Some of you might remember this blog: http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-the-audition-problem/ a reflective blog looking at the annual audition 'problems'. If you didn't read it at the time, please do nip across now and have a little look.
As part of my job, and in an attempt to keep up with what's going on in the 'real world', (as us theatricals don't really nip out there enough really do we?) I've been researching drama school auditions and trying to find out what information there is out there for parents.
I know (for example), that when I went to college, my parents, having nothing to do with theatre, were really anxious about me making the 'right choice'. Like most parents their idea of the 'right choice' proved to be very different from mine. I found out not that long ago actually, that my father had been holding out for me to go down the Conservatoire route, even though that hadn't been on my radar for one second. Back then there was a clear choice between a university and a thing called a Polytechnic. Now we don't have those two options anymore, as eventually all the Polys (as we used to call them), morphed into universities. I think that back then, most people felt like the Poly was the poor man's university. The thing that you got into if you couldn't get high grades(as they seemed to base their grade requirements on whether they wanted you or not. So I was getting offers of a couple of Es all because they thought that I'd fit in, whereas the universities were asking for Cs and Bs). Well certainly that was my family's take on the whole thing anyway. So you can imagine the joy when a) having done the rounds of both universities and polys I way preferred the poly approach to teaching and b) I dared to say the immortal words of 'I want to go to this one'...to Middlesex....Polytechnic. At that time their Performing Arts course was considered to be one of the best in the UK. To be called a BAPA (BA in Performing Arts) was actually quite an honour. In fact to this day I consider it a major achievement that I was invited to be on that course.
As it turned out being a BAPA was perfect for me, the course suited me so well (all practical training with literally about one essay a term....if that). They assessed me on doing shows. I mean what more could I have asked for? Even their final exam paper was a 'seen question'..perfect for the practical musician who didn't really see the point of picking up a pen, when she could have been sat at the piano.
Even more interestingly I returned to the BAPA course just 3 months after graduating, this time as 'lecturer' (before you say it....I don't think that that was right either, but at the time, it certainly fed my ego to be invited back to teach on this amazing course, even though I had gained literally no experience since graduating with the exception of teaching on one children's Summer school project). Fast forward 4 years and I was teaching (lecturing) at a 'university' as Middlesex Polytechnic ceased to exist, and Middlesex University was born. Not a thing had changed, I was still teaching the same things (I did have more experience by this point, and I had started to write modules for the course)....suddenly I was teaching in a place that my parents had wanted me to study. In other words, it truly was all about 'a name'. Nothing about the reality of the situation.
It's the same with drama colleges really isn't it? One day they were all offering diplomas, then seemingly overnight they were offering degrees. All of a sudden 'informed parents' wanted their children to have a degree whilst studying to be a performer, as that seemed better than the old diploma. I wonder how much the courses changed to accommodate that qualification? A few more essays? Definitely a whole load more paperwork for the teachers I bet, and why did it change? Well it's simple...funding. A college offering a degree got more core funding than a college offering a diploma. It was never about the training....it was all about the ££'s. Just like when the polys became a university. Nothing really changed, but the bank accounts looked healthier, and the staff looked a bit more stressed with the additional task of working their way through lots of red tape.
From what I can see the information for parents out there is as confusing as it always was. They are forced onto various forums asking questions from the people that haven't actually any real knowledge, just a sense of camaraderie from other parents (and students) that have already 'gone through the system'. Sadly, from what I can see though, it's a bit like googling an illness.....you get told a whole lot of things that you really don't need/want to hear.
There's a whole issue here about why aren't some 6th form drama/dance teachers more informed. I've certainly heard from a few in my time asking for information on our course, and our entry requirements etc, but compared to how many people are doing A Level Theatre studies/dance or BTEC it's really negligible. So who the hell is actually informing people of the realities?
So here's some unbiased information for parents currently trying their best to work their way through the maze of the forums. a) you really do not need a degree to be a performer...it's the training that the course provides not the piece of paper at the end of it that will enable your child to have a career as a performer(they'd actually succeed with nothing....but seemingly nobody offers that). b) If you go down the degree route your child will receive more funding options e.g. Student Loans, etc. c) In a specialist subject e.g. dance, your child could still become a teacher later on in life without getting a degree now. There are courses that they can go on later which will enable them to get onto a PG programme in teaching. Let your child work out what route suits them - be it a uni route or a vocational drama/dance school route. They are so different, and only your child will know what fits for them. Check the contact hours of the uni/college. I think that that's the key to good training. Drama UK (which used to be the parent's Holy Grail of good drama school training with their 'accreditation' programme has slightly disintegrated, as major colleges e.g. RADA, LAMDA have stopped paying their extortionate fees), however they still represent what they consider to be the 'elite' insist that their colleges have a minimum of 30 hours contact time/week. Check out what industry links the college/staff have? Ask to see their latest statistics - who cares if Sir Imanan Actor trained there 50 years ago....what are the stats for today? Be wary of soundbites. "6 students in the West End straight from college" sounds amazing, until you find out that their course trains 75 in a year? Find out what happened to the other 69 people that they didn't mention. Now it could very well be that all of them found representation, and all of them went straight into employment too...but ask the question. If the college is shouting about the fact that all of their students had found agent representation on graduating, just double check whether the college has an agency of their own...and how many of the 'all' are currently represented by them!
Our industry is notorious for a high drop out rate post graduating. Find out what their percentages are? If you take the degree route you're going to have to pay £27,000+ for that piece of paper that you believe is so important. That becomes a very expensive ornament if 6 months down the line your child decides that working in retail is more their thing (before you say it, the money or course wasn't completely wasted because your child 'found themselves' and the experiences offered to them over the 3 years will enhance their lives forever....but admit it, you'd be a little aggrieved).
It's all to do with gut instinct...it has to be. If you're the parent pushing your child in one direction it's not going to work out. Had my dad had his way, there is no doubt that I just would have failed, as I had no interest in the route that he considered to be the best for me.
The reality is that if your child wants to be a performer, nobody cares what qualification they've got. We all just care about what they can do. As I always say, what's the difference between a diploma pirouette and a degree pirouette? When you go into that open dance call and they ask to see "the triple", do you think that they ask to see the piece of paper first to see where you studied? Then does it matter what class degree you got? Are you more likely to secure that film role because you got a first than the person behind you that got a third....but who is better suited to the role. . . . because they're shorter?
Insist on a degree because you think that they have more options later on in life, only to discover that they've been having 10 contact hours a week and have made no industry links at all...you'll soon find yourself looking at spending in excess of a further £15,000 as your child slowly realises that they need to do some sort of post grad course in order to actually get some industry links (let alone more consistent training). Every year I'm horrified at the number of students that audition for The MTA's course, in their third year of college, or a year out after training at a uni. Those poor parents are being forced to pay double whammy because they didn't know what questions to ask the first time around.
So I hope that this has helped you a bit. If you have a question....why not call me at The MTA, or any of the other colleges and ask us the questions? Hell call Drama UK (it might actually give them a purpose). Call Equity or Spotlight? Call any professional organisation! After all it's in our interest to give you the facts, not the fiction of what you think our industry is currently demanding. Be wary of the internet oracle - find out who they are and what they're basing their knowledge on. Being anonymous can afford some people more status than they perhaps deserve.
Don't forget at the end of the day you're not just another day older . . . you are also potentially £27,000 poorer.
Disclaimer: This of course is just all IMHO...but I really hope that it helps you out a little bit ;-)