What Drama School Won’t Teach You

I polled 50,000+ actors. Here are the top 9 areas that drama school graduates wish they had been taught about and where you can go to figure them out.

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What Drama School Won’t Teach You

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    Getting into drama school is a massive achievement. Surviving drama school is something to be proud of. 

    You will come out the other end having spent a few years of your life dedicating 60-80 hours a week on your craft, a luxury you’ll likely never experience again, and then suddenly you’ll have the real world to deal with.  

    Drama school can’t teach you everything, but if the average actor actually performs for only 7% of their working hours…then why did you learn next to nothing about the other 93% of what you’ll have to do as an actor?   

    I recently polled my community and asked what are some of the things that you didn’t learn at drama school that you wished you had, or that drama schools neglect or don’t give enough attention to. 

    Here is a list of the top 9 skills you won’t learn and knowledge you won’t gain from most drama schools.

    Tax

    Tax, it’s taxing. The number 1 complaint across the board about drama schools graduates is that they wish they learned about tax. 

    My own drama school organised for an accountant to come and sit with us for about 90 minutes and give us some major pointers and a one-sheet to take away but as we all experienced afterwards, that was just the tip of the iceberg. 

    Areas most commonly lamented include registering as self-employed, expenses and what you can actually, really, legit, claim for, as well as how to actually file a tax return and navigating the complexities of national insurance.  

    If you want to learn more about managing your own finances and taxes Check Out This How-To Guide From Joanna Bird At Sans Drama 

    Self-Care & Mental Wellbeing

    Our industry is finally starting to wake up to the importance of acknowledging, talking about and dealing with mental wellbeing. 

    The conversations are beginning to be had but this hasn’t quite reached far enough into the education system yet. 

    Some of the ideas and topics that came up under the mental wellness umbrella that drama schools need to do a better job of addressing include: building self-esteem and self worth (not breaking you down to build you back up again) and teaching self care practices as well as how to get help when you need it. 

    Bullying & harassment training including things like Equity’s “Safe Spaces” campaign. How to build a solid foundation of confidence, mental and emotional resilience and teaching about ego and gratitude.  

    Mental Wellbeing is quite a wide field but to get you started with some resources check out @IndustryMindsUK on twitter; they have a great podcast where they interview different experts from across the industry and even have their own performer’s counsellor; Mary Burch, if you need someone to talk to. 

    The Business Of Acting 

    This one is massive, infact this entire site is dedicated to just this topic alone. 

    Actors are constantly lamenting how drama schools are so stuck in the past drilling the most obscure of practitioners and craft exploration that they completely neglect the fact that there is a business side to being an actor.

    Most drama schools are so stuck in the past, that they completely neglect the fact that there is a business side to being an actor. Click to Tweet

    Areas of lamentation include; what it means to run a freelance business, how do the basic principles of sales and marketing apply to actors. How do you figure out your castability, develop stellar marketing materials and use those materials effectively in sales outreach like writing letters and invitations, networking. 

    What should the agent client relationship look like, what is a union and why should you be a member and how do you even begin to read a contract and know if it’s worth the paper it’s written on, maybe even learn some basic negotiation skills so you don’t feel completely helpless if you’re unrepresented. 

    You’re already in the best place for training and resources to market and sell yourself better as an actor. If you really want to take your business up a notch check out my membership platform which has courses on Castability, Headshots, Showreels, Branding, Profile, Social Media, Contacts, Outreach, Networking… 

    Acting Business Breakthrough – Market & Sell Yourself The Right Way As An Actor

    Self-Taping

    This one was actually suggested by my wonderful Agent (I wonder if you’re trying to tell me something James?) 

    Self taping is taking over the acting industry and I don’t just mean for screen work. In the last few years I have done self-tapes for at least 3 new stage productions including having to self-sing my songs along with sides from the show before being asked in to audition. 

    The most common topics of query include; what’s the best gear for a small mobile self-taping setup that doesn’t break the bank but results in great quality footage. How do you light yourself properly and capture clear sound and do you always have to have another person with you to record and read in or are there other ways? What’s the best software and editing techniques and what is expected of the final result, if you’ve signed an NDA will you get sued for sending a youtube link?  

    To learn more about self-taping I hear great things about The 21 Day Self-Tape Challenge from Casting Director Manuel Puro although I haven’t taken this course myself yet. 

    Music Theory For Singers

    A common area complained about for theatre and musical theatre graduates is that they never actually learned to read music, even just enough to not have a heart-attack every time they get sent some new material. 

    Because some students already arrive knowing how to read music, it’s not a priority on musical theatre courses so the others are left stumbling through by ear for three years and get out into the industry hamstrung by the dots. 

    Key’s, time signatures, pitch and rhythm notation, dynamics, tempo, expression markings and how to approach sight singing. I learned music theory before I arrived at drama school and play three instruments to a basic standard so I now don’t have to pay a rehearsal pianist £20 a pop to put down a melody for me every time I’m sent material for an audition call! 

    A solid baseline of music theory knowledge, and specific tactics to help singers approach sight singing, would not only help your audition process for musicals but also mean you’re not relegated to the back of the rehearsal room so hopefully your MD doesn’t figure you out before you’ve had time to spend drilling your iPhone recordings by ear.

