Trying to decide which drama school to apply to? How do you tell the good from the bad? Well, the best place to start is with a new, very sensible advisory pamphlet hot off the press from the Oxford School of Drama.
The Essentials: for excellence in vocational training for performing, production and technical careers sets out, in eight succinct pages, exactly what you are entitled to expect in a good school - a minimum of 30 hours a week in which you are taught by tutor as opposed to many unstructured hours of ‘private study’ for example.
And ‘You are entitled … to be taught by people who have been, or still are, working professionally in their specialist area of teaching and whom you respect’ the guide tells you firmly.
In other words, if you are offered the all-too-common university deal of just a few hours ‘contact time’ with classroom theoreticians, then that is not vocational training.
Look carefully at the size of the graduating year group too. If it is too large it will be impossible for the school to use its links to help you to get the job you want.
The Essentials guide also gives you a check-list of questions to ask and information to seek under the heading ‘Signs of top quality training.’ Ask about the timetable, look at the staffing list, find out about professional links, public performances and employment destinations, it advises. And don’t be shy about asking because the best schools are keen to show you how good they are.
A number of the UK’s established performing arts schools have collaborated to produce the Essentials guide in a bid ‘to help students make an informed decision about the environment and type of training likely to help them most effectively achieve their ambitions.’
In the lead is the Oxford School of Drama, whose Principal George Peck, commented: “Dance, drama and technical training in the UK has always been rigorous, inspirational and the envy of the world.’
He continues: ‘However, in recent years the vocational nature of courses has been compromised and it is getting harder for applicants to distinguish between different kinds of courses and the standards they uphold.’
Peck also draws attention to the rapid recent growth in the number of courses on offer. ‘Even within the Conference of Drama Schools (the membership organisation which comprises 22 leading drama schools), there are now 53% more courses offering actors training than there were six years ago.’ he says.
So, by implication, picking your way through the hype and working out which course really is the best for you is more of a minefield than ever - and all help is welcome.
The Essentials’ Guide has been developed by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, The Central School of Ballet, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, LAMDA, Northern Contemporary Dance School, RADA, The Royal Ballet School - with The Oxford School of Drama.
It is supported by a goodly selection of Big Names across the performing arts including directors Nicholas Hytner, Marianne Elliott and Adrian Noble. Casting directors Celestia Fox, Anne McNulty (Donmar Warehouse) Wendy Spon (National Theatre) and Trevor Jackson (Cameron Mackintosh) are on board. So are actors Andrea Riseborough (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley and The Devil’s Whore), Caroline Langrishe (Judge John Deed and Casualty), and Claire Foy (Little Dorrit).
The Oxford School of Drama was awarded Beacon Status by the Learning and Skills Council in 2006 in recognition of the excellence of the education it offers. The Guide was funded through the Beacon Innovation Project programme run by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service.
The Guide was launched last month and is now available through schools, FE Colleges and careers advisors or direct from The Oxford School of Drama. If you are considering applying to drama school you would be very foolish not to read and heed this advice from people who really know.