What to do if You Don’t Get into Drama School

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It’s the end of the world, right? The end of a dream you’ve been dreaming your whole life—that wonderful first step on the journey to becoming an actor. You didn’t get into drama school. It didn’t happen. But don’t panic: we’re here to give you the good news, which is that not getting into drama school is hardly the end of your story. For many actors, it’s only the beginning! In this article, we’ll talk about what to do if you don’t get into drama school, and how you can make those crucial plans for what comes next. And what comes next, you might ask? The possibilities are endless…

If you don’t get into drama school, you should take the time to carefully plan your next moves. There is plenty you can do to prepare yourself for the next round of auditions, including classes and career opportunities. However, it’s also a good time to check in with your goals and be sure that you are still keen to explore a career in the acting industry.

Do I Need to go to Drama School?

Fair question. Many of our favourite actors proclaim they are untrained. Many people are charismatic, confident and beloved by the camera. These are important qualities, but what helps many of these so-called untrained actors is an early childhood start in the industry, or a family connection—by which they have grown up with an inherent knowledge of the art and the industry.

We all have a skill or two that other people struggle with that you seem to have ‘always known’. (Don’t get us started on “talent”.) For some lucky few, this is acting. For the rest of us, we need to find a way to be immersed in the craft for as many hours of the day as possible. The number one best way of doing this is drama school.

You are among like minded people who share your passion and respect the seriousness of your ambition. You can curate a network of fellow creatives and take advantage of the mentors and other creative departments that are studying alongside you. The school will also have contacts in the industry that will help you find early jobs and representation. It isn’t always a viable option: drama school requires significant investments of time and money and more money. But if you can find your way to one, there is no better way for making your start in the industry.

What is Drama School Anyway?

Drama school is a formal learning institution that teaches acting, as well as satellite disciplines such as directing, design, costume or musical theatre. Most drama schools offer full-time two or three year courses, as well as less intensive part-time courses; these can culminate in a degree or diploma.

The best drama schools in the world are notoriously difficult to get into, and offer extremely demanding courses. However, they also boast world-famous alumni and can support graduates as they first enter and navigate the industry. The courses at each cary greatly, depending on teachers as well as the particular history of the institution. However, every drama school does cover three core areas of study: Movement, Voice and Acting.

Drama schools afford their students a chance to break down preconceptions of their acting style and knowledge, and rebuild it more solidly so that their skill base is firm, accessible and controllable.

But that’s not your immediate future in this scenario. Let’s return to not getting in at all, and what the hell you might do next:

#1 Don’t Panic!

The first thing you need to do is keep calm. Take a deep breath, remind yourself it’s not all over, keep your chin up … and all the other things that sound so reasonable until you have to actually do them. But seriously, folks: panic is only going to rob you of that clarity and drive that comes from a significant—but not permanent—setback. Use it.

In all honesty, the best way to get over the negative feelings of rejection and despair after a failed drama school audition begin with the second entry on this list. Let’s jump to it now.

#2 Have a Plan in Mind

Take your time to mourn and recover—give yourself the weekend and binge your way through some comfort food and favourite films. Next, it’s time to start planning.

Are you going to apply for the same school again? If so, when’s their next intake? Are there other schools you can apply to as well? Can you still apply to one them right now if you hustle—you’ve got audition material prepped already, after all.

If you’ve got time before the next audition, keep reading for some ideas on how to fill that time productively. Just have something ahead of you that you’re shooting for.

#3 Take an Acting Class

Actors should always be working on their craft. If you don’t get into drama school, take it as an opportunity to work on your acting skills so that you’re ready for the next audition!

Consider doing a short course at a drama school—perhaps even at the one you’d auditioned for unsuccessfully. These courses are generally part-time, and run at lengths ranging from a few hours to six months. A short course will help refresh your skills; they’ll also give you the chance to rub elbows with like-minded, driven artists at a similar stage of their careers.

And don’t let your options end at a short course: consider improv classes, getting an acting coach or signing up to a masterclass. No education is ever a waste, and everything you learn will add tools to your actors’ toolkit. Finally, we would heartily recommend the Scene Club here at StageMilk: you’ll have access to plays, experts, classes and a monthly feedback session where an industry professional reviews and criticises your work. In Scene Club, we’ve coached hundreds of actors into top drama schools and professional opportunities.

