So, you know one thing for sure: you want to be an actor. That’s awesome. One thing I know can be a little bit daunting, however, is deciding where to train as an actor. It seems like hundreds of schools and institutions offer training which would be useful for actors – which one should you pick? Let’s unpack this conundrum a little by outlining your training options so you’ll be better able to make an informed decision about your acting education.
Before You Begin…
In the process of deciding where to go and train as an actor, it’s important for you to do a little bit of thinking at the outset. What I’d like you to think about is “what interests/excites me most about acting?”. Notice that I haven’t asked the question, “What type of actor do I want to be?” This question can be a bit paralysing and hard to answer; I’ve been doing this for a decade and I’m still not necessarily sure I can answer that question for myself. What’s most useful for you at the moment is to pursue what brings you the most joy. Following your gut and heart is going to be the most reliable strategy for you.
So, what brings you the most joy? Do you love the theatre and being in front of an audience? Are you keen on the classics or more interested in the contemporary? Do you dream about film sets? Are you a triple threat musical theatre aficionado? Do you enjoy comedy and making people laugh? Are you interested in alternative theatre: mime, or other physically based theatre styles? List your top five focus areas on a page to keep them front and centre in your decision making process.
Next, think about the commitment level which suits you best in your acting training. Is this a hobby you’re interested in pursuing alongside your main career, are you pretty serious about pursuing acting but keeping your other pursuits alive to be safe, or are you all in, ready to plunge head first into the pursuit of an acting career? There’s no right of wrong about this decision – it’s up to you. Only you can know what is right for you, it’s your time after all: the most valuable commodity you have. Spend that time in the way which suits you best.
Now that you have your focus areas and your ideal level of commitment, let’s have a look at your options.
Drama School Training
- General/comprehensive focus
- Significant time commitment (2-4 Years)
The top tier of acting training has always been and remains to be attending a drama school. This method of training has produced the majority of successful actors out of all of the training options.
Attending a drama school is for actors who have well and truly ‘caught the bug’. They are hooked on the idea of becoming a professional actor and wish to dedicate a significant amount of their time and money to that pursuit. Drama school courses are usually a full time commitment for 2-4 years of your life. The length of the course will usually vary depending on the graduate degree the institution offers.
In a full time drama school course you can expect to be immersed in a wide and comprehensive range of actor training. You will develop your voice and body – your instrument as an actor. You will learn about the history of acting, theatre and filmmaking and appreciate the importance of knowing whose shoulders you are standing on as an actor and storyteller. You will, of course, go into great detail of a range of different acting methods, such as the techniques of Stanislavsky, Meisner, Stella Adler, Larry Moss, Uta Hagen or Susan Batson. Some institutions cover several of these techniques, some prefer to focus on and master a single technique. Neither of these approaches is necessarily better than the other.
As well as developing your craft as an actor, you will also develop your ability to collaborate with others; devising and writing your own work, performing in plays, making films and working as an ensemble with your peers. You will also have the opportunity to be directed by a range of directors and acting teachers from your industry – one of the main benefits to attending a full time course.
If this arrangement seems like it is what you’re interested in, great! That’s fantastic, and an exciting opportunity lies ahead of you. The first step of the process now is for you to select a school (or schools) which appeal to your interests. Each and every drama school will vary in focus and priority slightly when it comes to their approach to actor training. That being said, the structure for drama schools are quite similar around the globe.
Here’s a list of acting schools written by our team here at StageMilk to help you with this decision making process: List of Acting Schools.
I’d suggest you choose a selection of three schools which would suit you well. Most drama schools have an audition process for their students, and some can be quite challenging to get into. Know that most actors have to audition for drama school more than once, (I did!) and if this happens to you, that’s absolutely normal and actually a positive thing in the long run.
If you’re concerned about the affordability of a full time course, head over to Andrew’s article here: How to Afford Acting Training. It’s wonderfully comprehensive and I hope will give you the confidence you need to pursue your ideal style of training.
