So you didn’t get into drama school? First, do not panic because you are not alone. It’s not unusual to get a rejection letter on your first time and unfortunately in the world of acting, it’s unlikely to be your last rejection.
Take it on the chin and rest assured, rejection is character building – you are now officially a better person and a more experienced actor.
Would you be surprised if I told you that one of the most frequently asked questions by budding actors is “what should I do if I don’t get into drama school?” This means that rejections are pretty common, and why wouldn’t they be: drama schools only have a small amount of places with thousands of actors applying.
But the truth is that a whole bunch of some of your favourite actors both established and contemporary have been rejected by a drama school, or have dropped out.
Some of them didn’t even go to a drama school at all. Sir Ian McKellan, John Thaw and Judi Dench are among the acting royalty who did not attend a drama school. More contemporary actors on the scene that didn’t go to drama school include James Corben and Matt Smith (the new Dr Who).
If you didn’t get accepted into a drama school, the first thing to get into your head is that not getting into drama school is not the end of the world. However, this doesn’t mean that you should completely forget about the idea of going to a drama school either. You can simply try again next year.
What should you do in the meantime? In this article I’ll provide you with some helpful tips and advice on how to continue following your dream career in acting while you’re preparing yourself for the second round of auditions in a year. We’ll take a look at booking acting jobs without a degree and bettering yourself as an actor in general.
“I Didn’t Get Into a Drama School: What Should I Do Now?”
First, I’ll comb through some general advice and then you will find two further sections: one focused on the Under 25’s and one for ‘The Overs” (to use the X Factor expression). This is because Under 25’s have specific opportunities so it makes sense for clarity.
First thing’s first
It’s really important to ask yourself whether you want to pursue drama school training, especially after you didn’t get in on the first try. Many aspiring actors get discouraged when the rejection letter comes in and do not wish to try that anymore.
You must remember, however, that rejection is part of this profession. As an actor, you’ll experience rejection for the rest of your career, no matter how big and famous you become. It comes with the job.
There are many pros to training at a drama school, but there are also cons. You can read up on these in our article about drama schools and universities for acting.
Basically, if you decide to apply for drama school again next year and hopefully get in, you’ll receive the best acting training an aspiring performer can get as well as leave with some great contacts, a degree that you can actually leverage in the industry and possibly even already be signed by a talent agent.
On the flip side, you will be leaving drama school with a debt (tuition in the UK costs 9,000 GBP a year, for a 3-year degree). Although scholarships and financial aid are provided to many students, and in the UK it’s much easier to pay off your student loans than it is in the US, it’s still something to consider.
Fortunately, going to a drama school is not the only path you can become a working actor, and a good one at that.
What to do instead of a drama school
Jenny Stephens, Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic drama school, suggests that if you don’t get into drama school first time around like hundreds of others that are now at her school, you should make sure the year in between applications is focus on improving yourself as an actor.
Working on your acting skills for another year will increase your chances of giving a better audition next time, as well as show the school that you are dedicated.
Here’s a quick breakdown of her advice on how to get your plans into action today:
- Go the theatre
This can get expensive quickly, especially if you choose to visit West End for every one of your trips. Instead, why not go to the productions at those drama schools you didn’t get into?
Or go to the productions at youth and community theatres, or visit intimate theatre plays where actors put together their own plays. You will expose yourself to a whole array of different genres and you can even take notes on the performances and make connections.
This one is simple, self-explanatory and obvious. Try to read everything from novels to plays to memoirs to acting books, and get taught by and inspired by whatever you read.
If you’re focused on reading schools on acting craft and business, or about drama schools, then take notes. London loves literature, and many cafes here have bookshelves with book exchange. There’s also plenty of book groups where you can get involved to find like-minded people, some of whom are guaranteed to be actors as well.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a writer, because learning to create characters and stories helps you to get inside the mind of different personas – something that acting is all about.
Writing is essential for actors to exercise their imagination, yet not so many actors do it. We’ve previously talked about the importance of writing to become a more creative actor.
- Understand humanity
You’ve heard this one before: observe people. And remember to live your life to the fullest. Through travelling, going to cultural events, reading and people watching you’ll prime yourself for scratching the surface of different characters.