    Survival Jobs & Gigging

    95% of us actors will spend our whole lives in and out of survival jobs.  So why does nobody talk about them until you’re living off rice-cakes and elbow deep in overdrafts and credit card debt. 

    What are all the different types of temp jobs that actors gravitate towards, what are the positives and negatives of each of them and how should you choose which is right for you. 

    Besides non-performing jobs, what are some of the entertainment events and gigs you can grab to pay the bills between auditions so you can avoid the call center and have some semblance of a creative outlet, and why is the gigging world looked down on by so many ‘real’ MT performers and tutors.

    Most importantly, how do you find the holy-grail temp job, that’s not a temp job. How do you identify another freelance field that you love, to explore as a business or even better develop a passive income business where you can earn money while you sleep.  

    95% of us actors will spend our whole lives in and out of survival jobs. So why does nobody talk about them 'til we're elbow deep in overdrafts and credit card debt. Click to Tweet

    To learn more about the best survival jobs and to figure out which one is the best for you and your preferences I’ve written a detailed walkthrough; The Best Temp Jobs For Actors – Compared & Ranked as well as built a handy calculator for you to see which is right for you. 

    Intimacy & Scenes Of A Sexual Nature

    I remember at drama school we did an entire term of scenes where we ended up screwing each other, and the only intimacy direction we got was… 

    “Here’s a private room… go practice!” 

    I was partnered with my best mates girlfriend and our teacher decided she wanted to see the girl’s bare back as we went at it, sat on a piano. This meant not only did my best mate have to sit through me and his missus improvising our way through simulated sex, but she had to bare her naked chest to me for the whole class to witness, multiple times, for weeks. Eventually we arrived at tit-tape after many an embarrassing slip of the sheets. I can only imagine what a traumatic experience that must have been for her based on how embarrassing it was for me, and I was fully clothed.

    Intimacy and scenes with sexual content are sometimes a necessary part of being an actor. Here are some of the things that the Intimacy On Set Guidelines suggests we should learn about:  

    Nudity in the audition process; under what circumstances is it necessary and when it is necessary what’s reasonable of you to expect in the room. Props and costume for intimate scenes, modesty covers and barriers. Your rights and your responsibilities as someone required to participate in nude or semi-nude acts. The creative and production teams’ rights and responsibilities asking someone to take part. Intimacy direction from a recognised intimacy coordinator and a very sensible recommendation that;

    Nobody should be put in a situation where they have to rehearse nudity or an intimate scene without a 3rd party present, keeping work professional, not private!

    Nobody should have to rehearse nudity or an intimate scene without a 3rd party present; keeping work professional, not private! Click to Tweet

    Teaching the Intimacy On Set Guidelines and exposing students to a recognised Intimacy Coordinator at drama schools would of course help protect actors from vulnerable situations but in the vast majority of situations, that are not nefarious at all, it would ensure actors are comfortable and knowledgeable before they get to set or stage and have to fumble their way through it, making the rehearsal process, and more importantly the final production, more authentic, real, and connected to the narrative, getting the best out of everyone.

    For more information about intimate scenes check out the Intimacy On Set Guidelines developed by Ita O’Brian, the world’s foremost Intimacy Coordinator

    Set & Stage Knowledge & Etiquette

    You’d think that at a stage or screen school you’d learn how to behave on stage or set? 

    Sadly not, the closest most drama schools get is to invite a jobbing actor a couple of times a year at best to talk about their experience which can be very effective, if you’re lucky with who you get. 

    Some of the topics mentioned include: how to read a TV or film set call sheet, which is notoriously difficult to figure out. Who all of the other people are on the set with you and what their roles are; what does the DOP actually do and why does the 1st AD seem to be the most important person here? 

    What are the main differences between TV, Film, Commercial, Theatre and Musical auditions and castings and what are some of the things that are expected of me in each field. 

    Questionable Industry Practices

    Subtitle: How To Spot A Scam!

    This industry is rife with a full range of exploitative practices ranging from the accidental to the reprehensible. Students should be made aware and taught to identify where they might be being taken advantage of and how to avoid situations that they will come out the worst of. 

    Because you can be sued for calling a business a “scam” or operating any kind of “blacklist”, institutions like Equity are forced to quietly get rid of their “Special Attention List” and dodgy dealers are having an easier and easier time of getting away with bad practice and serial exploitation. 

    To help with this students should be taught about the PMA & CPMA guidelines for representation as well as the CDG guidelines and code of conduct for auditions and castings as well as how and where to report bad practice. Students should also be introduced to the most common questionable practices by agencies, at castings and auditions, and by business and service providers looking to exploit unsuspecting actors.

    If you spot a casting on any of the casting platforms or anywhere online that you believe might be questionable you can report it to Equity really easily here:

    Report Bad Practice To Equity

    Round Up

    There are many more areas than the above nine that you will have to get up to speed with over the course of your career but if every drama school in the country dedicated even one full day to each of the above areas, or you set aside the time yourself, in less than two weeks you would be more prepared for the realities of the industry than 99% of your colleagues.

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