One final note for you. Once you’ve selected and been accepted into a school, I’d like you to read this article: How to Get the Most Out of Your Training. This one was written by me, and contains my reflections on how to actually make your drama school experience as worthwhile as possible. All too often I see actors who have been accepted into a full time course begin to get lazy and feel entitled to future success by the mere fact they have been accepted into an institution. Getting into a school is only the first step, after that it’s up to you to actually milk the experience for all that it is worth!
1 Year Training Programs
- Narrower focus
- Medium time frame
Moving down the ladder of time commitment, next we come to the ‘one year course’. Most professional institutions will offer courses like this. They are, as the name suggests, only one year long. There are several pros and cons to this arrangement.
The primary benefit of a course like this is that it is less of a time commitment than a full drama course. As well as this, a one year course is usually still full time – so you are still cramming a lot of training into your year at that particular institute. As well as this, since the course is attached to a drama school, you’ll usually be taught by the same board of teachers as the main 2-4 year ensemble. A one year course is a fantastic place to start if you are unsure of the commitment you wish to make to the pursuit of acting, or if you have not been accepted into a 2-4 year course but would still like to spend the year training.
A 1 year course will obviously contain less content than a full 2-4 year course, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If the course you’ve selected is tailored really well to your interests as an actor, it may be all the training you need to get into the industry and start auditioning.
This being said, with a narrower focus of training and information comes its limitations. There is a reason drama school courses (2-4 years) are the length they are. There is an enhanced growth and development as an actor which comes from being submerged in a course for an extended period of time. As well as this, the connection formed in an ensemble who have been together for 3 years is unlike anything else.
So, have a think about whether this style of training suits you. You can use the same links in the full time course section above in assisting you in deciding which institution will be best for you.
Training through Short Courses
- Singular focus
- Short time frame
Short courses are a wonderful way for actors to test the water of training, and they continue to be valuable for experienced actors who are keen to get back into the classroom.
Short courses are offered by acting institutions and smaller schools, and there are a tonne to choose from around the world. A short course will usually have a single focus area. This might be comedy or Shakespeare, auditioning for the camera, or Chekhov, for example. Every short course you can imagine which would be useful for actors has probably been conducted at some point in time.
A short course traditionally runs for 6-10 weeks, with 5-10 contact hours per week. The benefits of doing a short course are numerous. They’re a way for an actor to focus on developing a particular skill for a few weeks, and they are a great way for the actor to ‘stay in shape’ when it comes to the performative muscle. They’re also an awesome way to meet new people, to work with new teachers or directors. A short course is a perfect way to dabble in acting if you’re unsure of how interested you are in it, or to identify one skill you would like to work on specifically. For example, a little while back a friend of mine wanted to develop her skills when it came to comedy and comedic acting. To do this she spent much of a year jumping from short course to short course offered by a range of institutions and taught by a range of teachers. This suited her well; she still benefited from a range of teaching perspectives, without having to split her focus to a range of subjects that she was already confident or less interested in, (Like she may have had to in a 1 year/full time course).
The limitations of a short course are pretty straight forward. Usually short courses only have one or two sessions a week, and that isn’t really enough time to establish an ensemble. Also when it comes to skills development, practising once a week will be a much slower approach than training every day in a full time course. That being said, I’ve made a lot of connections and friendships in short courses which remain today, and on top of that, short courses are usually quite affordable.
Now, over to you. If you think a short course is your cup of tea, and the type of training you need right now, all you need to do is pick one and enrol. These courses usually don’t have an audition process (another benefit) so you should be set to go. To assist with the choosing process, here’s our list of the best short courses for actors around the world: Best Short Acting Course Around the World.
Training through Drop-in Classes
- Singular focus
- Minimal time commitment
Finally for traditional actor training, we have the drop in class. A drop in class is a one-off, all in experience. They will usually run for a half day or a full day, and sometimes they might be two days (over a weekend).
