So, you’ve decided you want to become a professional actor. This is a monumental first step but you probably have tons of questions. The biggest one might be: “Where should I train?”
In an ideal world you’ll get offers from every school you apply to, but as you’re probably aware, the reality is that drama schools are extremely competitive. No matter how talented you are, you’ll be jostling with other talented performers for a very small number of spaces. For this reason alone, you should cast your net wide and look at all the schools that could work for you.
Before you start filling out forms asking to audition (or applying via UCAS), think hard about a few key points: Do you want to leave home or not? Is the financial security of being able to stay with mum and dad better than choosing the right school for you?
Remember, not all drama schools are created equal, and although many have brilliant members of staff and great facilities, some are more globally recognised, which means your training may—correctly or incorrectly—count for more. Take your time to visit. Try chatting to working industry members about their drama school experiences, and of course, check the programmes. Do you want a more “method” or Stanislavsky approach, or do you want to be working at the cutting edge or incorporating mime, puppetry, and dance into your Shakespeare?
Some schools are better known for musical theatre courses—perfect if your goal is to kick your legs high in the chorus line—while others will embrace classical texts and authors if your preferred destination is more RSC than Kinky Boots.
Whichever course you choose, remember that this school will be your support network for at least three years (more if you choose to do an MA). You’ll also make some of your best friends here who will be with you thick and thin throughout your career. It used to be that to become a successful actor you’d need to study in London. It certainly helps to be closer to where the majority of castings are while you’re at school, but there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere. Agents attend most showcases, and many regional schools are absolutely superb. Say yes to the places that make you feel comfortable, happy and supported, not the places that you think will “only look great” on your CV.
Of course, there are many more drama schools to choose from, but here’s a selection of some of the better known.
- Arden School of Theatre
- Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
- East 15 Acting School
- Guildford School of Acting
- Drama Studio London
- Manchester School of Drama
- Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
- Oxford School of Drama
- Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, London
- Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
- The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
- Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama
Accredited by Spotlight, Arden offers four acting degrees, which include musical theatre, dance, theatre, and performance. It was established in association with the Royal Exchange Theatre and many of its courses are taught by industry professionals.
The Acting for Live and Recorded Media course gets students prepared for films and TV, while being based in Manchester means it’s well-placed to build strong links to the local community. It’s a great choice if you want to get stage credits quickly, as the school encourages students to throw themselves into the local theatre scene. They’ve recently dropped audition fees to boost diversity among the student body.
One of the oldest theatre schools in the UK, BOVTS boasts graduates including Jeremy Irons, Olivia Colman, Naomie Harris, and Daniel Day-Lewis. As well as a selection of short courses, the conservatoire offers a three-year BA in Acting, which covers acting for the stage, TV, and radio. There is a plethora of facilities on offer, from rehearsal and recording studios, a script library and… an armoury. The campus is located right on the edge of Clifton, which means students can enjoy head-clearing walks and proximity to downtown.
If you’re after an acting conservatory that understands the importance of developing your own practice rather than just rehearsing classic Shakespearean roles, look no further: East 15 embraces techniques as diverse as those taught by Lecoq and Peter Brook, so students have every chance to develop their range. It offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in acting, and was voted number one for drama in the Guardian University Guide 2020. This might have something to do with the Essex-based school’s commitment to a diverse student body. It’s one of the most international schools in London, with actors coming to train from over 20 countries. Undergraduate courses include a range of courses, from a BA in Acting to a BA in World Performance, which explores traditions around the world. Actors can also choose postgraduate degrees: MA Acting and MA Acting (International).
Originally founded as the Grant-Bellairs School of Dance and Drama in 1935, Guildford School of Acting is an established institution that’s seen actors including Bill Nighy and Peter Alexander pass through its doors. Guildford offers a magnitude of traditional theatre courses, but they’re best known for their musical theatre courses—it’s one of the world’s leading musical theatre institutions. With a 220-seat on-site theatre and 90-seat studio space, there are plenty of opportunities to practice, train, and rehearse in a professional setting. Plus, they’re one of the only conservatories to offer distance-learning in drama, which is a progressive way to study for those with busy lives.
The oldest drama school in the UK needs little introduction. Founded in 1861, LAMDA graduates have won 16 Golden Globes, four Academy Awards, 19 BAFTAS, 36 Olivier Awards, and 12 Tonys. Tutors are a mix of visiting professionals and specialists, and there are myriad courses to train in. It’s tricky to get a place at LAMDA—course numbers are limited as LAMDA prioritises teaching in small groups—but the courses are regarded as thorough by the industry. The BA Acting course focuses on the stage but the third year focuses on audio and video training. Applicable LAMDA students may be invited to do a final year showcase in New York, and the Genesis mentoring project allows LAMDA grads to stay part of a strong alumni group.
The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts has also received gold status for teaching excellence, despite being such a new institution. It was founded by Paul McCartney and Mark Featherstone-Witty in 1996 and offers a Foundation Award in Acting, a BA in Acting and an MA in Acting, which its website describes as the perfect degree to create work for touring. LIPA hasn’t been absorbed into a university yet, but it offers degrees accredited by Liverpool John Moores. As well as drama, LIPA also offers applied theatre, dance, and music courses, making it a great destination for the all-rounder.
