From the great and established institutions like RADA to the newer innovative academies like Ecole Jacques Lecoq, this is the time of year for drama schools across the world to open their doors to scores of students eager to learn and waiting to plunge into a whole world of new experiences.
However, for anyone who has spent any amount of time in any conventional education system – which is essentially most of us – drama school can seem a daunting experience.
Most schools and colleges condition us to grow into set careers. It teaches us to fit into a more conformed life in the conventional workplace by masking our flaws and vulnerabilities. Drama school – or Arts education for that matter – reverses that principle. Drama school is about bringing out an individual’s complete capacity for self expression. Its core premise, is that – for the performer to be able to reflect the world and society around them, they have to start with understanding themselves. It is learning by doing and through experience. Yes there are skills to learn for your voice, body and imagination – but the true purpose is to learn to be the truest version of yourself.
Sometimes this is achieved by sheer physical grit – going from the outside-in to our emotional core. At other times, you go inside-out by digging deep into the recesses of your emotions to arrive as a physical manifestation.
As more and more individuals from across the world begin to see the viability of theatre as a career, here’s a quick look at the 5 Things to bear in mind when committing yourself to an education in drama.
1. Get Ready for Rigour
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Your days will become more physically demanding. More mentally draining. Drama, you see, in in the doing. Brace yourself for 10-hour work days. And discussions, viewings, rehearsals, projects, assignments that go on beyond that.
It is imperative that you take good care of yourself. Eat fresh, healthy food that is quick to digest. Develop a manageable exercise and de-stress regimen. Sleep well, even or especially when overwhelmed with your tasks. Treat your body and mind right, they’ll be used to their fullest. And celebrate as you become fitter, toner, smarter and your immune system builds up to epidemic-prevention levels.
2. Follow the Rules
You are in a new place, among new people, learning new things every day. In all likelihood, you’ll spend months trying to figure out your purpose and capabilities. All good Drama schools have set routines and regimens for their students in order to help you make the most of the experience. They’re designed to teach you a work ethic that is key to making great art.
You need to wake up, show up, and even pack up on time. Always come prepared. Listen to instructions. Look out for your fellow students. That may sound obvious, but the best advice usually is. Which is also probably why it is often ignored and ‘cocky’ is a label that can stick for a long time. Remember, everyone in drama class is bound to be just like you, feeling around and forming perceptions. So showing up on time with your homework done will help you be prepared to meet the challenges of the day, instead of always running to catch up. You must willingly to try anything and everything the instructor asks of you. So focus on following their exact instructions; doing them to the best of your ability.
Also, be kind and polite. You can never go wrong with that one.
3. Be about the Work
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Quite a brouhaha was raised over the casting of Noma Dumezweni for the role of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. A lot of people couldn’t accept a black actor taking on the mantle of a popular character that they had envisaged as white (or as Emma Watson, to be precise). But the point is, drama demands that you rise above stereotypes. And nowhere is this more inherent than in drama school.
The problem is, despite the best intentions, the truth is differences threaten old habits. They may make you more likely to begrudge a fellow student simply because they are not like you. The only way to combat the distractions of old prejudices is to just focus on the work. The work will keep you so busy and engaged. The rewards of that work will be such a great experience that you will first forget about your own biases, and later on, let go of them entirely.
4. The Answers will come
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It will be tempting to extract greater meaning and universal relevance out of every action you perform at drama school. Because everyday will feel like the revelation of some gospel truth.
But don’t do it. Really.
Don’t go looking for answers. There might not be any there. Or you may not be ready for them. The truth is, answers will come, in time. As your senses and attitude make imperceptible shifts, these metaphysical things will start showing up on their own. That does not mean that you stop asking questions. But there is a need to strike a fine balance between wanting to know and being comfortable with not knowing.
Listen more, speak less. You may find yourself at drama school straight after graduation, so certainly you have your share opinions and axioms. But put them aside for a bit. Judgments will interfere with your learning, so instead be uncompromisingly dedicated to new experiences. In this profession, humility will take you a further than flamboyance. So be ready to surrender to the process.
5. Be Present
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Be unequivocally and completely present. You cannot be an observer to your own growth, you have to participate (remember, rigour?) Never forget that you are a student, and that irrespective of your past experience and training, there will be a million new things to learn in a good drama school. Be hungry for inspiration. Your entire focus and attention needs to be inside the room, with your instructor; with the ensemble, in the moment. But most of all, be ready, be ready to pounce, to meditate, to fall, to jump, to talk, to feel, to show. Be ready to fail, to get back up again, dust yourself off and do it again. Like it’s the first time. Be ready to push your boundaries, take risks and work towards constantly expanding and improving your capabilities. Everyday.
–Written by Shruti Sharada, in conversation with Tushar Pandey & Jehan Manekshaw, Conveners of The Drama School, Mumbai