Friday, 7 October 2011

Proactively Acting

We were often reminded at drama school how lucky we were to be there. How we had been picked over the countless other individuals who had applied and that we should never take our coveted positions for granted. I'm sure much of this was propaganda to stop us from complaining when we had to do another class on the sound of the letter 'e' (I often wonder if my drama school is otherwise known as the Sesame Street Academy) and ensure that we didn't just use Alexander Technique classes as a chance to sleep off our hangover. I once remember reading that based on applications made to the number of spaces available, getting into an accredited drama school is more competitive than getting into Oxbridge. This type of statistic horrifies me because not only am I very uncompetitive but it really shouldn't be harder to get into somewhere that teaches you how to accurately portray a cow than somewhere that teaches you how to single-handedly save the world (I assume this is all they teach there...)

However, once you've been through drama school you realise that it's the bit on the other side that's the tough part. And this wonderful article in The Guardian yesterday explains this better than I ever could. I firmly believe that drama schools do need to do more to prepare their students for the outside world. Apart from one particular drama school, I think the rest are guilty of making their students believe that the path of a graduated thesp are paved with castings, auditions and roles galore. Of course it's not. It's bloody tough and unless you land yourself with a damn good agent, you walk out feeling as alone as The Lone Ranger after being dumped the day before Valentine's Day. Most drama school students have very little experience of the acting industry and you're therefore lead to believe that some big casting director in the sky will wave their magic wand on the day you leave and that the rest of your life will be  a whirlwind of West End shows, independent films and BAFTA winning TV appearances. No one explains that the experience for most actors is that you'll feel lucky when a student who is younger than you offers you three lines in their 10 minute film in return for a bag of crisps and a cup of tea (to be fair, I will do most things for crisps and tea.) After a few months of emailing yourself, checking your voicemail constantly and having a morning battle with your postman, you realise that in fact that they're all functioning normally and it's just you that isn't working. Although I should add that not long after graduating, my voicemail stopped working for about two weeks. It miraculously started working again and I found, amongst the countless messages from friends asking if I was going out that night/where did I fancy meeting that night/where did I disappear to at the end of the night, a message offering me what would have been my first professional role. The date for the job had been and gone by this point and a lifetime's supply of swears was dispatched in 5 seconds flat.

But the truth is that drama schools need to be realistic with their students. Just because it's always been well documented that there's a lack of work out there doesn't mean that that's a legitimate excuse to thrust their graduates, shaking and clueless, in the big bad world of unemployment. Surely there should be an emphasis on teaching actors to add more strings to their poorly working one-stringed bow. The skills to write, direct and produce have become just as important now if you decide that you can wait no longer for the magic job fairy to come knocking at the door and therefore need to start making your own work. Sadly the year I left drama school, there was very much a feel of 'screw you guys, I'm off to make myself famous and I look forward to trampling on all of you while I'm at it.' And while that competitive spirit is partly necessary, it also makes you a horrible human being and has actually lead to a lot of my year falling by the wayside and were left flailing around in the ditches of the acting industry. Now this could of course be more down to my particular year (which was so combative that stage fighting classes were almost deemed unnecessary) but not once during our training were we encouraged to get out there and do our own thing. We were never told that we could create our own work and were instead taught that we were precious, talented beings who would be constantly fought over.

Of course, writing this blog should mean that I'm now myself encouraged to get out and create my own work. But then there's also the chance that my big break is just around the corner so there's no need. Let me just check my email's working one more time...

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