle to get the audience invested in the world before they leave it again just minutes later.

Rehearse Extensively

Once you know the script inside and out, back to front, it’s time to rehearse. You’ll want to do as much of this as you can. Don’t just wait for the opportunity to come up in class. Meet up with your scene partner/s and familiarise yourself with the text, the blocking. Discuss the objectives of your characters, and plot out the actions you’ll take to achieve your goals together.

Get yourself to the point where you can comfortably navigate the scene. Because once you’re there, you’re going to be able to experiment with the scene and find new ways of navigating. Do different actions or circumstances modify your performance in a way that is more exciting, or dramatic, or unexpected?

Manage Stress

As your performance date looms, you’re going to start feeling the pressure to perform. Not just perform, but absolutely nail it. We’re not here to tell you that such a thing is impossible: we believe in you! But it’s a lot harder if you don’t keep tabs on your mental health and wellbeing in the process.

Be kind to yourself. Take breaks, listen to your body when it says it needs a break. Speak with your scene partner, teachers and support network about things like impostor syndrome. Even if you’re doing the best creative work of your life … the bad thoughts will creep in.

How do you manage stress as an actor? We’re not being rhetorical when we ask that. Have some plans in mind (take a look at any of the links in this section to point you in the right direction), as this industry is famous for pushing artists to the brink. Take it from the StageMilk team that mental health is important—just in case we’re the only professional peers you hear it from.

Support your Peers

Feeling that stress? So are your castmates/classmates. Be nice to them, yeah? Check in, ask about their days. Give them support, perhaps even advice or acting notes (if they ask for it.) Feeling generous? Bake a tray of something, buy a round of drinks or a packet of lollies. You’d be gobsmacked how far a sugar hit goes in a high-pressure environment.

Finally, remind yourself that you’re all in this together. Who’s to say who’s going to make it and who might burn out or fade away? You might not have the time to spend on that one kid in your class who was never going to make it as an actor.

How to Stand Out in a Drama School Showcase

Are you ready for the truthful answer? You shouldn’t. At least not consciously. Heading into your drama school showcase with the goal of standing out will result in poor work, because your focus won’t be on a truthful and engaging rendition of the scene.

As for the actors who do stand out, you want to know how they do it? They make you forget it’s a showcase. They take you into their little world, 2 – 3 minute runtime be damned(!), and make it feel like a snippet from a larger story. The characters feel real, their struggles feel real. And when the scene cuts to black and they move their minimal set away for the next bunch … you’re left wanting more. What happens between those characters? Will they ever get what they want?!

This is acting. True, measured acting that plays the same in a Broadway theatre it does in a pub where the jukebox is drowning you out. And the agents and industry folk? They look for the performers that can bring that kind of focus. The rest, the Born To Be A Star types all but winking at the audience … they burn very bright and very brief.

What to Do when your Scene Partner is Terrible

Your showcase scene partner is kinda like your partner if you’re a homicide detective. (I assume.) You’re thrown together, whether you like it or not, and the stakes are high to make the team not only “work” work, but flourish. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t pan out. Your scene partner might be lazy, might be somebody you don’t connect with. Sometimes they’re the nicest person you’ve ever met, and yet—and this is truly heart-breaking—they just don’t got it. So what’s to be done?

First of all, don’t panic. Yes, people will still realise that you’re good. No, they won’t blame you for your scene partner’s bad performance. And until you get onstage, you have every chance to help them through it. You might need to do some hand holding during the analysis/rehearsal phase. If they’re somebody you don’t gel with: try enforcing a truce until you get through the showcase (or even use it as an opportunity to mend a relationship.)

But let’s say you do your best. You’ve tried to help this person in every way you can, but they’re absolutely hopeless. How do you work with that? Our advice is to look past the character to the person themselves. Don’t act to a person faking a character, act to the person playing that character. With all their insecurities and desires and hopes and fears. They might not be able to emote and communicate as a character. But they’re still a human being standing opposite you in the scene. And that presents an opportunity.

Does my Drama School Showcase Matter?

A drama school showcase is your first big chance to impress the wider industry. You can make a good impression on agents, on casting directors and the people in the audience who have shown up to see what you’re capable of! You can establish your type, begin to network and plan your path ahead. Exciting times!

I guess the best advice I can offer is that it’s not your only chance to impress the wider industry. It’s definitely not the last. I went through the drama school system—admittedly as a playwright and not as an actor—and I witnessed some of the best actors in the institute receive zero agency offers after their showcase. (Why? That’s a whole other conversation around branding, industry tastes and who an agency is looking for.) You know what they did about it? They graduated and hustled for their own work, their own opportunities. Some participated in developments, some created their own shows. Most of them now are with top agents, having proven themselves to be not only talented but hard-working.

So, yes, your drama school showcase matters. You should definitely take the opportunity seriously. But it’s one encounter on one path. Take comfort in that.

Conclusion

So there you have it: the drama school showcase lowdown! If you’ve read through this article and feel like you knew a lot of this stuff already … that’s a good sign. There are no secret hacks to nailing a showcase—just the same, simple, honest hard work that every role and opportunity requires.

Do the work, trust in the process. You’re going to do brilliantly. And when you do, remember that it’s just the first step in your career.

Good luck!

 

About the Author

Alexander Lee-Rekers

Alexander Lee-Rekers is a Sydney-based writer, director and educator. He graduated from NIDA in 2017 with a Masters in Writing for Performance, and his career across theatre and television has seen him tackling projects as diverse as musical theatre, Shakespeare and Disney. He is the co-founder of theatre company Ratcatch (The Van De Maar Papers, The Linden Solution) and co-director of Bondi Kids Drama, a boutique drama school offering classes to young people in the Eastern Suburbs. Alexander is drawn to themes of family, ambition, failure and legacy: how human nature can flit with ease between compassion and cruelty. He also likes Celtic fiddle, mac & cheese and cats.

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