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Natasha Stone shares 10 things she wishes she’d been told before she decided to go back to school as a mature drama student.

Everyone thought I was crazy for leaving my job to go back to school and I certainly went in with rose-tinted glasses. From the body-clock painfully ringing in your ears, the noticeable age gap between you and everyone else, the references to being old at the tender age of 26, to the constant feeling of being slightly patronised, I’m giving you the lowdown of all the things no one ever told the mature female drama student.

1. Being 10 years older than everyone

“Guys, do you remember the days before iPhones? When we had the Nokia 3310s? No? Just me? Oh, you were seven when I left high school. that’s… great. Wait, you don’t know who Steps are? They were the first band I bought on cassette! Cassettes… as in tapes? Before CDs? Before Spotify? No?”

Welcome to your first day at drama school where you realise some of your peers aren’t even from the same decade as you!

2. The ticking body clock

“But when are you going to have children?” I get asked this question on a scarily frequent basis. Starting first year at 26 means that I will be nearly 30 by the time I graduate (prehistoric, right?) and at some point, I would like children but this does have its challenges post-35. This means I now only have five years to ‘make it’ before settling down, leaving my Bridget Jones life behind and moving up the ranks to Real Housewife of Essex. Pass the wine.

I think there is a huge pressure put on actors in their mid-to-late twenties (especially female actors) to have the career but also the home life sorted. The expectation society puts on people to have already got your life together, forged a successful career and have a plan for the future, is so wildly inaccurate for so many of us out there that we need to just put the brakes on, take the pressure off and do what is right for us!

3. A sense of losing the life you once had

If you’re a mature drama student, the chances are that you’ve had a life and a career before coming back to studying and so deciding to leave that life behind probably wasn’t a decision you made lightly! A sad truth that I found when going back to school is that people aren’t as interested in the career you once had. This can be a hard truth to face, especially if you loved your job.

The flip side of this is that it’s also incredibly liberating to finally live the daydream you’ve always had of handing in your notice and running into a world where people are singing in the corridors and tap dancing in the canteen. As hard as that adjustment can be initially, there’s no better feeling than fully immersing yourself into the world you’ve dreamt of for years.

4. Being too old to get student discounted theatre tickets

One of the best things about drama school is the discounted theatre tickets… if you’re under 25. We talk about equality and equal opportunities for all in our industry and making theatre affordable, but only if you’re 18-25. How can you have a student offering but not make this open to all students? What about the mature students who are breaking their backs to pay their rent but still need to see theatre for their course? Hand me my placard.

5. Managing a life outside of Uni

Drama school is one of the most intense and exhilarating experiences you will have. From managing your 8am-6pm schedule to seeing a couple of shows a week whilst reading multiple play texts plus finding time to manage your life outside of study can be challenging. One of the biggest struggles was maintaining my relationship outside of school.

Being immersed in the craft is everything you imagined and more, but you must switch off and set time aside to have a life outside of acting. You don’t need to feel guilty about this, managing your mental and physical wellbeing should be your top priority, otherwise, you’ll burn out and won’t be bringing your best self to your work. Balance and staying organised is key!

6. The student nights out

“Are you coming for pre-drinks at so-and-so’s flat? We’re all chipping in 60p for a bottle of Glenns.” Sadly, no. And that’s not because I’m “too old and can’t keep up”, it’s because I’ve been guzzling Jägerbombs for many years now (I have the stained Magaluff ’09 t-shirt to prove it) and I would rather drown myself in a bottle of wine than sip vodka out of a sprite bottle on someone’s couch in Wembley playing ‘never have I ever’. Besides, I have two Chekhov plays, three poems and one song to learn before 7.30am tomorrow. God help me.

7. Understanding the work through your lived experiences

Dear 13-year-old me, all of the nights spent crying over someone you can’t remember the name of whilst belting out Adele was so worth it. As a mature drama student you’re likely to have lived through a lot of different experiences; getting your heart broken or the fear of not being able to pay your rent (every month!) The benefit of this is that you can use all of these experiences to bring a real richness to your work.

I genuinely believe the best thing about coming to school as a mature student is the wealth of experience you can bring to the table. When lecturers talk about a character experiencing deep emotions, you can physically put yourself in your character’s shoes through your lived experience as opposed to imagined, bringing a real vulnerability and realness to your work.

8. Knowing what you don’t know and seeking to learn that

I tried to forge a career in the industry before coming to school and just kept falling short because there were skills I didn’t have, or because the person opposite me had trained. The beauty of this is that I was seeing first-hand the skillset I needed to have or the points I was failing on in auditions and used this to tailor my learning at school. I knew I had zero vocal training and so I honed in on these lessons.

Take full advantage of the school libraries; from practitioner books, to audition techniques and thousands of play texts, the school library has everything you’ve ever wanted to know at your fingertips, and you have three years to lap all of this up for free!

9. An understanding of self

As a fresh 18-year-old auditioning I thought I knew everything. Now I realise I didn’t, and I still don’t, but that’s ok! I know what I like and what I don’t like, I know the type of actor I would like to be and I have a strong understanding of who I am as a person. I think this helps because instead of coming to school at 18 and having to navigate living on your own for the first time, whilst meeting new people and managing your own personal development and insecurities, you’ve already been through a large portion of this and so you can enjoy your experience in its entirety from a much more grounded and settled perspective than if you’d have come at the start of your adult life.

10. The leggings don’t fit the way they used to

There’s nothing like trying to shove your love handles (whilst also explaining what love handles are to the 18-year-olds) into a pair of Primark leggings on a Monday morning to make you realise how much you love drama school. Brace yourselves gals, you’ve got this!

These are all the things I wish someone had told me before becoming a mature drama student. You’ll have incredible highs and some really harsh lows throughout your training but it’s so important to remember why you’re there.

The entire process is designed to prepare you for the industry. To hold your own in an audition room, to be present in every given moment and to be able to sustain night after night performances. I won’t lie and say that this process is easy, it certainly would have been a lot easier to come at 18, but coming in as a mature student has meant that I’m here for my own reasons and I can fully commit to knowing what I want from the training. I can attack the work with a much stronger depth than if I had come 8 years ago.

Whatever age you are, drama school will always be the best but hardest decision you make, but I’m here to show the ‘oldies’ that it’s definitely possible… just oil up the joints a few months before!

Natasha Stone is currently studying Acting CDT at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and is also the founder of TheLovieDiaries – journals designed to help actors stay motivated throughout their career. You can read more blogs about theatre life on her website and follow the life of a mature student on twitter!