There is no single entry point into the industry, however nowadays most people entering the profession will have some form of professional training at a drama school, typically Foundation Diplomas, Undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications in acting or performance.
However you don’t have to do a full-time drama degree to become a professional actor, for example the National Youth Theatre Rep Company (for aspiring actors aged 14-25) offers some free courses (ranging from 6 days to 9 months) and generous scholarships/bursaries. 20 Stories High in Liverpool and the Television Workshop based in Nottingham (for under 19s only) also offer free and/or reduced cost training to young aspiring actors. Most of the larger and more established drama schools also run short courses of varying lengths and you may find that doing one of these can help you develop specific skills.
Training (whether at a drama school or not) is essential to learn the necessary skills to stand out in a very competitive marking, most courses cover subjects such as acting, voice, movement, singing, stage combat, audition techniques etc – carefully check each course to see what they cover and if they offer training in the techniques you are interested in. Another added benefit of training is that institutions often offer exposure to and networking opportunities with professionals in the business, such as successful actors, producers, directors, casting agents and practical career guidance on how to best navigate the industry once you’ve completed your course.
How to choose your course
When choosing a course (regardless of length) detailed research is imperative. You need to be sure about what the course does (and does not) offer AND that the training will assist you in gaining the skills to be a competitive applicant in the sector. Also check what their alumni have done since graduation – are they working and/or doing the type of work that you are interested in?
The drama school application process is rigorous and highly competitive, requiring a lot of work and detailed preparation. Many people are accepted into a drama school on their second or third attempt – so keep perservering if you’re not successful first time around. If your application isn’t successful, try to get detailed feedback on what you need to improve and focus on that before you apply again – there are a number of short courses which could help you develop specific skills (see list in “external sources” section below).
There are many drama schools in the UK, offering a range of course options, including new schools offering part time courses such as Identity School of Acting whose most famous alumnus is John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Detroit, Woyzeck – the Old Vic). There are also longer established schools such as RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) whose alumni include Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok, Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre) and Cynthia Erivo (Widows, The Color Purple – Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, New York) and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School with alumni including Charlie Cox (Daredevil, Stardust, The Theory of Everything).
There will be a number of considerations you will need to take into account when deciding on a course, such as location, price, type of course and course content. The Federation of Drama Schools has a list of courses accredited by them and also career advice and tips for working in the industry.
Most people fund their own studies, either with savings or personal/bank loans, as government Student Loans are not available for all courses (however check with each institution). Most schools also have scholarship programmes, so it’s worth checking if you’re eligible.