When people ask what you actually do at drama school, you don’t want to tell them because either it sounds stupid, it sounds pretentious or it sounds easy when it’s not. The fact of the matter is, they just won’t understand.
Drama school is a bubble. The sooner you come to terms with that, the easier it will become. You must accept the fact that you will lose a lot of your older friends, you will dump your ‘long-term’ girlfriend/boyfriend (even though you both promised each other nothing will change …) and your entire social life will revolve around after parties and cast piss-ups. But this is all okay, because your old friends will be replaced by much better and closer friends, you’ll be single in an institution where looks play an enormous factor (don’t kid yourself) and after parties are the fucking greatest!
If you went through all three years of drama school without giving in to the gravitational pull of the ‘bubble’, then well done, you missed out and you were probably labelled an outcast. However, by your final year, it’s not unusual to start feeling a bit claustrophobic, and while you’re getting sprayed by your lecturers about agents and showcase approaching, here are a few things you should be focusing on before escaping the womb.
Keep partying. Drama school will be the fondest memories of your life. As much as you can’t wait until you take your final bow at showcase, and get the hell out of there, you will miss it. You’ll miss it two weeks out. You’ll miss stalking all the new first year actors and you’ll miss meeting new people. Think about it, you are consistently surrounded by 50 (give or take) of your closest friends: Why wouldn’t you get pissed and dance with them every weekend? Create as many memories that you can’t remember with them because once you’re out, that’s all you’ll talk about when you see a lot of them, which will be once a month, if that. Nothing at drama school is serious enough that you must be up early for on a Saturday or Sunday morning, seriously. Is it unhealthy to party and drink every weekend? Yeah—but you’re young. Is it unprofessional to party and drink every weekend? No. When people say it’s all about who you know, they’re not lying; it’s scarily true. How do you think people network in the industry? They party. And drink. Not just on the weekend.
Stay healthy. This and the last point clash, but nothing creates good theatre like conflict. You can still drink beer and have a six pack—McConaughey drinks a lot of it and that guy is so hot right now. The ‘showcase diet’ does hold up to have some importance, but you don’t have to be a pain in the arse and order a vodka, lime and soda when everyone else is having beers. Simple solution, exercise. It sucks, but the industry is vain, and if you haven’t experienced that yet, you will. Being fit will help your cause. However don’t exercise or go on a diet to look good on screen; you will go insane and develop complexes about your appearance, and this can be smelt a mile away, particularly in an audition—not a good impression. Exercise is good for the soul; take your mind off your future and simply work up a sweat. Getting the blood pumping grounds you, and not only will you lose a bit of belly fat, it will shed any negative thoughts or worries running through your veins. Eat your fruit and vegies, just don’t post your kale and chia seed smoothies online, then everyone will know you’re on a diet and expect you to be looking hot as shit all the time, but you won’t be. You want to impress people, so keep your diets and exercise plans semi-secret; you’ll get more compliments.
Enjoy the stage. The chances are that your first jobs won’t be in theatre, so take advantage of your final, third year shows. There is a reason why unemployed actors do co-op shows, and why successful actors come back to the stage; there is nothing like it. Enjoy the immediate response and appreciation; it doesn’t happen outside of the theatre. You will be waiting weeks and months at a time to get feedback from a screen test, if you get any feedback at all! Take on every note whether you agree or not, every piece of direction, do your physical and vocal warm-ups and, once you step on stage, leave it all behind. As pompous as it sounds, there isn’t anything more exhilarating than letting yourself go on stage and truly being open to endless possibilities. Make the most of being on stage with performers you trust and that you admire; don’t go on to steal the show—you won’t! Brilliant theatre is always about the ensemble and having faith in one another.
Get in front of the camera. A lot. It is changing, but the vibe in casting studios is that acting schools still don’t do enough film training. Practice screen tests. Not only at school, but at home. Buy a cheap camcorder and a tripod, hang a white or light blue sheet from your wall and pick a two-hander scene. Get used to watching yourself in screen tests and note what works. It is a craft and there is a lot more technique involved than you think. Eye-line is a huge factor: know where to look and know when to look. During pilot season you may be doing six to eight tests a week, if not more, and you usually have a 15 minute window to get them down, so you want to be seasoned. Some actors have mastered the technique and they are consistently working. They’re not always perfect for the role, but they give the camera everything, which is hard to ignore.
Don’t worry about agents. That time will come. It’s inevitable. It’s not worth your energy researching agencies until showcase time; it’ll only stress you out. Instead, research casting agencies, theatre companies and projects and shows coming up next year that you can get excited about. Read plays that you would like to perform, roles that you want to take on and, most importantly, start thinking about producing your own work. Keep in touch with directors, techies, filmmakers and your fellow actors; you’ll most likely be calling in favours from them when you decide to put on a show at a fringe or comedy festival, or when shooting a short film for Tropfest. Don’t try to impress the agents when they come and have a chat with you during the year—they won’t remember. Impress the casting agents; hone your camera skills.
Why so serious? It saddens me when I walk around campus and the final year acting students are too stressed or busy to talk to their younger cohorts. It should be the opposite. Third year is something to look forward to: You’re about to graduate and go on making a living (!) from something you love. The number of people who would give their thumbs to be in your position is too easily forgotten and we get caught up in the selfish nature that is this business. Be grateful for where you are, where you’ve come from and where you’re about to go.
How did you find your last year of drama school? Let us know your stories below…