What it’s really like to go to theatre school
Yes, we still studied ‘normal’ subjects
Joining a state sixth form college from a theatre school was a bold move. For the first few weeks of class I had to deal with the dreaded “what school did you go to” questions, which would always result in me awkwardly mumbling “theatre school” or “somewhere in central London, you wouldn’t have heard of it”. I knew the real answer, Sylvia Young, wouldn’t mean anything to most people.
The truth is I used to be really embarrassed telling people I went to a full-time stage school. I didn’t want them to assume I was weird, or trying to show off, or talented. When it was mentioned it was fee-paying, people would usually raise their eyebrows or assume I was posh but in reality 99 per cent of my classmates weren’t rich and I’m pretty sure no-one could afford the fees without some kind of scholarship.
Looking back though, I realise how lucky I was to go somewhere a little bit out of the ordinary. For those who didn’t get that chance, this is what it was like.
We still study everything you would at a normal school
My boyfriend once seriously asked me if we did “normal” lessons like maths. We did, and our time was divided between academic (Monday to Wednesday) and vocational (Thursday and Friday). Many people struggle to understand the mechanics of that but it basically meant we did our GCSEs in three-day weeks and spent Thursdays and Fridays fucking around in tap shoes. On those days it was martial law that all girls had to wear their hair in a slicked bun, something that has fucked up my hairline irreparably.
Yes, most of the stereotypes are accurate…
Some of the stereotypes about theatre schools were definitely warranted. There were quite a few stage mums, the enthusiastic stay-at-home types who would drop their little one off in the morning and be there to pick them up in the afternoon. And there were a lot of bratty kids, desperate for auditions and constantly sucking up to teachers.
The High School Musical stereotype definitely applied because if you were walking through a corridor singing a song, you’d be guaranteed to get a chorus of singers harmonising with you.
…but not all of them
However, a lot of the stereotypes didn’t apply. Stage school girls aren’t all bulimic (and as far as I was aware, none of my friends were either), we don’t all hate each other, and we’re not all stupid. Not all the guys were gay either, even if they did wear tights twice a week. None of my friends can spell but they can pirouette better than Billy Elliot (some of my friends even played him on the stage). And contrary to popular belief not everyone was talented. There were definitely a few duds in the school who were there just to pay fees.
Rehearsals gave us plenty of opportunities to goof around
One of my favourite memories was the showcase we put on in Year 11 to raise money for our prom. There, five years worth of vocational training culminated in a tits-teeth-and-hairspray extravaganza that saw us performing music from Legally Blonde, Wicked, and Funny Girl, our parents weeping in the audience while they watched their little money-wasters perform on stage. In the run up, we were allowed time out of our lessons to rehearse. We were ‘rehearsing’ in the art room one day when my friend decided to make a plaster cast of her tit, painting it in beautifully lifelike colours. Of course I jumped at the chance to make a plaster cast of my bum, which has pride of place on a shelf in my room.
Discipline was tough
We weren’t always messing around or playing truant and bad behaviour was definitely handled differently in my school. Our teenage rebellions were taken a lot more seriously; I got suspended from smoking in the toilets, one of my friends got expelled for it. You rarely got detentions, but if you did it was treated stupidly seriously.
You end up living far away from your friends
Most of my friends lived miles away so I missed out on having a close-knit local group of friends, but I hate to think of what I would be like if I hadn’t gone there. Maybe I’d have better GCSEs, maybe I’d be pregnant, I don’t know, but it would have been nice to have more friends that lived round the corner.
I worry people will judge my CV negatively in the future
Another bad side is that it probably looks a bit naff to have “theatre school” on a CV or job application, and people have definitely judged me once they know I went there, assuming I’m stupid.
I’m still in doubts as to whether I actually have any theatrical talent, but I’m no longer embarrassed by my school. I might laugh when I tell people about it, but secretly I’m really pleased and proud to have gone there. I got a somewhat decent education, excellent performing arts training, and friends that I’m really proud to see achieving everything they want, all thanks to going to probably the best theatre school in the country (fuck you Italia Conti).