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Drama and acting

Leaflet Q 01
July 2011

Working as an actor is competitive, demanding and often insecure, but for many people acting is a challenging and rewarding career. Very few people become famous – but stardom is not everyone's goal. Entry requirements for drama school courses vary, but A levels, or their equivalent, may be needed.

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Professional acting

From the outside, acting appears to be a glamorous profession, leading to a celebrity lifestyle! In reality, most actors (male or female) experience a lot of rejections and long periods between acting jobs. When a part does come along, it can involve long and unsociable hours. Many actors don't make sufficient money to live on just by acting, and have to earn a living in other ways.

Actors must be skilled and talented. They also have to have plenty of stamina, dedication and self-discipline. As well as memorising lines and movements, actors may have to research and practise a change of accent or different postures, as well as changes in their appearance.

Actors have to work to strict schedules and, come what may, they must be ready when the 'curtain goes up'. Rehearsals and performances cannot be missed unless you are at death's door! The unreliable actor or actress is the one who doesn't get the job. A high degree of responsibility towards fellow performers and to the production is always essential. Despite all this, actors who do succeed in making a living will tell you it's a brilliant career! And it's usually one where you can go on working well into old age, if you want to. Some actors move into directing or writing.

Where do actors work?

  • In productions for television– there are opportunities for leading and supporting roles, walk-on and 'extra' parts, stunt work and commercials.

  • For regional repertory theatres, small-scale touring companies, fringe companies and theatre-in-education companies – this work is demanding in terms of the performance skills and dedication needed. Some actors still start out in regional repertory companies offering short seasons of farces, thrillers, contemporary plays and classics. Some companies offer relatively long-term contracts.

  • In plays and shows staged in major theatres– in cities and towns, including London's West End. However, in recent years, economic pressures have affected cast sizes and, therefore, job opportunities.

  • In films– the film industry in the UK has gained worldwide recognition for a number of excellent productions from relatively small UK movie-makers. If you are keen on the idea of being a film extra, finding work is largely a matter of luck – being in the right place at the right time. You could approach one of the agencies that supply extras, but check what they offer. If they charge a joining fee, find out exactly what they will deliver in return. Film companies sometimes contact local drama groups for extras. They may also advertise in the local press or in The Stage(see end of leaflet).

  • In radio dramaproductions – there are opportunities at both national and regional level.

  • Doing other miscellaneous work– TV or radio presenting, dubbing, voice-overs, advertisements, club/cruise ship entertainment and training videos.

Stunt work

Increasingly, stunts are computer-generated, both for financial and safety reasons. The amount of work available is therefore declining. Stunt artists are freelance, and pay varies according to skills and experience. A stunt artist is both performer and technician – mixing dramatic abilities with technical feats – with a range of skills that may include driving, parachuting, horse riding, gymnastics, martial arts and diving. Because stunt performers often set up stunts and check the equipment that is used, they have to have a good technical understanding of what is going on – including camera angles etc. Stunt artists need to be very fit and active with fast reactions. It's a short and competitive working life, and the work can be uncomfortable and dangerous. After 'retirement' from undertaking stunts, it may be possible to move into work as a stunt arranger or coordinator.

There is a Joint Industry Stunt Committee register, which film and TV producers use as a directory of stunt performers and coordinators. Most people start by joining the register as a probationary member. To progress to intermediate membership, you have to serve a probationary period of at least three years, meet the register's grading criteria and be assessed as meeting the standards required. The final category of membership is full membership. Be wary of employers looking for non-registered performers. For further information, view:
www.jigs.org.uk

Equity

While it's not absolutely necessary to belong to Equity, the actors' union, most employers have casting agreements with Equity, so membership is virtually essential. Membership entitles you to advice on contracts, pay etc and to relevant insurance cover.

Students on full-time higher education courses lasting a year or more, in performance or a related subject, can join as student members when they start their course. People successfully completing a vocational course at one of the 22 member organisations of the Conference of Drama Schools (CDS) can also join on graduation. Other ways to become a member of Equity include becoming a paid performer, singer or dancer, or getting into one of the small alternative fringe and children's theatre companies. Working for a non-Equity company can leave you without protection and, possibly, open to exploitation.

