There are so many different routes to success as an actor. The path of least resistance usually involves being the offspring or relation of a famous director or producer, but not everyone has uncle Scorsese on speed dial. So without nepotism or extreme luck, what is the best way to have a career as an actor? Well for me, it’s still good old-fashioned drama school. But, it’s not quite as simple as going to any old drama school and Hollywood awaits…
Updated 17 May 2021
Which Drama Schools Are Worth It?
To keep it simple. Yes. I believe going to drama school is still the best way to become a professional actor for 95% of actors out there.
But there is one huge caveat. Only, only, only go to a well respected, top-tier drama school in your country. Now I am not trying to be a complete snob, there is a good reason for this. New private drama schools or performing arts colleges appear almost daily, and in my experience, they are incredibly overpriced and just don’t actually help you career-wise. Of course, you should be going to drama school for the training, but if you go to an elite drama school (usually there are 2-5 in each country), you will have that name behind you for the rest of your career. You will also get an awesome industry showcase at the end of the course and will be in with a real shot to leave the school with momentum and get straight into the industry at a high level.
If you are training at a smaller school, you will likely end up spending huge amounts of money and be in much the same place industry-wise as when you started training. I work with lots of actors in Stagemilk, who have gone to smaller or private acting schools, and still haven’t got agents and are struggling to get in the door. There are some amazing private schools out there, but for me, if you are committing for 2, 3, or 4 years of your life, you want to make sure it’s going to really help you career-wise.
What if I Don’t Get In?
I think you should audition for the top schools, and if you are unsuccessful, I think you can make it work at private classes, short courses, weekend intensives, and StageMilk. Most of the teachers who work at drama schools do external classes or even private sessions. You can easily get the same training for a fraction of the cost. Obviously, this takes a lot of organisation and know-how, but still, unless you absolutely need the formal structure of a drama school, I would make it work on your own. You can also be more specific about what you need to work on. If you’re interested in screen acting, you can go and work with a top screen coach. If you know your voice needs work, book for 3 months of private sessions with the best voice coach in your city.
So they are my thoughts on whether you should go to drama school. But I thought it would be helpful to go into some more detail. This is my Ridiculously in-depth, exhaustive list of every single reason you may or may not want to go to drama so let’s begin…
First, The Reasons For:
#1 Structured Training (Growth/Time)
Most actors are not great at organisation. One of the benefits of drama school is the enforced structure. Where I trained, we did 9am – 6pm every day, and we had set assignments, projects, and productions all throughout. This structured environment over 3 years allows you to really get in a great routine and work on your skills with a long term mindset. I believe structure and routine is one of the keys to improving as an actor.
#2 Mad experience: 3 years = 10 years.
The common adage is that 3 years at drama school relates to 10 years in the industry. I have to say, this is about right. When I trained I did 10 public, full-length plays over the course of my training. There are not many actors who come anywhere close to that in the industry; since graduating I probably do one play every year or 18 months. That sheer level of experience is almost impossible to replicate in the industry. And if you are new to acting it’s going to be even harder.
#3 High Standards
The key to improving as an actor is working toward a high standard. Working with actors, directors, and teachers that push you to a professional standard. Those actors who try to circumvent drama school are often working with terrible directors and actors and picking up all sorts of bad habits. This is because without a drama school backing you are probably doing a lot of amateur/community theatre work. Or doing lots of student short films and other projects with inexperienced directors and actors. Usually, this part of the industry has no shortage of ego, and so people have a lot of confidence, but they are generally rubbish. At drama school, from day one, you know you are working with some of the best in the industry. You know that everything you learn is at a professional standard, and you pick up great habits and a solid, professional work ethic.
In my final year at drama school, the head of acting told us to look around the room. He said this will be the industry. At the time I didn’t get it. They felt more like my competition than my employers. But now I get it. Many of my cohort have become directors, casting assistants, and even agents. I have been employed by many of my peers. At a top drama school, your peers will be major players in the industry. These connections and other connections you will make over your years at drama school will give you an enormous community to draw on. Without drama school, acting can be very isolating and can be hard to make those deep connections.