“In order to write about life first you must live it.” – Ernest Hemingway
You could even play a little game with yourself over a cup of coffee: find a busy spot, grab a pew with a view and create a character for each passer-by. When I used to work in the office as my survival job, I would do that very often with every new person I’d see.
- The alternative but flexible career
Developing a skill in something you can do other than acting is something that will always be there when you go through a dry patch or while you’re trying to make it.
If you choose this path instead of training yourself as an actor for that one year, then do some research into what you could do and what can provide you a good day job when you’ll be pursuing your acting dream. It’s likely you’ll find something better than something like waiting on tables.
Young’Uns (aged 24 and under)
It’s often advised to actors to check out local youth theatres for opportunities, and rightfully so.
Youth theatre can build experience and contact links for an actor who’s just starting out, and often offer other industry routes like writing, directing and producing skills.
Building a network of other like-minded actors, writers and directors helps you create a community of support and expand your opportunities. The top five youth theatre picks according to The Stage are: Ovalhouse, the Lyric Hammersmith, the Almeida, the Tricycle and the Young Vic.
Pros: they’re often cheap and part-time
Cons: because they’re local, funding might be targeted to a specific London borough so not open to all. In this case, it’s a postcode lottery.
If you don’t want to commit to a longterm project, enrolling into a masterclass might be a great way to hone your craft. The National Youth Theatre (NYT) offers various week long classes and cost around £299 for the week for those aged 15-25.
Former members of the NYT include Daniel Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Bonneville and Helen Mirren. Not bad.
To find out what Masterclasses are available at National Youth Theatre, check out their What’s On page on the website for the most up to date information
- Acting for Screen – focussed on developing skills and knowledge for actors wishing to take a TV and Film career path;
- Audition technique – focused on everything you need to know about auditions including choosing the right audition piece and a chance to get invaluable feedback from top professionals;
- Performing Shakespeare – this classical acting masterclass focuses on classic acting skills as well as exploring Shakespearean texts.
Finally, you can even try some online acting classes. It may not be wise to stick only to these, but if you have the time and some extra funds, it could be worth it.
For ‘The Overs’ (aged 25 and up)
For those of you pursuing a career in acting that are over 25 (if you’re a lot over, then read this article as well), you won’t be looking at youth theatre, but there is still community theatre.
Here’s a list of drama clubs and community theatres in London.
You will also likely have different commitments than younger actors such as family or a mortgage so fitting the acting craft into your life in a way that doesn’t break the bank or your daily structure is a top priority.
Here are the top tips from members of CastingCallPro in response to alternative paths to drama school. I think this will be perfect for those of you pursuing a career in acting and who are over 25:
- Secure alternative but flexible income first
When you audition for a job through necessity rather than desire, it can come through in the performance which is a recipe for disaster.
Finding a day job outside of acting that is flexible and pays the bills is a real must so that you never lose your passion.
- Work with an acting coach and take part in workshops.
Private acting schools, acting classes and even short-term acting workshops will hone your craft and help you prepare mentally for life as an actor as well as for your upcoming drama school audition.
- Read and get inspired
If you’re looking at pursuing any type of career in show business, reading about it as well as the craft can benefit you greatly. Here’s a list of best acting technique books and best acting business books.
Read other actors’ biographies as well to learn how they did it where and have them reveal the hard work they put in to get where they are today.
- Adult Education Centres
Nearly every town across London and the UK have Adult Ed centres where you can enroll to thousands of different courses to help hone your craft or develop a different skill for that flexible job you will need as a struggling actor.
It’s a good idea to take a course on camera technique – it’s not something you focus on much in drama schools and it will give you an edge over other actors.
Here a working actor Forbes KB shares his story: he started his acting career at 39 – he didn’t go to drama school and through talent and hard work has now been in the showbiz for 9 years and counting. As well as getting to be a professional actor, the benefits include looking back with pride at being in some amazing productions plus lifelong friendships.
Remember: even if you do manage to get into a drama school in the future, this type of acting training is not for everyone and some actors just don’t take to it.