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Becoming An Actor: Well done British Drama Schools!

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I’m aware that occasionally this space is taken up with comments focused on some of the less remarkable sides of drama school – me, just generally having a moan. However, if ever there has been cause to give British drama schools a good pat-on-the-back it is now, with the publication of “The Hollywood Reporter’s List of the 25 Top Drama Schools”.

It’s not surprising, given the location in the title of the publication, that the majority of schools on the list are American academies, but that hasn’t stopped the old favourites of RADA, LAMDA and GSMD making it into the top 25 - and rightly so. The British drama school system is producing actors of such talent that they’re making waves across the pond; take the two stars of the American drama Homeland, for example, Damian Lewis (GSMD) and David Harewood (RADA).

I think the reason the British system does so well is that it comes accompanied by a strong theatrical heritage that acts as an example of longevity. The training I’ve experienced places an emphasis on learning your craft indefinitely, on never sitting back and trusting that you’ve “got it”. We’ve studied everything from Shakespeare to Simon Stephens, because the art of theatre is something incredibly important, and will inform peoples transitions onto screen – I’m not suggesting that theatre is, or should ever be considered as, stepping stone to screen work, but it’s no coincidence that some of the greatest actors of the moment, Kenneth Branagh for example, went through a classical British training before showing their faces on big American screens.

London’s theatre scene is also almost unrivalled; the Royal Court puts on fascinating new work that regularly gets exported across the pond, Mike Bartlett’s "Cockfight Play" (renamed by the NY Times from the apparently unprintable "Cock") being the latest example; there are regular tours from the RSC at affordable prices; and the NT is always presenting a broad range of work; not to mention the thriving Fringe scene. If your training in theatre, in London there is almost always something relevant on for you to get your teeth into, as well as giving a compelling example of what to be aiming for.

I had also thought, though I find my opinion being increasingly challenged by the way the industry is behaving, that there was a sense of integrity about British training and theatre. A feeling that acting and theatre were about causing change through the pursuit of art, and not celebrities getting bums on seats – perhaps there is still an element of tradition lingering from the 60s/70s when theatre remained defiant of celebrity culture, lead by people like Grotowski, but the Zach Braff play, written by Zach Braff from Scrubs, starring Zach Braff from Scrubs is a phenomenon becoming more common (though that is, at least, an import). Despite its changing face, the integrity that a large majority of theatre still has is testimony to the training it offers.

So, lets all raise our glasses to the training offered at LAMDA, GSMD, RADA, and to all the unmentioned schools across the UK. Well done us.

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