In this article, third year student Anna Merabishvili explores the difference between acting courses at drama school and her experience of a Drama degree at University of Manchester.
There is a huge difference between studying drama at university and going to drama school, and it is important to know which one is right for you.
Drama school is purely vocational training, and it is intense. Lizzy Hammerton, who graduated last year with a BA in Drama at Manchester and went on to do a Masters in Acting at LAMDA, says, ‘the main difference is the contact hours; we’re in from 9:30 to 9pm doing classes all day…There is no academic work or writing and everything is practical based’. It consists of acting classes, and depending on the drama school, ballroom dance classes, singing lessons, sword fighting, etc.
This completely contrasts with the independent study hours that are given at university. It is normal to have days off, where you are expected to do work outside of contact hours. Classes consist of lectures, seminars and some practical workshops, and usually last no more than a few hours a day.
It is crucial to remember that drama school is for actor training, where the final goal is to get an agent. You do not get graded, but you are being trained professionally for that final showcase, where you will put your talent on show.
Hammerton described her experience at drama school as compared to university: ‘They’re training you for one particular job rather than just teaching you. So your main objective is to get an agent at the end rather than get a good degree’. In drama school, they are interested in your ability to play and use your imagination; academic thinking is not as important.
On the other hand, university is the place for you if you are unsure about what you want to do, or would rather work in other roles in the creative industries. Think about whether you would prefer directing, writing, producing, or perhaps working in backstage or management roles in a theatre? Overall, university is a lot more academic. Expect theoretical readings, and a lot of essay writing; there are practical courses but the amount of practical work you do is up to you.
For example, in third year, drama students are given a choice to do a 40 credit practical course, which are a big part of the degree. I am currently doing Contemporary Theatre Making, a new module run by a well-established theatre-maker Andy Smith. It is on three days a week, and we are given opportunities to act, direct, write, and contribute to every process. The final outcome is a performance, solo or within a group, which we will present in front of our peers.
That is to say that you can still be an actor if you choose to do a degree in drama. In fact, the University of Manchester Drama department prides itself of having several famous actor alumni, such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones, the latter of which recently came back for a Q&A. There is a well established drama society, which offers many opportunities throughout the year to act, direct, produce, write and be creative, allowing students discover the right path for them.
Both drama at university and drama school are great in their own way. It is about figuring out whether you are sure about a career in acting. Even with a degree, a postgraduate course at a drama school is always possible, or perhaps at university you will find something else that you are passionate about.