In line with the pros and cons of all the courses we’ve spoken about so far, I’m sure you can predict where the drop in sits. It is such a tiny time commitment, so there’s no need to worry about that element. They are inexpensive (usually – “famous” acting coaches can be unbelievably expensive. Work your way up to those ones…). They afford you the opportunity to drop in, meet people, practise your craft, build a particular skill set and go home that evening having become a better actor. They are an awesome and valuable thing to do. For actors who want to try something new, want to work with a new teacher to gauge their style, or for people who have never acted before and want to give it a go – a drop in class is an awesome choice.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much one can achieve in a drop in class, no matter how good the teacher is. The teacher will attempt to give everyone individual attention, but there is only so much time which can be divided amongst the group. You may learn some exceptional lessons in the time you have watching the other actors or working directly with the teacher, but it will be up to you to follow that up with practise and further development of that skill.
One final note on the ol’ drop in class: they can be kinda intense. With the whole ‘one night only’ vibe comes a heightened level of adrenaline and energy, both from the participants and the teacher. Everyone wants to squeeze every morsel of worth out of the class as possible. This can be an intimidating environment to act in for the first time. If you are an absolute beginner, I’d say that actually a short course is probably your best bet. A short course will give you enough time to settle in and grow your confidence. After that, shop around! Do a bunch of drop in classes, build your skills and confidence.
Training: Alternative Avenues
Now, all the methods I’ve outlined above are pretty traditional ways to train as an actor. It’s important to know that these are not the only options you have. Of course, you may decide you wish to skip the whole training bit and start going for auditions straight away, (a daring approach which only leads to success for the 1%, who then usually seek full time training after their first job anyway). Here are a few options for other avenues of training as an actor which might interest you.
Learning ‘on the job’
What better way to gain experience than to simply start practising? Now, for this approach I don’t necessarily mean you start approaching casting directors and doing auditions – no. The best way to learn on the job as a beginner is to become involved in as many amateur productions of films and plays as possible. This approach is not a new one; it was an incredibly common and successful method for some of the British greats like Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Steven Fry and Hugh Laurie, who all earned their chops in theatre societies at university before being picked up by an agent and starting to earn money from acting.
Finding any way possible to get yourself on a stage or on a camera speaking lines of dialogue is going to be beneficial for your development as an actor. I can’t recommend this approach to beginner actors highly enough; however, the benefit of this approach is capped at a certain point. At some stage you will need to seek outside perspectives and direct feedback about your work. It’s the journey of any skill development: practise and feedback from an expert. So, get curious. What local theatres are nearby? Is there a university theatre society you can become involved with, or what’s more; can you instigate a performance of some kind? This curiosity will see you gaining and growing skills which will stay with you for your whole career.
We’ve been talking about training our acting skills in a traditional sense – by going out and practising acting. However there are many other methods of training to be an actor which don’t always involve ‘acting’ specifically at all. I mean, of course, training in other performative art forms aligned with acting. This could be mime, clowning, commedia dell’arte, physical theatre, performance theatre, stand up comedy, skit comedy, musical theatre, opera, stage combat – even working on a film set in an alternative role. Finding yourself in any performative environment can be useful for an actor. It can give a unique edge to their performance style, and will be an interesting asset to their performative toolkit.
So, have a think. Perhaps you’re limiting yourself to the ‘well beaten track’ options for training. What’s the path less followed?
Finally, if you want to train as an actor – then just go act. Find a script (Hamlet is on Google – I will not hear “there’s no good free material” as an excuse) and point the camera on your phone at your face and read the lines. So many people wait until they have been accepted into a drama school to begin acting. WHY?! Why does a position at a drama school give you permission to act? There is nothing stopping you from acting right now. Don’t wait, get into it. Build your craft and confidence that way, then, when the time is right, seek an outside eye or an acting course to get even better.
Conclusion: It’s Your Career
There are plenty of options out there for you, and deciding how to begin your training is a significant decision. But what is most important is that you train in your way, whilst remaining curious and open to the perspectives of your teachers and mentors.
But also, remember that there is time. You might commit to a full time course and realise it isn’t right for you. That’s ok! There are plenty of other places and courses out there which will be better suited to you. Prioritise your desired training style and then go after it with everything you’ve got.
Look to the actors who inspire you who have come before you. The way they gained their experience may be a really useful guide for how you’d like to get yours. Take inspiration from all over, try a whole bunch of different things, and figure out what works for you. Action is to be prioritised above contemplation. The time is yours to get into it and start the development of your craft. Go forth and good luck!