Is attending drama school necessary to get into the industry?

5th October 2022

Last month at The Stage Debut Awards, which celebrates emerging talent in first-time performers and creatives, the sensational Jodie Comer picked up the ‘Best West End Debut Performer’ award for her role in ‘Prima Facie’, written by Suzie Miller.

The one-woman play, which examines how the legal system fails victims of sexual assault, premiered at The Harold Pinter Theatre earlier this year and was also streamed across UK cinemas. The play has now become the highest grossing event in UK cinemas taking an incredible £4.47m, beating the previous record held by the National Theatre for the streaming of ‘Fleabag’ with Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

It has just been announced that ‘Prima Facie’ is now heading to Broadway with Comer.

Since starting out in TV in 2007, Comer has gained a great deal of recognition for her acting ability and gone on to star in hit TV shows, including Doctor Foster and Killing Eve, plus she has also been part of the Disney film franchise, Star Wars.

She has won numerous accolades, including BAFTA and Prime Time Emmy awards and has also been nominated copious times for various awards, such as Golden Globe, Critics Choice Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

An excellent achievement for someone that didn’t go to drama school.

She said in her speech at The Stage Debut Awards, “Having not been to drama school, this self-doubt was an insecurity I carried with me for a very long time, and it was only because I was met with the most generous and supportive group of people that I was able to run at this opportunity and give it everything I had.

“As someone who has spent a lot of their life feeling like theatre was unattainable, or something I wasn’t educated enough to do, this acknowledgement feels like a very warm welcome. So, thank you for this support. It means more than you know.

After Comer’s success, along with many other well-known actors who didn’t go to drama school, such as Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Ben Kingsley; the question is - is drama school necessary to get into the industry?

With anything it comes down to the person and which type of training suits them the best. For some it will be going to drama school and for others it could be attending weekly classes or even learning on the job.

Not everyone has access to good drama schools as they are expensive and therefore not affordable for all. However, there have been many successful performers that have forged careers via both routes.

I did go to drama school, and it was a wonderful experience. It gave me an excellent tool kit that allowed me to hone my skills whilst also recognising what my strengths were and what I needed to work on.

I was filled with creativity and confidence and surrounded by other like minded people who also wanted to get the best out of this opportunity.

It was tough and demanding with long hours, but that is not something that I shy away from, and I knew that this would be an insight into the world that I wanted to work in.

We were given lots of great opportunities that gave us our first step into the industry, such as showcases that helped put us in front of industry representatives, agents and more. This, for me, was an important factor.

I know people who took another path by not attending drama school and have done incredibly well within the industry. Even though they had good training, they’ve said that getting representation can be challenging as you aren’t as visible, particularly without showcases. It also took them longer to get work as agents were not always interested as they hadn’t been to drama school.

Some felt daunted when leaving their training as they didn’t feel prepared for what awaited them in the industry. Where I had been made aware of what to expect and I was prepared. However, my career then took a different turn as I was offered a job as a Producer at the BBC. I always felt though that my Drama School Training and my Teacher Training before that did give the confidence I needed to forge my path ahead.

Others have learnt on the job and that is where they have really excelled and grown as an artist – just like Jodie Comer.

There is no right or wrong way to train. It all comes down to the individual and their circumstances. If a person really wants to make it within the industry, then they will work hard and find a way to make it happen.

My advice is to train in any way you can, keep learning and practising your craft, make connections and be professional. You never know who you are going to meet and what opportunities are going to come your way, so go in with your eyes open and enjoy every moment.

I’d be really interested to know if you work within theatre, and which route you took to get where you are now. I’d love to know about your experiences too. Please do comment.