Possession of an Equity card, however, is no guarantee of employment. To get an acting job you need to convince a director of your acting ability, at an audition. Employers generally prefer to hire performers who have previous professional experience and Equity membership. This doesn't make work easy to get, but it does ensure that certain minimum standards of pay and conditions can be maintained. Minimum pay rates are negotiated by Equity; more information can be obtained from Equity, or viewed on their website (see end of leaflet).

Related careers

There are many other opportunities besides performance. These include production, stage management, directing, theatre management or administration, lighting, wardrobe, make-up, set design and construction etc. See other leaflets in this series for more information.

Teaching drama

Drama teachers can work in both state and independent schools where drama is part of the curriculum. You need Qualified Teacher Status to work in state schools. Many teachers of drama also offer another teaching subject – often, but not necessarily, English. Besides schools, there are opportunities to teach in colleges of further education, institutions of higher education, specialist drama schools, theatre groups, youth theatre workshops and arts centres.

Dramatherapy

Dramatherapists use acting techniques to help people who have suffered trauma, people with mental health problems and those with learning disabilities. Through drama, people can express aspects of their problems that they may otherwise find difficult to communicate. Some dramatherapists are employed by the NHS, others work in a range of settings including in prisons, special education, social services and the voluntary sector. See leaflet JG 01 for more details.

Education and training

Getting started...

Getting into drama school is competitive and, normally, the more experience you have before applying, the better will be your chance of getting a place. If you are still at school, make sure that you take advantage of opportunities to perform in school productions, of course, and join any school drama groups. Out of school, there may be a local youth theatre or drama group, or theatre workshops at weekends or in the holidays. Such opportunities can offer a valuable insight into performance as well as stage management – they are also a good chance to socialise and have fun!

The National Youth Theatre (NYT) runs auditions for those aged 13 to 21 during, and around, February half term each year. If you are successful, you are offered a place on a summer acting course. After attending such a course, you can audition to take part in NYT productions. This kind of course has been the starting point of many an acting career!

In addition to gaining performing experience, try to watch some live theatre as well, if you can. Because acting is a difficult profession to get into, and to find regular work in, it is advisable to take your general education to as high a level as you can before starting professional training.

Level 3 courses

Many further education colleges and some schools offer BTEC Level 3 Nationalqualifications in performing arts. These are broad-based, practical courses with pathways in acting. Four GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent are normally required for entry. Similarly, there are AS/A levelsin performing arts or drama and theatre studies. If you live in England, some schools and colleges offer the Advanced Diplomain creative and media, which might be relevant.

Professional training

Most professional actors train via the drama school route. Drama schools offer diploma and degree courses, lasting up to three years. Of the 22 members of the Conference of Drama Schools (CDS), most offer degree courses in acting. The majority of courses are accredited by the NCDT.

There are also specialised degree and diploma courses in directing and technical theatre/stage management at a number of the drama schools.

The CDS and NCDT can provide information about drama schools and accredited courses. As mentioned above, entry is competitive; for some accredited courses there's only one place per 50 applicants. When choosing a school, find out about the methods of teaching – the approach to actor training can vary from place to place. Find out also about student destinations, and try to attend student productions. Be very wary of expensive courses at unaccredited drama schools.

Drama schools usually take students for three-year acting courses from the age of 18, or graduates for entry to postgraduate courses. Selection depends largely on an audition, but you should check with individual drama schools about any specific entry requirements. Courses leading to degrees require A levels or equivalent qualifications for entry. Check individual course entry requirements carefully.It's not essential to have studied drama or performance as an academic subject, in order to get into drama school.

