So You Want to Work in Musical Theatre...

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Before I begin, let me start by saying that you don’t have to train in order to work in musical theatre. Some people have natural talent, have been in the right place at the right time, or have had opportunities thrown their way.

The majority of performers in the U.K., however, have been working on their skillset since they were in nappies. That said, when it comes to choosing where the work on those skills, there are so many options and courses these days that it can be hard to choose the right one. Hopefully, the following questions will help you narrow it down and pick the right path for your study.

How long do you want the course to be?
There are great courses that offer one-, two-, and the more traditional three-year options. The one-year courses are particularly good if you’re after a top-up course i.e. you’ve already completed a degree in performing arts but have realised you need to make more industry contacts or hone one of your skills a bit more. If this is you, look at the one-year options (both MA and vocational).  

If you think you’d progress better with a smaller cohort and a more intensive program, consider a two- year option. These fast-track courses are designed to get you into the industry a year earlier, thereby saving you money. But be warned, the good ones really are intensive, as there’s a lot to fit in.  

The traditional three-year option works by allowing you to settle in and “find yourself” in the first year, really working on your skill set in the second, followed by a third year of productions and a focus on the industry.

All of them have value but only you will know where your skills currently are and what sort of environment you want to train in.

Will the course make you eligible for Spotlight or Equity?
Whilst not impossible, you’ll be making your life hard from the outset if, at the end of your course, you’re not eligible to join Spotlight or Equity. (Last year, they issued strict guidelines to ascertain which graduates from which schools would be eligible.) So phone up the colleges you’re considering and check before committing yourself to all that money.  

For a brief overview, here are some of the criteria that Spotlight and Equity use: The college must offer a minimum of 30 contact hours/week for 30 weeks/year; there must be an industry showcase; there mustn’t be more than 22 in a class.

READ: The Truth About Shorter Actor Training Courses

What’s your skill set?
Where do you see your future career taking you? Are you more of a singer/actor who moves or a singer/dancer who acts? You want a course that really pushes you in your weakest area since the more skilled you are in all disciplines, the more you’re likely to work. All colleges will claim to be triple threats these days, but check how many hours/week they focus on each discipline. Check whether 1:1 singing lessons are included in the price or an ‘add-on’.

What are they charging for?
Look out for hidden charges, like fees hidden away or any extra fees you weren’t aware of. Again, call them and ensure that everything you need from the course is covered by the fees you’re about to pay.

Who’s on the faculty list?
Be aware that some colleges add ‘guests’ to their faculty lists in a bid to seduce you. Most college websites have a faculty list on display, so study it carefully. Most of the reputable colleges have clear listings as to who teaches what and a bio for each.

What are the performance opportunities?
Not all colleges guarantee you a final showcase—some charge extra and like all industries, it’s a constantly moving goalpost. Ensure that you are guaranteed to be showcased as part of the course.

What are their statistics like?
More and more colleges are now putting their graduate statistics online, at least for the first year of entry into the business. Don’t be fooled by social media posts that are designed to ‘sell a college’. And be mindful of how many people are in a year group, as you might actually be only hearing about a small percentage of successful students, when in fact the bigger picture is a bit grimmer.

Can you visit?
Go to the college and ask for a tour or look around. Attend Open Days if possible, but be aware that they’re designed to sell you so check even the basic stuff like whether the staff you meet that day are regular faculty members. Ask the students how they’re finding the course and check the number of contact hours that have been advertised.  

Finally, don’t be fooled by the old ‘you need a degree to work in our industry’ line. You don’t. Our industry secures jobs in the audition and rehearsal room, and on stage. Your training, talent, and personality will secure you jobs, not a piece of paper stating you’ve passed a certain qualification. Nobody cares whether you’ve got a degree or a diploma. But if you do decide to go the college route, just remember that where you go is your choice. Keep your mind open to possibilities.

Check out Backstage’s London audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Annemarie Lewis Thomas
Annemarie Lewis Thomas is a musician, composer, teacher, and director/founder of The Musical Theatre Academy.
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