Choosing an Acting School – Don’t Be a Lemming!

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1. A small, short-tailed, thickset rodent related to the voles, found in the Arctic tundra.
2. A member of a crowd with no originality or voice of his own. One who speaks or repeats only what he has been told.
3. A person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement, especially a headlong rush to destruction.

It’s that time of year again when full-time acting/drama schools are making offers of places to prospective students. Some of these talented individuals are in the fortunate position of receiving multiple offers and need to make a choice as to which training provider will best suit their individual needs; provide the best quality training; and give them the springboard into a professional acting career.

There are many factors for these future actors to consider including; experience and qualifications of teaching staff; facilities; location; reputation; alumni; curriculum content; production and performance opportunities (a good school will give you the opportunity to perform in full-length productions – not just scenes from plays or shows that are only compilations of monologues); industry exposure; quality and motivation of other students; ratio of screen vs stage experience (I believe that 1/3 screen and 2/3 stage is the right balance);  and many more relevant factors.

Unfortunately, I find far too many people placing too much importance on ‘reputation’ and what others (often unqualified and/or inexperienced individuals) think of the school and not enough on the other important factors mentioned above. Just because your uncle who used to be an amateur actor 30 years ago has never heard of a school it doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. Similarly, just because a famous actor graduated from a particular school in the past it doesn’t mean that the school was the main reason why they have been successful (the likelihood is that the famous actor in question most probably would have been successful no matter which school they attended or would have succeeded even if they didn’t undertake formal training at all! Success usually springs from the individual’s talent and work ethic etc rather than the influence of the school they attend).

The reality is that any accredited tertiary or vocational training institute will provide the basics in terms of qualified staff; facilities and curriculum etc. The choice then boils down to how well you are supported and nurtured during your training and whether or not you are provided with a learning environment that will allow your potential to be fulfilled during the 2 or 3 years of the course.

This is the area that needs to be fully researched before making your decision and often it comes down to intuition and ‘feel’. How were you treated during the auditions? Were they run efficiently? Was there time wasting or a lack of respect towards the candidates? Were you treated like an individual or herded like cattle from one room to another? Your audition experience will most likely reflect your student experience after enrollment.

In the end it’s best to trust your own instincts and judgement rather than taking the easy option of doing what everyone else is doing  (like a lemming jumping off a cliff) if you want to make the best possible choice of school and have a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Mark Matthews B.A. (Theatre); Dip. Ed. (Drama); M.A. (Directing); Cert IV TAE; Cert IV Small Business Mgt.

Managing Director – Sydney Theatre School