#4 Look for Career Opportunities

While not the same as putting concerted effort into your acting training, there is still a lot of good to be said for putting yourself out there in the industry and looking for career opportunities. Auditioning for a play or short film is a great way of gathering some additional experience; if you’re lucky enough to be with an agent, opportunities may come via them as well. Every audition you have will give you a chance to work at your auditioning skills (which we’ll speak about more directly in the next section); you may even be able to use the piece you prepared for drama school and get some extra notes!

Most importantly, using this time to immerse yourself in the industry will help introduce you to other actors in similar career trajectories. Speak to them about their audition experiences, the schools they went to. What worked for them? What prestigious institute seems amazing on its website but actually sucks when you go there? It’s worth mentioning that the same point can be made for taking an acting class—in fact, you may be surprised to discover how many work opportunities can uncover when taking a course or doing a micro-budget/unpaid gig. Keep your ear to the ground!

#5 Prepare for the Next Audition

If you’ve not been deterred by rejection (and if you have, why are you still reading this article?!), then the best thing you can do when you don’t get into drama school is prepare for the next intake. Start with an honest autopsy on your audition: can you identify the stresses and strains, the cause of death? What have you learned, and what might you do differently?

As soon as you can, start working on the required pieces. Pick all new material, even if the list from the school is the same: show them something they’ve yet to see from you! Analyse the script—know what’s going on on the page—and if it’s an excerpt from a larger work you must read where it’s from and know the context. Take this time to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and stamp out the latter. Does Shakespeare scare you? What can you read or do to fix this? On the flip-side, identify the things you already do well: how can these things become your assets in the audition room?

Next, find some good friends and supportive family members, because you need to get used to getting up in front of an audience. Perform your material over and over. If you are emotionally ready for the wrath of the internet, consider filming yourself and requesting feedback in online communities. And those classes you’ve been taking in lew of a long-term degree? Start telling peers, coaches and teachers what you’re shooting for. We’ll happily coach you there.

Here’s an important point to remember: drama schools aren’t looking for good actors. That, they can train you to be (it’s kinda their job). Often what they look for is an actor they can work with: who will take to study and challenge and not be deterred. One of the big stumbling points for actors in auditions is how they respond to notes. Did you take criticism well and change your performance accordingly?

#6 Do You Really Want to be an Actor?

If what we’ve described sounds too much, or the rejection/uncertainty/humiliation has been too painful, then there’s nothing wrong with questioning your goals and dreams. In fact, it’s quite a healthy thing to do on the regular. Check in with yourself, and above all else, be honest. Think over what an actor’s life and career actually entails; weigh up the good and the bad of it and see if it still seems worth the trouble. Alternatively, you may find that you’re perfectly happy in the acting space you currently inhabit.

Elsewhere on this site, as we plumb the “Should I become an Actor?” question in greater detail, we make the important point that being an actor—defining that term and living by it—is entirely up to each person who pursues this life. As long as you’re at peace with yourself and your decisions, you have nothing to regret if you decide drama school is not for you. In this business “nobody knows anything”. You might, just might, break through regardless…

Don’t Dwell

Whatever your feelings, whatever your plans, don’t dwell on the fact that you didn’t get into drama school (not this time, at least). Remember to look forward and plan for the next adventure; don’t focus on the past and what could have been. Get used to rejection and know that it is not always you or your performance that made you unsuitable for a role or a position in drama school. Sometimes you can give your best, only to be unsuitable for whatever genuine or bulls**t reason—take comfort in the fact that it’s seldom your fault.

And now, are you ready for our opinion? As long as your resources and your mental health allow, keep auditioning for drama school and don’t lose hope! This occupation is one of constant learning and transformation and it is never too late to start, or to continue. Drama school is undoubtedly the best place for this learning and transformation to occur. If you are (finally) successful, you might have anyone from 17 to 30 years old within your year group, with different stories as to the path they took to secure their place. You will quickly learn that every actor has a different story.

Not getting into drama school is never the end of an acting journey. It’s simply a diversion, and it offers as many good opportunities as it does fleeting feelings of sorrow or regret. Perhaps more of the good than the bad, when we think about it. You can never stop learning, so go forth, explore, and keep kicking the door until you get a foot in.

We’ll be right here on the sidelines cheering you on.

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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