How to make the most of student life at drama school
Being a student at drama school and learning as an actor-in-training should be exciting, stimulating and inspiring – you should feel challenged and encouraged to push yourself to see what you are capable of achieving and creating, whilst being supported by the bubble of full-time education and being surrounded by like-minded people.
If you are starting your training journey with Fourth Monkey this Autumn, we have put together some of our top tips to help you make the most of your time at drama school, from jumping in feet first without fear of failure to making sure you take care of your mental and physical health, drawing on advice from our Monkey alumni and team of specialist practitioners to make sure our incoming students feel prepared, ready and raring to go when they join us in September!
TIP #1 – Be bold and play!
There is a reason why this message is painted on the walls of the Monkey House as reminder to all staff and students – we want all the actors-in-training who come through our doors to let go of their inhibitions, roll up their sleeves and get ready to ‘play’!
Whilst at drama school, you should feel able to explore different ways of working (including some that you never have heard of or tried before!), experiment with who you are as a performer, and push the boundaries of your capability and creativity. As part of this process, it is important to not to fear “failure” or worry about making mistakes – after all, you are there to learn and to be challenged, and sometimes the best way to learn is not just remembering how wonderful it was to succeed but reminding yourself about how you bounced back and learned from the mistakes you made.
Within the protective bubble of the school environment, there are no judges and there is no scrutiny, just your practitioners who are there to guide and advise you to help you reach your potential, so make the most of the opportunity and go for it – be confident, be positive and be bold, and don’t worry if you do fall on your face or your ideas don’t work out the way you thought or hoped they would from time to time.
TIP #2 – Embrace the ensemble and be ready to collaborate
As well as learning about different acting techniques and disciplines, your time at drama school is also for learning about how to collaborate and work as part of an ‘ensemble’.
Whilst training, you will meet a great variety of people from a range of different backgrounds, with a wide range of differing views and opinions, and learning how to devise and create work collaboratively with these people will be one of your biggest challenges, as well as one of the most important lessons you will learn in preparation for life as a professional actor and theatre maker. If you can be open to other people’s ideas, suggestions and feedback, be generous in your own performance by making opportunities for others as well as for yourself, and take a step back and work out how to resolve potentially difficult situations or disagreements in a diplomatic and reasonable manner whenever they arise, it will stand you in great stead for being flexible and able to collaborate successfully with anyone and everyone throughout your career.
Your guiding principle during your time at drama school should be the desire to create bold, innovative and thought-provoking work – as exciting as it can be to be the “star” and have the limelight, you might find that it is even more exciting to work collaboratively as an ensemble with your fellow students, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s ideas are explored and given space. From your first day to your last, if you are ready and open to act, make, move and collaborate with your ensemble, you will reap the rewards and make the most of your drama school training, as well as leave fully-equipped and well-prepared for working life in the wider industry.
TIP #3 – Dive in and discover new ideas
If you are refreshing your memory of the techniques and disciplines included in your chosen actor training programme before term starts and you are worried that you are not familiar with some of them, or even if you have never heard of them before, don’t panic! Your time at drama school should be about discovery – learning more about specialist disciplines and niche techniques that you might not have encountered at school or college, experimenting with movement and different ways of using your physicality as a performer, how to use your voice to its full abilities and generally looking at new and exciting ways of working.
Here at Fourth Monkey, the core focus for our training is encouraging our students to access their ability to work from impulse. We do this by teaching them how to connect with their body and their breath, and thinking about how to then shift these impulses from the physical (using your body) to the emotional (using your mind) by studying the Meisner technique, alongside looking at the physical practices of Corporeal Mime and Grotowski as a means of exploring movement and using the body as a tool for performance.
For some students, this will be a familiar way of working and they will be excited to further their existing knowledge and understanding of these methods – if so, great! For others, they will be completely in the dark and starting from scratch when training kicks off – if so, don’t worry! No drama school expects you to walk through the doors already an expert, you are there to develop your skills under the guidance of expert practitioners who will be passionate and enthusiastic about sharing their specialist knowledge – as long as you are open-minded, committed and willing to learn, you will know your Lecoq from your Decroux and your Bausch from your Brecht in no time.
If you are really concerned about your base knowledge, why not seek out some background reading or viewing around the subjects, techniques and practitioners that form the core of the training you are about to embark on, or about theatre in general? As well as helping broaden your understanding before you start your course, doing some reading around or watching some livestreamed performances will hopefully give you a confidence boost and remind you that you know more than you think you do!
TIP #4 – Be kind to yourself!
Your drama school training will be both physically and mentally stimulating and demanding, with an emphasis on being able to keep up with the challenges and rigours of learning new disciplines, including using your body as a tool as a performer in ways that you may have never explored before. You will need to make sure you are fit and strong to help you embrace the sweat and see what you are capable as a physical performer! Alongside the physical sessions and movement classes included in your training, incoming students are encouraged to add some stretching and meditative exercises to their regime, such as yoga or Pilates, and some cardio, such as swimming, running or cycling. Not only will this help you with your ability to connect with and listen to your body, it will also make you stronger and give you the energy you need to make the most of exploring the physical and movement aspects of your training. Your body is the most important physical tool you have as a performer, so you need to look after it and treat it kindly – this means keeping it fit and strong, listening to aches and pains and resting when necessary, fuelling it with nutritious, wholesome food, and making sure you get plenty of sleep. As our Head of Voice advises, it will be easier to be bold and play if you are well-fed, well-rested and well-energised!
As well as taking care of your physical health, you need to take care of your mental health. From meeting new people and making new friends, to discovering and exploring a new city, to having more independence if you are living away from home for the first time, there will plenty to keep you busy and entertained on top of your training. Occasionally these changes can be stressful and overwhelming, and knowing where to turn for support can sometimes be difficult when you are in a new environment, particularly if you are struggling with something you do not feel comfortable sharing with your new friends just yet.
If you are joining Fourth Monkey this Autumn, you will be given access to the Togetherall platform – an online mental health community, available 24/7 and monitored by trained mental health professionals. Here, you will be able to access a range of resources and courses to help self-manage your mental health and wellbeing, and discuss whatever you might be experiencing with the online community. Plus, it is completely anonymous to help users feel more comfortable when sharing and discussing whatever it is you are experiencing or struggling with.
When you finish your training journey, you will find yourself in an industry notorious for rejection and criticism and it is important to know how to cope with this, how to take time for yourself and how to recognise if you need extra help and support at any point, and being kind to yourself is a big step in the right direction for making sure this is the case. This includes making sure you take physical exercise to help clear your mind (as well as staying fit and strong!), eating healthily and getting plenty of sleep, having a strong support network around you and, most importantly, not being too hard on yourself if you do come up against rejection or criticism. This can be easier said than done, but hopefully the lessons learned during your training journey such as being open to collaboration and working as an ensemble, being bold and ready to play, and learning from those moments which didn’t quite work out how you thought they would, will help prepare you for a long and fulfilling career as an actor and theatre maker!
Get even more great advice and top tips from Fourth Monkey alumni and practitioners by checking out our series of recent Q&As via our Latest News.