Have I wasted three years of my life doing a degree when I should have gone to drama school?
Written by Marcus Bazley, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director
So, you decided to go to university and do a ‘real’ degree. You may well have thought about applying for drama school when you were filling out your UCAS forms what seems like a lifetime ago. Hey, you might have even auditioned for a couple on the side. ‘Why not?’ you thought, ‘I’ll throw my hat in the ring, if I get in then I won’t have to pretend that going to university is the right thing to do. By applying for universities at the same time, I can kid myself into the thinking the auditions aren’t that big a deal.’
You know what, it absolutely sucks to have to make this decision so early in your life. It feels like your whole future is dependent on it. You’re at a crossroads, whichever route you take will determine the course of the rest of your life.
I pretty much had a complete meltdown when I was applying for universities. I managed to get various offers – all of which were good but none of which were quite what I wanted. I couldn’t work out where was best for me at all and, looking back, I probably felt like I should have been trying the drama school route instead all along. And, to be completely honest, there’s a bit of me now that still wonders what my life might be like if I’d gone all-in applying for drama schools when I was 18-19, instead of taking the ‘safe’ option and going to university.
But, you know what, I didn’t! I made the decisions I made. I went to King’s College London. Got my degree in History. And now I’m a theatre director, making my own work and running my own company. My work has toured to venues all over the UK, I’ve even had a show on in Paris, and I’ve worked at Salisbury Playhouse (a theatre I used to go to as a child). None of it is secure, none of it pays me very much, I still massively supplement my income from education work and the odd bit of coaching. But you know what, I love what I do. I’m sure I wouldn’t have any of this if I hadn’t gone to university before pursuing a career in theatre.
Anyway, this is about you not me! So you’ve made the decision to go to university, whether drama school was in your head before or not, a career in theatre is most definitely in your head now and you’re wondering whether you’ve just wasted three years of your life and put yourself in thousands of pounds of debt for nothing. Now you’re behind in the race and you’ll never be able to catch up with the brilliantly talented and now brilliantly trained drama school graduates, fresh from RADA and LAMDA and Guildhall.
The first thing I’m going to do for you is flip this on its head. It’s very easy to look at someone else’s life through rose-tinted glasses (or an Instagram filter). But, believe me, many of those drama school graduates will actually be looking at you with envy! They are terrified. They’ve spent three years in a highly protected environment. In that time, they’ve sweated, bled and most definitely cried. But it was an environment that was safe – they knew they’d be acting every day. They knew they’d have people to push, encourage and challenge them every day. Now, as they emerge blinking into the real world, that security is all gone. And their mind is spiralling down into self-doubt – ‘Am I any good?’ ‘Will I ever act again?’ ‘I’ve no other skills, all I can do is act!’ ‘I’m going to spend the rest of my life behind a bar’ (as a barista not a barrister…). Trust me. So many drama school graduates will be looking at you, with your university degree, your life skills and your rounded education and thinking: ‘Why didn’t I go to uni?!’
So, remember, the grass isn’t always greener!! And, more to the point, so what if it is! You made the decision you made, now let’s roll with it and make the best of it. You certainly have skills that you can utilise in forging a career in theatre. If you’ve been juggling your degree with putting on and performing in student theatre, then your abilities to balance commitments, summarise ideas quickly and (let’s be honest) blag will be pretty bleeding hot by now. You know what? Those are all vital skills in theatre and are way harder to train than vocal technique. So, use these to your advantage.
Being at university and getting your degree will have taught you a lot about people, life, multi-tasking, budgeting, planning, researching, arguing, writing, conceptualising, etc. etc. These are all incredibly important and valued in the industry you’re about to enter. They’re valued because they are the skills people who went straight to drama school wish they had! They need you, your skill set, experience and vision.
You’re also here on this site, reading this blog, which suggests you’re pretty self-motivated and driven. You’re ready to get out of full-time education and get to work. To carry on learning but also to get stuff done. You’ll make mistakes. That’s not only inevitable – it’s good! Mistakes are how we learn and how we improve – without mistakes, we’d still be crawling around in nappies and burning ourselves on the fireplace.
But before you set off on your journey of making mistakes and then making better mistakes. You need some information, some guidance, answers to some burning questions. And that’s where we’re here to help.
Ultimately, there are probably two standout questions you have:
How do I ‘get into’ the theatre industry?
How do get access to key training and core skills?
You might also have questions like:
How do I find out what role in theatre is right for me? Am I an actor, director, producer or something I haven’t even heard of yet?
Can I earn any money doing this? How can I pay the rent?
Do I need to be in London?
Should I set up a company? If so, how?
And I’m sure there are many many more.
We hear you! We understand! We’ve been there! And that’s why we’ve developed Cyphers Create and why we’re making as much as possible available for free online.
Over the coming months, we’ll be releasing loads of content that should go a long way to helping you answer, or at least feel more comfortable asking, these tough questions. You are not alone! Many have felt like you feel right now, and many have made the journey and are working in professional theatre. So, it is doable, it is achievable. But you do have to be prepared to work hard – a lot harder than you did even when you were juggling two student plays, an essay, exam revision and a dissertation… But it is also much more rewarding than that! You’ll meet some great people along the way and have a lot of fun, and eventually you’ll be getting paid to make theatre – what a joy and privilege that will be.
Marcus Bazley, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director
Before founding Cyphers in 2014, Marcus studied History at King's College London.
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