Do You Need Professional Training To Become An Actor?

And the ins and outs of Theatre Vs Film acting.

I recently went to the Hampstead Theatre, London to watch Maisie Williams perform in I & You. She played the part of Caroline, a teenage girl suffering from liver disease. Too ill to go to school and confined to her bedroom, the only way she is able to connect with the world is via social media. Millennials, eh!!! A cheap gag. I digress.

As a Bath girl myself, I went ready to fully support my home-girl Maisie. As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would be like now if I had been chosen by the Game of Throne casting directors for the part of Ayra Stark. None the less, I paid £12 for my ticket none the less and sat through 90 minutes of (generously) 4/10 theatre. Was I slightly influenced by the 3 RADA first years sat next to me huffing and puffing at her performance? Perhaps. But she really was not good at all, which is no surprise if you think about it. Williams was scooped up at just 12 years old from Bath where she was then propelled onto the big screens for one of the most successful TV series of our generation. She is not a trained actor and it shows on stage; she lacked surety, confidence, and specificity, all things drama schools drill into their students (I am told. I’m still waiting for my call back).

This poses the question: do all actors need professional training? It’s certainly not a bad route to take, but there is something to be said for stars such as Matt Smith and Rosamund Pike who made do without. I decided to interview some people more knowledgeable than me to find some answers…

Faye Elvin, LAMDA trained

When casting a show, would you soley look for trained actors?

No, I always open it up to everyone. Obviously if someone has RADA or LAMDA on their CV you’re going to have a certain expectation of them, but you never know whose going to walk through the door and surprise you, trained or untrained.

With your experience of both, which is harder, stage or screen?

They both carry lots of challenges for different reasons. They have very varied technical aspects. Theatre has a strong need for physical and vocal athleticism. As a theatre actor you need to be able to adapt to whatever space you’re in be it above a pub or the Olivier. Film carries different technical knowledge. You have to consider eye lines, pacing yourself with repetitions, angles, potential motion capture and so on. This is why I'd find it difficult to say one is harder than the other.

Do you think all actors need training?

I think there’s more than one way to go about it. Hopefully an actor never feels that their training is complete and keeps pushing to develop their craft throughout their career, be that through work or workshops. Drama school is the route I took. It’s been around a long time and had aided in the production of some incredible talent. But it's not the ideal route for everyone. There is nothing wrong with starting at any age, going straight into auditions and learning as you go. All actors hopefully feel the need to hone their craft, learn as much as they can and develop their skills. Wherever and however you go about it is entirely up to you. Personally I'd love to see the return of rep companies in big theatres where there is the chance to learn on the job.

Are there downfalls to drama school?

Yes, with any form of training there are always flaws. Some argue drama schools are stuck in their ways. So much so that new innovative ideas aren’t filtered down to their students quickly enough, but I think this is changing. From what I've seen drama schools are realizing they need to balance traditional training and the industry as it stands at the moment. It can be said that there may be a risk of loss of individuality at drama schools and a preconception of what kind of actor you're going to see when you see a certain school name on a CV. The main issue I found with my training was, I left knowing how to act, but not how to manage the industry once you’re in it and treating yourself as a business. LAMDA however, gave me an incredible three years acting training and for four years after as part of the teaching faculty. Their generosity gave me the skills I have based my career on.

Billy Matthews, Brit School

TV: Killing Eve, Doctor Who

Theatre includes: Love & Information (Royal Court), Herons (Lyric Hammersmith)

Do you think all actors need training?

If you have the talent and you know the best ways to apply it, then you can succeed without it. I do think that at drama school, actors make the most progress but it’s not impossible to be really good at what you do without the training. You need to be genuinely interested and willing to work unbelievably hard to get to where you need to be to succeed.

Should an actor specialise in just one medium? Stage or screen?

Not at all, they should be allowed that free flow. They’re such different crafts. Theatre is immediate, that rush you get is the instant reward for your work. Film is minimal. Sometimes it feels like a means to no end and like you’re working towards nothing and you don’t know if you’ve got it right until its finally screened.

And which is harder, stage or screen?

Both are hard in different ways. I personally couldn’t do just one or just the other. Film is hard because you’re constantly critiqued and picked to the most finite details. You can lose track of what’s good and what’s not because of the constant repetition and you can never see what you are doing. The rehearsal process in theatre however is much harder. It’s exhausting and really drills into your stability as a person.

Gabriel Howell, RADA 1st Year

Do you think all actors need training?

No, but I think training definitely helps for longevity of career. The technical foundation with voice and movement you receive is vital. Having said that, I think that’s more in theatre, you can have the same career in film without much of the technical training. What it comes down to, is not having good nights or bad nights. As a professional actor you need to be able to give everything, every time, and in my experience that comes with the training but if you’re able to do that it doesn’t matter how you’ve there.

Should an actor specialise in just one medium? Stage or screen?

I don’t think so. I think an actor has to understand the physical and technical demand that comes with theatre work. And at the same time, understand the process and subtleties of film work. The craft is the same throughout the mediums, the key is to be able to approach each one, because they are innately different.

And which is harder, stage or screen?

Both are incredibly hard to do well. But the real test is trying to uphold the standard you want to be known for.

So I don’t think there is a clear, straight answer for aspiring actors. More and more paths are being paved, none of which are easy or guarantee success but I personally believe drama schools are still the best way forward, especially as they work towards meeting the changing demands of a modern-day entertainment industry. Raw talent might get you far, but professional training gives you a foundation of crucial knowledge that could last a career.

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