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Talking auditions, successes and 50 years with Drama Studio London

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As Drama Studio London celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, we spoke with Managing Director Kit Thacker about the school's successes and challenges, and what the future holds.

Kit Thacker took over in 2010, after the school was originally founded by Peter Layton. Having trained as an actor and worked as a director Kit came into contact with DSL a few times throughout his career. He explains: "I started here and I really loved the place… I really liked the adult nature of it, the culture of it which was not didactic. It wasn’t saying this is your method, it was saying here’s a load of options; you as a student, you decide what works for you and create your own process and I think that’s treating people like adults.

"You choose your own. I really like that. I came here as a guest director as a few times and then I was a tutor for a year."

Drama Studio London maintains that it has a mature approach to training and that any actor who wants to undertake training at the school must be adult enough to do so.

Like any drama school DSL has a rigorous audition procedure and the school looks for very particular attributes within their students.

"A talent, no matter how raw or rough that talent is, there is a talent; a real passion a real burn, a real fire in their belly and a willingness to accept that they can be taught things," Kit explains. 

"Now on top of that at the audition, and I’d say this about the profession as well, a lot of students, applicants and actors as well, they don’t regard the chat as important. They regard the pieces as important, and the pieces are vital, but never underestimate what you’re giving on the chat - is the person listening, is the person challenging, is the person polite, all those things we want.

"Sometimes applicants can be so focused on their piece that they’re not quite so good on the group work. The group work is very important because in the acting profession you work with groups and you have to trust each other very quickly."

Not only are the students hand-picked – the staff at DSL also have to be top of their game. As Managing Director Kit has ensured that there is a structure to the way DSL is run and that each element is taught by a specialist. He explains that sometimes "Teachers have their expertise stretched into generalisation and that’s what we’ve really fought against, so if you’ve got someone teaching you combat, that person is one of the best in the country at combat and they don’t do other things; that’s what they do. So I think specialism is really important."

Drama Studio London is also the only school in the UK to be owned by those who teach and direct there. In April 2014 Kit decided to arrange a management buyout: "The 16 of us bought the place, so we are the only drama school in Britain that is owned by the staff. So when you’re taught by our head of movement or our head of voice, any of the heads, when you’re taught by the heads you know (who) you’re being taught by – they have an invested interest in this place being great. It’s worked out well."

One of the biggest and most recent changes brought to the school is the addition of the BA (Hons) Professional Acting Course. Previously, the school only offered one and two-year vocational courses, so the BA addition has really set them aside from the other accredited schools.

"We held out and it wasn’t me, it was my predecessors - and I agree with them they held out, because they believe acting is a vocation not an academic study ,and I still agree with that," Kit explaines. "The pressure came because I believe in diversity; I feel very strongly in diversity and in vocational training it’s difficult to get money to train vocationally; it’s very difficult to get grants or bursaries or anything like that so you’re narrowing the demographic, you’re narrowing the diversity of students here.

"Having said that we’ve got several students here who work their socks off for three of four years in order to pay for it, so I’m not saying all our students are rich kids, because they’re not at all - but we’re going to have a diverse set of students and that means a diversity of actors going into the profession, which is absolutely essential."

Drama Studio London partnered with De Montfort University to offer the new course. "We went to one university and we had several meetings with them, lovely, lovely place but I wasn’t convinced that the match was good; that they felt the same way as us. We were very particular that we wanted our degree to be a BA (Hons) in Professional Acting - that’s what you’re being taught.

"It’s not performance art, it’s not theatre studies; it's professional acting. And then we started having meetings with in De Montfort in Leicester and their thinking is identical, it’s great."

DSL are known for being the smallest drama school in the UK, so with the added three-year course it was interesting to find out how they were to maintain their structure and size.

Kit says: "We’re not growing. It’s not financial decision; we’re not taking any more students. So as we take on the De Montfort three-year intake we’re lessening the one and two-year course so the student numbers will be the same.

"There is no point in chucking out, as some drama schools have, 1,000 students into the business. There’s no point, there isn’t that work so there’s got to be a filter and that filter is make it difficult to get in, train the best."

Drama Studio London’s notable alumni include: Emily Watson OBE (Uncle Vanya, Donmar Theatre; The Theory of Everything), Adrian Lucas (Pride and Prejudice, BBC), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Olivia Vinall (The Hard Problem, King Lear, National Theatre) and Craig Els (Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre).

They will begin auditions for 2017 intake very soon.You can find more information on how to audition at www.dramastudiolondon.co.uk.

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