How To Get Into A Prestigious Drama School

What they don’t tell you about the arduous process

Sandra Michelle
May 27, 2020 · 7 min read
A dark red theatre with a big golden stage
A dark red theatre with a big golden stage
Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

Drama school is the convention for most aspiring actors in the UK. There are a handful of drama schools that ‘matter’ which means thousands of hopeful auditionees get rejected yearly. This leaves many students questioning how to pursue a career in their desired field if the competitiveness is dependant on the name of a school rather than the actual course.

As a current student of an MA post-graduate theatre course at , I went through this exhausting and daunting process last year. Two monologues. That is all that is required of you. One classical, (think Shakespeare if you’re not a fellow Thespian) and one contemporary (usually from a play written between the mid-20th century and the present). It’s always a good call to show your varying styles. One reflecting your comedic side while the other portraying a stern or troubled character. Do not, and I repeat learn monologues from movies, unless asked of you. You will not be taken seriously and no matter how ground-breakingly you deliver, “I waited for you for seven years” as young Allie, you’ll be sent home without a call-back.

Gone are the days where an open audition would cut it. In the early 2000s, there seemed to be a culture of having kids queue up outside an old building in London’s Covent Garden, as far as the eye could see. (Luna Lovegood — Evanna Lynch), (Kaya Scodelario), , having people sleep outside Twickenham Stadium in the freezing winter (including an 18-year-old me) to name a few. There used to be an idea around accessibility to a certain extent. The making of home-made tapes from casting directors’ tweets and attending open casting calls at Pineapple Dance Studios.

As much as we could ‘make believe’, what those exhausted Programme Directors could do with is not to have to squint too hard to believe.

If you research the education history of most leading cast members of top films and TV shows, it is to no surprise that an overwhelming number of actors attended only a handful of schools. It seems as though there is almost a guarantee of getting booked for work when you have a specific school on your résumé. As unfair as that sounds, it is just like any other industry, the world is full of its advantages and disadvantages.

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

On average, a prospective drama student obtains a place at a drama school, the third year that they audition. There are several different factors that come into bagging a place at your top school. The panels for each of these top schools see thousands of kids a year and their ears can only live through so many, “Is this a dagger which I see before me…”-s. The Macbeths and the Hamlets have become such snoozy go-to’s, that the panellists can recite them word for word with their eyes closed.

One of my last auditions ended with absolutely none of the 38 of us receiving a call-back.

My attempt at being original was to have a monologue prepared that I was certain nobody else would have (at least that day). I chose a play lesser known to the average English Literature student; The Two Noble Kinsmen. The Jailer’s Daughter proved to be a captivating and conflicted character and so, Act 2, Scene 4 it was. Nevertheless, it was still Shakespeare. Just because a play isn’t as famous, doesn’t mean the characters are any less interesting. Most of all, it is an opportunity to bring to life a character who maybe hasn’t been done justice in the past. I found her fun. The most fun out of all of the classic characters I’d considered that summer.

Choosing a monologue that fits you as the actor is imperative. Age range, stature, gender. People want their job to be made easier. As much as we could make believe, what those exhausted Programme Directors could do with is not to have to squint too hard to believe. Beyond this, certain things are out of your control. Drama schools, especially the more competitive offer limited open spots as they have incredibly small classes. Therefore, they must focus carefully on being representative of diversity.

Getting yourself booked for an audition as soon as they’re announced (usually around March time) is crucial. They often happen throughout the year which means places can be given on a relatively first come first-served basis. If we consider the average number of pupils in a class being 15, calculations point to one of forty students auditioning each day being offered a place. Unfortunately, if they have already offered a place to a British blonde girl last week, there’s a slim chance they’ll do that again for you the following week. Luck and timing plays an immense part in the process.

One of my last auditions ended with absolutely none of the 38 of us receiving a call-back. We watched the student representative look down at her clipboard, look back up, open her mouth and close it just as fast. Leaving her lips pursed tightly and sympathetically presenting an awkward but sincere smile. Either I was clearly wrong about the talent I had seen that day or it was simply because it was the last audition of the year (June). The school had most probably already filled spaces for the forthcoming year. However, due to the £50 audition fee we had already paid, the formality of the ‘audition’ still went ahead.

Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

The repetition of going through the entire day-long process is also something you need to prepare yourself for. These gruelling auditions most commonly last the entire day and are run like a workshop. This means that there’s immense pressure to be “on” for the entire 8 hour day. In some schools, they request successful candidates to come back for a call-back at a later date. If you do the classic drama school audition run in London, you will have to accept that the majority of Saturdays that summer will be taken up by this.

It’s essentially a group interview. This usually begins with the workshop part of the day. This half is less concerned with scripts and rehearsed performances and more on improvising natural responses. During these simple exercises it is often emphasized to just ‘be yourself’ and treat it as a warm-up. This leads to the second half of the day; the monologues. You are being watched and observed. No half of the day weighs heavier than the other. Everyone is always warm and welcoming but don’t allow this to ease your levels of alertness. ‘Putting energy into our stride’, is what my head of year told us we all had done in order to have been offered a place. The determination in the way that you fill the space is enough to differentiate between those whose monologues will be strong and whose won’t.

Ensure you have booked yourself in for an audition at every top school. Do not be picky or intimidated. This isn’t the time to be picky. There is only a handful of schools and you only have a handful of chances to be simultaneously liked and not mess up (no pressure!). I ended up going to the school that I nearly didn’t audition for, deeming it too farto travel. Little did I know that the course tutors would end up moving the location to one more convenient for me than any other.

Different schools also have very specific types of students that they look for. I came across the most incredible actors at these auditions, who told me it was their 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th year auditioning. This shocked me greatly. However, when I enquired further, they revealed that they knew their style wasn’t suited to certain schools. To my surprise, one of these talented actors pointed out those who they thought would receive a call-back that day — and they were absolutely right. Some schools have simply developed a style that only caters to certain performers. The focus of some schools being on the more commercial actors, others on traditional theatre and nowadays many valuing a more holistic approach to the arts. There are endless kinds of courses and some just may not be the right fit for you. Nothing to take personally. This is precisely why you should try your hand at every school, you never know where your own personal unique qualities will fit !

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Sandra Michelle

Written by

Law Graduate in London. Encouraging new perspectives. Writer for Better Marketing, P.S I Love You, The Ascent & Mind Cafe. Top Writer in Love & Self Improvement

The Ascent

The Ascent is a community of storytellers documenting the journey to a happier and healthier way of living. Join thousands of others making the climb on one of the top publications on Medium.

Sandra Michelle

Written by

Law Graduate in London. Encouraging new perspectives. Writer for Better Marketing, P.S I Love You, The Ascent & Mind Cafe. Top Writer in Love & Self Improvement

The Ascent

The Ascent is a community of storytellers documenting the journey to a happier and healthier way of living. Join thousands of others making the climb on one of the top publications on Medium.

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