The West End is the pinnacle of stage acting in the UK—and perhaps the world, so it follows that it may be your goal to get there. But how? There’s no simple answer, but these are the steps that should help you down the path to being onstage at one of London’s best theatres. The key? Keep busy and on the grind—that’s the best way to create personal success.
- How do I prepare for drama school auditions?
- Where should I study for a career in the West End?
- How can I get the most out of drama school?
- Who should take my headshots for West End auditions?
- Do I need a reel?
- Are open auditions worth it?
- How do I get an acting agent?
- How do I meet casting directors?
- What’s the best way to keep updated on the West End?
- Who are the “power players” of the West End?
Select the right audition materials and create a rehearsal calendar for yourself.
When you decide which audition materials are suitable, ask friends or family to listen. If you can afford it, consider an audition coach. It’s essential to have multiple opinions.
Remember that you can only control so much in your audition. Be prepared, but also be ready to go with the flow. Drama school auditions are like West End auditions: The people on the other side of the table know what they’re looking for. So, if you can confidently demonstrate your ability and potential—and show that you’d be a good person to work with—then you’ve done your job.
Do your research and choose based on curriculum, location, and pricing.
Who is strongest in the fields you are interested in? Do you want to study near home? A good start is our guide to the best acting conservatoires in the UK. Many of these are the cream of the crop, and many casting directors come to the final showcases in search of talent.
But, just because a school isn’t in the top 10 doesn’t mean it’s not worth investigating. Not everyone in the West End went to RADA, LAMDA, or ArtsEd—and many skipped drama school altogether. Some of what is considered “second tier” still offer excellent training. One of the major things to consider is cost, and one of the major ways to offset the cost is to consider a school that is affiliated with a university. Then you have tuition subsidies and access to student loans as well as the benefits of a student union and all its attendant opportunities.
Next, you’ll have to figure out which programme is right for you. If musical theatre (MT) is your game, find a school with great MT tuition. If singing and dancing aren’t your strongest suits, many acting programs offer singing and movement classes as part of acting training. This will help you graduate as a well-rounded actor who, while possibly not being a total triple threat, can offer the skills needed for most plays with music or movement. Other programmes are more focused around classical acting, so if Shakespeare is your passion, search out one of these schools.
Above all, make sure that the programme is appealing to you. Going to a school just for its name recognition alone may not be the best choice. Drama school and training are the biggest investment you’ll make in your future career. Many West End actors credit these years to their successes, so choose a place where you’ll feel at home.
Study hard, ask a lot of questions, and be present.
When there are opportunities for networking, events, extra time with tutors, understudying, and so on, take them! Actors study human nature, so try to view every experience as a chance to learn something. Drama school can be very intense—it’s a 9-to-5 job; but instead of meetings about budgets, it’s conversations about your own psychology and a test of your physical limits. It’s not for the fainthearted. But it is a good warm-up for the future: If you want to be in the West End, doing eight shows a week, you have to build your stamina while training.
Find actors whose headshots you admire and find out who took their picture.
Compare prices on photographers’ websites to ensure you’re getting the best deal. There are hundreds of headshot photographers out there and choosing the right one can seem like a daunting decision, so careful research is essential.
And just make sure that on the day you feel comfortable and you’re being yourself. Casting directors and agents want to see headshots that look like real people. Don’t go overboard on makeup or hairstyling. Often, the most natural image is the most successful. Go and see a West End show and buy a programme, then glance at the actors’ headshots. You’ll see simplicity and honesty: That’s what you want to go for. Make sure your eyes pop and your clothing pattern is complimentary—so, nothing too busy!
The short answer is yes.
In our technological society, an internet, social media, and downloadable presence are essential. A reel is the simplest, most straightforward way to demonstrate your talents. It’s an opportunity to show a West End casting director what you have to offer before you get into an audition room.
Like headshots, there are many companies out there offering to create showreels. Do your research, ensure you have good material to film that highlights your natural talents, and don’t overpay for poor quality. You want to look your best in HD.
Any experience that offers you the chance to flex your audition muscles is worth a shot.
Open calls are a great way to see how you stack up against what’s out there. Remember to be yourself, because you never know who you’re going to meet on the day.
Get organised and be resourceful.
By going to a drama school, you’ll very likely have a showcase at the end of your course. This is your chance to demonstrate your talents, type, and castability. Your school should have a list of people it generally invites to see the showcases, but do your own research. If there is an agent you’re really interested in meeting, contact your course director to make sure they are invited. You can also reach out to them yourself and send a personalised invitation.
The process from there varies. If you’re lucky, you will get meetings with agents right out of the showcase and you’ll have your pick of the litter when it comes to representation. If this isn’t the case for you, continue to reach out to agents; send them your showreel, online profiles, links, and headshots; and invite them to see your work. You have to be proactive and on the grind.
The ideal way to meet casting directors (CDs) is through auditions, and a great place to find auditions is Backstage.
Many organisations hold workshops and master classes that are good ways to introduce yourself to casting directors and see what they’re like outside of the audition room. Ensure that you get on mailing lists from the Actors Centre, Surviving Actors, and the like, and check out Backstage’s Call Sheet for contact information and submission preference. There are multiple avenues for networking, and the onus is on you to put yourself out there.
If you do have an agent, make sure you’re communicating openly about these things so that you’re always on the same page.
Going to see West End shows on press nights is also a great way to rub elbows with the best of the best in the industry. If you can stay abreast of dates and jump on tickets, you have the opportunity to be in the same room with many of the big names in the West End.
Like so much in this business, research and dedication are key: be resourceful, talk to people in the business, ask questions. Attending shows is the best way to get a good grasp on what’s happening in the industry. Not only will it give you a sense of what tones and styles CDs and directors like to bring to the stage, but it’ll also give you a chance to see some of the best performances the industry has to offer in the flesh.
To keep your finger on the pulse of what’s coming down the pike, check out our UK Greenlit series for information on major productions that will soon be casting. And don’t forget to keep an eye on Backstage’s UK auditions to keep working and stay in the game.
These are the directors, producers, and casting directors you should know something about, as it’s highly likely you will be hearing their names, and their careers may have an impact on your career!
If there is a common thread here, it is that determination and resourcefulness are crucial ingredients in your journey to the West End. Acting is a craft, and if you want to demonstrate your craft at the highest level on the West End stage, you must throw yourself wholeheartedly into the pursuit and persevere. And the steps we’ve outlined here will help you on your way.
For more from Backstage UK, check out the magazine.