You can train in stage combat through the British Academy of Stage & Screen Combat or the British Academy of Dramatic Combat. For details, see:
www.bassc.org
www.badc.co.uk

Other degree-level courses

Apart from going to drama school, it's also possible to take a degree in drama/performing arts at a college or university. However, these courses are generally more academic; training people to be actors is not their main aim. Graduates of such courses may, therefore, need further vocational training at a drama school, such as a one-year postgraduate course, before they can expect to start work as professional actors.

Each year, UCAS runs the Compose your futureexhibition, which allows you to find out more about performing arts courses. The 2011 event is in Manchester on 17th October.

Postgraduate courses

There are NCDT-accredited postgraduate courses in acting and stage management, suitable for those who already hold a degree (in any subject) or have relevant professional experience. Postgraduate teacher training courses in drama are also available at a number of universities. To train as a teacher in state schools, you must have GCSEs at grades A*-C in maths and English, and also in science for primary school teaching.

Finance for training

There are various ways of funding acting, stage management or technical theatre courses.
  • Those who take a degree course at a university, or at a drama school that is validated by a university, fall under the same financial arrangements as students of any other degree subject. For more information, see leaflet 2.33 in this series.

  • Funding is available through the Dance and Drama Awardsscheme for students on certain drama courses at accredited drama schools – see below.
  • Undergraduates of institutions of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama may be eligible for a Conservatoire Bursary. For information, see:
    www.cdd.ac.uk
  • Some accredited courses do not attract any state funding, in which case the student may be liable for fees of around £13,000 or more per year, plus living costs.

Dance and Drama Awards

The Dance and Drama Awards scheme helps a number of talented new students entering dance and drama training each year. Students must be aged 18 or over for acting or stage management courses, and meet certain nationality and residential requirements. There is no upper age limit. You must be taking a course at one of 21 accredited training providers, leading to a Trinity College London Diploma qualification. Courses last between one and three years.

You apply for an Award through your chosen provider. If successful, the Award pays the majority of your tuition fees; you are required to make a contribution of £1,275 (for the 2011/2012 academic year). If your household income is less than £33,000, you will can also get help with living and childcare costs through a non-repayable grant of up to £5,460 (depending on circumstances).

For further details on Dance and Drama Awards, see:
www.direct.gov.uk/danceanddrama


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For Further Information

Equity– tel: 020 7379 6000.
www.equity.org.uk

The Conference of Drama Schools (CDS)– publishes the CDS Guide to Professional Training in Drama & Technical Theatreand CDS Guide to Careers Backstage,which can downloaded from the website. Alternatively, the training guide is available, free of charge, from French's Theatre Bookshop (tel: 020 7255 4300).
www.drama.ac.uk

National Council for Drama Training (NCDT)– tel: 020 7407 3686. The website carries information on training, funding and details of accredited courses, and you can download An Applicant's Guide to Auditioning and Interviewing at Dance and Drama Schools.
www.ncdt.co.uk

Spotlight– tel: 020 7437 7631. Publishes registers of actors, presenters and stunt artists. Website includes a calendar of drama school performances and careers advice (click on 'Performers' and 'Career Advice'):
www.spotlight.com

Trinity College London– tel: 020 7820 6100. See the College website for information about their qualifications in acting and related subjects.
www.trinitycollege.co.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills– tel: 020 7015 1800. The Sector Skills Council covering the performing arts.
www.ccskills.org.uk

National Association of Youth Theatres– tel: 01325 363330.
www.nayt.org.uk

For information about the National Youth Theatre, see:
www.nyt.org.uk

Working in Creative and Performing Arts – published by Babcock Lifeskills, £9.50.

Progression to Journalism, Broadcasting, Media Production and Performing Arts– published by UCAS, £15.99.

Contacts –a comprehensive annual guide listing contacts in the entertainment industry. Published by Spotlight (see above), £12.99 (plus £3.00 p&p).

The Stage– weekly magazine available on subscription or from newsagents (Thursdays). During 2011, The Stageis offering various scholarships for performing arts courses, see the website for details:
www.thestage.co.uk
© Copyright 2009, All rights reserved - Nord Anglia Lifetime Development SW Ltd
 
 

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