Drama School Stories: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Alice McCarthy shares her experience of formal training, studying at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
The last in our current series of drama school stories, Alice McCarthy talks to us about her experience studying at Bristol Old Vic. Since graduating, Alice has been in a variety of great productions, including the Olivier award-winning Rotterdam. Here’s her story about her experience in formal training…
…Bristol encourages its students to preserve the unique talents that set them apart at the auditioning process and then simply build on top of those skills. It is not a case of breaking people down to then build them up…
What made you want to be an actor?
It’s a cliché but it’s certainly true in my case: I always wanted to be an actor, since I can first remember. I have Irish parents and I think that that storytelling tradition and theatricality were part of the rhythms of my everyday life growing up, even if my parents didn’t intend it to be that way.
What made you decide you wanted formal training?
Before training, I studied English and Drama at Trinity College Dublin and in my final year I decided that I would apply to drama schools. In truth, I think I always saw it as a test of sorts, a way to figure out if this was something I should actually be pursuing professionally or if I was just delusional. Drama school seemed like a stepping stone to the opportunities that I always sensed were out there somewhere, but that I couldn’t see or find on my own.
What made you pick the Bristol old Vic?
I will never forget my first audition for Bristol Old Vic. I had lost my passport and wallet the day before and flew into Bristol that morning half mad with nerves, using my Trinity student card as ID to fly. However, the minute I stepped over the threshold I just felt so at ease.
Bristol is like the eccentric, mad sister of drama schools and there is a beautiful informality to the training, and the building, that exudes the laid-back confidence it tries to inspire in its actors. That is not to say that the training is not rigorous - it is, but unlike other schools,
Bristol encourages its students to preserve the unique talents that set them apart at the auditioning process and then simply build on top of those skills. It is not a case of breaking people down to then build them up, which I know friends of mine went through elsewhere.
I also loved that Bristol did not prescribe one acting philosophy but instead offered its students lots of different techniques to choose from. That way we could discard anything that was not helpful and build up our own individual acting recipe.
Try, if possible, to pick a monologue from a full-length play/production that you’ve been in. That way you will have a real and thorough understanding of the whole play and your speech’s place within it.
What were the benefits of studying there? Were there any downsides?
People are always concerned that Bristol is too far from London and that agents and casting directors wouldn’t travel to see our shows. In my experience, this was not a problem at all and we always managed to be seen. Plus, there was the added bonus of not training in the big, bad city with all its various distractions and competition.
How has the training helped you/hindered you since graduating?
Bristol has opened so many doors for me since graduating. It was actually a director that I worked with in my final year of training that cast me in my first leading role in the real world, so I think the relationships you create there are just so important.
Any final advice for those wondering whether to train/where to train?
I would say talk to as many students/ex-students as possible at the different schools and try to build up a picture of each drama school before applying, that way you narrow down your application pool and save yourself unnecessary costs.
In terms of the audition process: try, if possible, to pick a monologue from a full-length play/production that you’ve been in. That way you will have a real and thorough understanding of the whole play and your speech’s place within it. It’s important you don’t feel like your monologue is this isolated random test you have to get through. It also helps to have the memory of old performances to fall back on when the nerves hit!
Thanks to Alice McCarthy for sharing her story! See more of what Alice is up to on Twitter.
Image credit: Lucia O'Connor McCarthy