Founded as a school specialising in providing acting training for over 21s, Drama Studio London describes itself as a “vocational drama studio.” It specialises in shorter diplomas, offering a combination of one- and two-year diplomas in professional acting.
In 2016 it launched a longer, three-year degree in collaboration with Leicester De Montfort University. They describe their approach as “not pushing a single methodology” but one where drama training has classical roots with a modern focus.
Attached to Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester School of Drama has strong links to plenty of employers in the region, from the Royal Exchange to the BBC. Former students include Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths, and an annual student showcase is well-attended by agents and professionals. It currently offers a BA in Acting but it’s developing a BA in Musical Theatre and an MA in Directing, launching in September 2020.
Located in North London, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, also known as Mountview, was founded in 1947. Judi Dench is currently school president, and the college is well known for its alumni support networks. BA students are offered at least 30 hours of contact time a week, and classes are small, with a maximum of 18 students. Exams are accredited by the University of East Anglia and Trinity, and students are supported to build links with industry professionals, agents, and producers.
Thirty-five contact hours a week an hour away from London, Oxford School of Drama has been described as “outstanding” by Ofsted in all areas. It’s located just outside of Oxford, in picturesque countryside. The school offers foundation courses, one-year courses and three-year courses. Graduates from the one- and three-year courses collaborate with local venues to publicly perform, including Oxford’s cutting edge North Wall theatre. Students live in bustling Oxford, just eight miles away, and a bus is available as a shuttle between the college and the city.
The school your grandmother asks you if you’re going to when you tell her you’re studying drama, RADA was established in 1904. It runs a three-year BA in Acting validated by Kings College London. Students are expected to work around 40 hours a week, and will take part in evening and weekend workshops and productions, too. Students receive vocal, physical and imaginative training which allows them to fully take part in theatre productions, TV and film once they graduate. It’s certainly not as exclusive as you might think. RADA hires on talent and emphasises that 50% of students at the conservatoire receive some form of financial support. For postgraduates, RADA offers a one-year MA Theatre Lab, which challenges and pushes performers even further.
Located in Sidcup on the outskirts of London, Rose Bruford is perfect for students wanting to be close enough to the action but far away enough from the bustle. It’s an established drama school with degrees accredited by the University of Manchester offering full- and part-time courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. It was recently given a gold status ranking by the government’s New Teaching Excellence Framework and has also announced that it is expanding to Berlin (if you fancy a change of scenery).
It used to be known as Birmingham School of Acting, but this conservatoire, attached to Birmingham City University, has roots dating back to 1936. It offers courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and alumni can be found gracing musical theatre stages and screens across the country. Actors take part in at least one professional placement while studying, and recently these have included stints at the Royal Opera House and Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre. Birmingham prides itself on encouraging a collaborative approach to training.
Known in the industry simply as Central, the conservatoire has an impressive array of courses to choose from. It’s widely regarded as one of the toughest schools to get into and it joined the University of London in 2005. It’s a big school, with over 1,000 students. Although this may sound overwhelming, it also means there are some brilliant opportunities to make connections. Musical theatre, BA Hons in Acting, and a series of postgraduate opportunities are all on-hand, and the school has seen performers including Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Judi Dench, and Vanessa Redgrave pass through its doors. Degrees include BAs in Acting, Collaborative and Devised Acting, and Musical Theatre Acting, and MAs in Acting for Screen, Music Theatre, and Classical Acting. Students have access to placements at institutions from the Arcola Theatre to the BFI to the National Theatre.
Scotland is crammed with theatres doing exciting, boundary-pushing things, so relocating to Glasgow to pursue a career in performance could be a good move. With alumni including stars like Richard Madden, RCS students can get used to performing in “the Ath,” a 344-seat theatre. The Scottish Opera and Scottish National Theatre are right next door, which means students can expect a vibrant, creative atmosphere while they study. Subject specialists are frequently invited to lecture, so students get wide exposure to talented industry professionals. Courses on offer include BAs in Acting and in Musical Theatre, but also a BA in Performance in British Sign Language and English. There’s something for postgrads too: you can study an MA in Musical Theatre or an MA in Classical and Contemporary text.
Former students can regularly be seen on stage at some of the UK’s biggest stages, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the National. What you get at the RWSMD are small class sizes. It has one of the tiniest intakes of any drama school in the UK. Each year, the school accepts only 22 people onto the undergraduate programme, and just 10 onto its master’s course. As well as reading others’ work, students are encouraged to collaborate and create, which is why many students have gone on to become writers as well as actors, like Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones. Students can choose either the BA in Acting or the MA in Acting for Stage, Screen and Radio.
Of course, traditional schools of acting do not suit everyone, and it is only one of many ways into the industry. For advice on alternative routes to becoming an actor, read: How to Become an Actor in the UK.
And if you’re thinking you may want to train as an actor across the pond, take a look at these Backstage Guides:
Please note that Drama Centre London, part of the University of the Arts London, has announced closure.
Looking for work after graduation? Check out our film audition listings!