#5 Fun/Social Aspect
I made some of the best friends of my entire life when I was studying at drama school, and I’m still close with them today. It’s the kind of environment which really brings people together, you’re in the trenches, and because of that, you develop some really strong bonds with the people you train with. Notoriously, when you’re at drama school with a bunch of young creatives, you work hard, but you play even harder! Socially, drama school can be a really fun time.
If you go to a great drama school, you will have the time during your studies to learn everything and anything there is to learn about acting, plus plenty of time to put that knowledge to practice. The sheer hours you will clock up in your full-time acting training is going to leave you fit and flexible, and ready for anything.
During your studies, you will also be training with a bunch of different coaches and tutors and mentors; meaning you get to learn from some of the best in the industry, from all kinds of backgrounds and disciplines. This is something you don’t get from weekly acting classes, or workshops or short courses. Only in drama school do you get to experience a variety of training methods and techniques under the one roof.
I am really proud to be a WAAPA grad. It gives me a lot of confidence to know I trained at a top drama school and that is recognised. The amount of experience I got whilst training there allows me to now walk into auditions or professional situations with a level of conviction.
#9 Graduating Showcase
For most young actors the main benefit of drama school is the showcase. If you go to an elite school your showcase will be a massive stepping stone into the industry. Every actor from my year at drama school signed with an agent, and a number of them with the top tier acting agents in the country.
Drama school is expensive. You may be lucky and secure a scholarship or grants, but if not you are going to be out of pocket quite a bit. Depending on which country you’re studying in, this may be a debt you can throw to the government, but it’s still a student debt that will hang over you. This is a huge consideration when working out your training.
#2 Opportunity cost
The biggest concern actors have about going to drama school is they feel it’s time away from the industry. Think about all the jobs you will miss out on! Though I think the long term benefits far out way the short term losses, it is definitely worth considering. It is especially important if you are an actor who is already gaining traction. Maybe you have an agent and are already auditioning for major projects. In this case, locking yourself away for 3 years may not be the best options.
#3 Emotionally and Mentally taxing
Though I had some of the best times of my life at drama school I also had some serious rock bottom moments. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting and is a serious commitment. Most top drama schools have very high standards and the time commitment alone can be overwhelming. Balancing that with trying to survive can be tough.
A lot of actors stress about spending their best years in an institution, and I totally get this. In becomes even more of a consideration the older you get. If you go to drama school at 26 or 27 you are graduating at 30. This is fine, but we do all put a lot of pressure on ourselves and it might feel like you are just beginning at 30. I personally think going to drama school a little later in life is great, but can be a consideration, especially if you have other goals. When you are 18/19/20 it’s pretty easy to drop everything and go and pretend to be a tree for three years.
#5 Unnecessary (Not Aligned With Your Goals)
For me, drama school is still aimed at actors who want to work in theatre. Of course, a lot of amazing actors are coming out and going exclusively into screen work, but most of what you do is on stage. You work on plays and do live performance. If I had no interest in theatre, and was very focused on screen acting, that might be a reason not to do drama school. The same is true if you have other specific goals. If you are really passionate about improv, or sketch comedy, you might be better off working more especially on those areas and looking at a school like Second City. Knowing your goals is so helpful when determining if a formal drama school is the best fit.
#6 Losing your magic
There is an argument that a formal, institution training might make you a better technical actor, but might lose your spark. I do agree that certain schools do graduate actors that feel very “neutral” and a bit same-same. I would definitely watch out for any drama schools that look at breaking you down and then building back you up.
There definitely are some negatives to consider, but as you can see, for me, the benefits definitely out way the negatives. Especially if you get into an awesome school and it suits your goals as an actor, it’s a pretty easy YES! It’s so important to research the drama schools you are auditioning to find the right drama school for you. We also have an amazing list of the best drama schools in the world.
If you are convinced to go ahead with this goal, it’s time to get to work. Figure out the schools you are auditioning for, start selecting your pieces and give yourself plenty of time to prepare. If you want to really make this goal a reality, consider joining us in StageMilk Drama Club. This is our online membership program where we help actors work towards their career goals and last year we helped over 30 actors get into top schools around the world!