Thinking of going to drama school but not sure where to start? Read on for an overview of the different training options for performers.
There are many training routes for performers into the entertainment industry, from evening courses, foundation courses, Bachelor of Arts degrees, repertory theatre training, diplomas, to master’s degrees. Training is a big business, and there’s an abundance of options, varying in reputation, contact hours, quality, and graduate success.
The highly regarded courses have thousands applying for only a few dozen places whereas lesser-known courses are easier to get into. Choose wisely because you might regret rushing into the first course that offers you a place. Sometimes it’s better to wait a few years until you’re ready for a prestigious course.
How do I know if it’s a reputable drama school?
A reputable drama school offers high contact hours (30+ hours a week), gives you solid training that the industry will take seriously, and will put on an end-of-course showcase that agents attend.
Trying to figure out where is reputable has become more difficult over recent years. There’s not just one drama school accreditation body, but three: Conservatoires through UCAS, The Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre, and The Federation of Drama Schools.
Here we list all of the UK drama schools that have accreditation from one of these bodies:
Conservatoires through UCAS
Applying to drama school through the Universities and Colleges Admission Scheme (UCAS) means you’ll get a Bachelor of Arts degree and access to government student loans, as you would if you went to university. Many thousands apply for conservatoires, and there are very limited places, but if you get into one of these schools it’s likely to propel your career upon graduation. Conservatoires in the UCAS scheme include:
- Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
- Bristol Old Vic
- Leeds Conservatoire
- Royal Academy of Music
- Royal College of Music
- Royal Conservatories of Scotland
- Royal Northern College of Music
- Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
- Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
The Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre
The Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre (CDMT) lists accredited schools which offer high-quality training. These schools are:
- Bird College
- Bodywork Company Performing arts
- Creative Academy
- D & B School of Performing arts
- Drama Studio London
- Elmhurst Ballet School
- English National Ballet School
- Guildford School of Acting
- Italia Conti
- KS Dance LTD
- Laine Theatre arts
- Liverpool Theatre school
- London Studio Centre
- MGA Academy
- Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama
- Millennium Performing arts
- Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
- Northern Ballet School
- Performers College
- SLP College
- Stella Mann College
- The Hammond
- The Oxford School of Drama
- Tring Park School for the Performing Arts
- Urdang Academy.
The Federation of Drama Schools
The Federation of Drama Schools (FDS) lists schools with high-quality training. Some are also accredited with CDMT or are also on UCAS as a Conservatoire. Schools accredited by the FDS (which haven’t already been listed) include:
- Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
- Drama Centre London (although DCL will be closing this year)
- East 15
- Guildford School of Music and Drama
- Manchester School of Theatre
- Rose Bruford
- The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
What about foundation, evening, and short courses?
Most drama schools offer foundation and short courses and these can be excellent for building skills and improving your craft, however, they’re unlikely to get the attention of an agent. Places on the principle, two or three-year full-time, courses at drama school are hard to obtain and you might find a shorter course will prepare you for your audition.
Mairi Hayes, Head of Short Course Programmes at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, explains “For students interested in pursuing a professional career in performance and who want to learn in a more intensive, conservatoire-style setting, the year-long diplomas provide a good basis in the fundamentals and are an excellent starting point for work or for pursuing full-time training further down the line.”
The National Youth Theatre
The National Youth Theatre trains, and gives members a gateway into the industry, without the high cost of tuition.
CEO and Artistic Director of The National Youth Theatre, Paul Roseby, explains “We offer a flexible industry-led alternative to formal training, including free intensive longer-term programmes like our NYT REP Company, summer and part-time courses that lead to membership and the chance to perform with us and regular skills-based masterclasses in specifics like Acting for Screen.”
Roseby continues: “We believe in learning by doing, often in front of an audience at leading theatres around the UK and in the West End. Our alumni go on to success in all sorts of roles across the creative industries and beyond, but what they have in common is a generosity of spirit, a curiosity and a creative voice that helps them stand out from the crowd.”
How do I choose a course?
Research the curriculums, visit the schools, watch their shows (if they’re available – sometimes these are closed events for industry professionals), and find out what alumni have to say and what they’re working on now.
Ask your prospective school or university what they do to support their graduates. The course curriculum is important but it’s also essential that you’re armed with practical skills for marketing yourself once you’ve completed your studies.
It’s worth bearing in mind that not all courses qualify for Spotlight Graduate membership. If you’re unsure whether your potential drama school or university course is eligible, please speak to the school before making a graduate application.
Trust your feelings
If you’re not sure if the training is right for you, wait until you know that it is right. Anna Russell-Martin, a graduate of the three-year BA Acting programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, says, “there are many reasons and different things that played a factor in choosing a school but in all honesty, it was just a feeling.” She continues: “I think I knew it would push and encourage me just the right amount. And it did. I was able to feel at home and totally out of my comfort zone at the same time. And that’s where you really learn.”
What might be the perfect drama school for one student, may not be for another so it’s important to choose the school that’s right for you. Your audition isn’t only about what the school is looking for, but what are you looking for from the school.
Sam is the author of ‘100 Acting Exercises for 8–18 Year Olds‘, published by Bloomsbury.
She worked as a freelance drama teacher for 11 years and ran a Youth Theatre, which grew into one of the largest regional Youth Theatres in the UK. She’s now a full-time writer, writing drama teaching resources, for The Stage newspaper, and fiction for young adults.
Headshot // Rosalind Hobley.
Hero image // National Youth Theatre REP Company’s ‘Othello’ at Royal Derngate, Northampton // Helen Murray