The first stage on the long road to stardom

We've all heard of Rada, but there are many other ways to get your act together
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The Independent Online

How many of us could honestly say we've never had a fleeting ambition to be up there on the stage in the spotlight, absorbing applause from an adoring audience?

That latent desire to perform and be the centre of attention explains why drama schools receive applications by the vanload. In fact, most institutions report an increase in interest in their courses; hardly surprising, given the proliferation of of TV talent shows. A search on the Ucas website ( reveals arange of courses containing the words "theatre" or "performance".

Two things are immediately clear. First, the household-name drama schools now structure their training around three-year degree courses, giving graduates a transferable qualification, as well as a chance to make it in showbiz. And second, many traditional universities now also offer degree programmes with a large performance content.

Birmingham University, to pick one, has a three-year degree in drama and theatre arts, blending academic study with experience of performance, strengthened by links with local theatres and TV companies.

The Conference of Drama Schools site ( brings together the 20 or so institutions offering courses with the central aim of training performers, directors and technicians for professional jobs. More than half of these are in London, but the provinces are well represented. The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School exemplifies historic links to the stage, while the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, opened in 1996 with help from Sir Paul McCartney, underlines the expansion.

The biggest name is still that of Rada, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, founded in 1904 and sited in central London. Rada gets 2,500 applications every year for just over 30 places on the three-year acting BA. A gruelling four-stage audition process sifts the candidates.

The first two years of the course are spent on basic acting training, and the third in rehearsing and public performances of works with visiting directors. Even after graduation, there's more learning to do, says Rada's registrar Patricia Myers. "It takes about 10 years for people to become reasonably well established," she says. "But landing a good role in TV or film will make a difference in becoming a recognisable name."

Rada is not alone in having to wade through mountains of applications. Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, in north London, has about 90 places available on the three main degree courses. Two of these, the three-year BAs in acting and musical theatre, have performance at their heart, and the third, the BA in technical theatre, crammed into two years, concentrates on stage management and construction skills, together with lighting, sound and set design. Entry to the performance degrees is by audition. The acting course tests speech, and handling of text and improvisation. Those aiming at musical theatre demonstrate their singing and dancing skills.

The odds suggest that anyone getting through these auditions is probably talented, but Mountview's head of development, Yvonne I'Anson, stresses that the work will be exceptionally hard, with success in career terms by no means guaranteed. "There's no quick leap into stardom," she warns. "You need to do your training, and accept that it's an overcrowded, precarious business."

The first two years are spent studying texts, practising the elements of performance and participating in in-house productions. In the third year, the students market themselves and enter the world of agents and casting directors.

Fiona Reyes, 22, a third-year student at Mountview, has already landed a role in a new production of Evita, due to open in the West End this summer. She's sure she wouldn't have achieved it without the discipline of a professional drama school. "However much natural talent you've got, it's about learning life lessons," she says, admitting that she had a streak of laziness before her time at Mountview.

So the moral would seem to be, for 21st-century Mrs Worthingtons: "Don't put your daughter on the stage without a solid grounding at a drama school first!"