There’s a general consensus that London isn’t just the capital of the UK, but that it’s also the capital of business, fashion and (hold your horses because this is where it becomes relevant) the arts. One of the biggest questions for anyone outside of the city who wants to act is this: Do I need to be in London?
I trained as an actor at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and moved to London after graduating. I moved out of it in 2016 determined to prove to myself that being there isn’t the be all and end all. The world still turns beyond the Watford Gap and opportunity can be found if you know where to look. No two people’s paths will be the same, but I’ve put together a survival guide for making it work as an actor outside of London.
With London being the home to so many acting institutions, courses and workshops, opportunities to sharpen your skills can seem inaccessible. The Actors’ Lab (www.theactorslab.co.uk) is based in Manchester, and aims to provide ‘exclusive full-time drama school training but on a part-time basis where you can meet new people in a social and creative environment.’ They run a variety of workshops, both in person and online, covering screen acting, Meisner Technique, classical text, self-tapes and more. Their tutors are made up of TV and theatre directors, actors and casting directors and as well as running classes in Liverpool, Manchester and Chester, the Actors’ Lab also offers qualification courses and private tuition
Spotlight-accredited training provider Thinking Actors (www.thinkingactors.co.uk) is also based in Manchester and offers professional training & creative support services to actors. Their services also include showreel guidance, self-taping and one-to-one coaching.
It’s also always worth checking out what your local theatre(s) have to offer. The Nottingham Playhouse, for example, runs Amplify: Artist Development (www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/for-artists). Free to join, Amplify exists to support local artists, and members can take advantage of a range of offerings, including masterclasses with The Playhouse’s Artistic Director Adam Penford, playwriting workshops, and artist one-to-one chats. The Playhouse is committed to championing local artists and helping them in all areas of their careers. For example, ‘Ideas Submission’ invites members to share creative ideas that they’d like help developing, and those applying for ACE funding can access support with their application.
The Playhouse is just one example of a theatre seeking to help its local artists. Google your local theatre to see how they might be able to help you.
There are some highly respected institutions, many based in London, that offer online courses, so you can access them from anywhere in the world. Here are a few to check out:
- Actors Studio at Pinewood Studios – www.actorsstudio.co.uk/home/online-screen-acting-courses
- RADA Short Courses: World of Shakespeare – www.rada.ac.uk/short-courses-world-shakespeare
- The Why Not Institute – contemporary clowning – www.thewhynotinstitute.com/when-are-the-courses
If you’re reading this as someone who’s considering formal acting training, don’t limit yourself by just looking at places in London, as you’re spoilt for choice in terms of drama schools elsewhere too. As someone who trained at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, anecdotally I find that my training seems extremely similar to that of my peers who attended London schools. Among others, RBC Bristol Old Vic, LIPA, Royal Welsh and the Scottish Conservatoire all rank highly in the drama school league tables. One of the most beneficial things about training outside of London was having two third-year showcases; one in Birmingham and one in London, allowing double the opportunity to be seen by agents and casting directors. However, since the pandemic, showcases for graduating actors have, for the most part, moved online, allowing them to reach even more industry professionals.
Festivals and Scratch Nights
Arguably the most famous arts festival of the year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs for three weeks every August and quite literally has something for everyone. The Fringe is an open-access performing arts festival, which means that anyone can apply to perform, and the festival has been the springboard for some of the biggest names in the industry today. If you can get sufficient funding, (and various other requirements, all of which are detailed here: https://www.edfringe.com/take-part), the Edinburgh Fringe is the perfect opportunity to showcase your work to a humble crowd of 2.3 million (based on tickets sold in 2015 for the festival in its entirety).
Whilst the Edinburgh Fringe may be the most well-known, there are plenty of other UK options to check out. Buxton Festival Fringe (www.buxtonfringe.org.uk/entrants) and Brighton Fringe (www.brightonfringe.org/take-part) are both annual festivals, and Bristol’s offering is Mayfest, an annual festival of contemporary theatre (www.mayk.org.uk/mayfest). Sign up to their mailing list to be the first to know about the application process. As with regional theatres offering opportunities, it’s always worth having a google to see what goes on in the area local to you.
14/48 is ‘the world’s quickest theatre festival’ and quite frankly the most fun I’ve ever had as an actor. Seven writers, seven directors and twenty-five actors put on fourteen plays in 48 hours. The festival is held twice a year in Leicester and Wolverhampton (and Seattle, if your commitment to not being near London is that strong). 14/48 is a wonderful opportunity to network, challenge yourself and marvel at how creativity can thrive on very little sleep! www.1448uk.com/
Other ways to get your work seen are local scratch nights. Rough Draft (www.visitleicester.info) is Leicester’s first scratch night and takes place on the last Tuesday of every month. Free to enter and attend, Rough Draft exists to give artists a platform to pitch what they’re working on, from scripts to music to stand-up comedy, and then receive audience feedback. Heading further West into the Midlands, the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton hosts ACT, or Arena Collaborate Theatremakers (www.wlv.ac.uk). In Liverpool there is the Everyman and Playhouse’s monthly Scratch Studio (www.everymanplayhouse.com/new-works/scratch-studio). And Cambridge Junction invites artists to become members of Troop, their artist development scheme. Membership is £20/year and allows access to the Cambridge Junction’s scratch nights, workshops, artist networking opportunities and more. (www.junction.co.uk)
There are some absolutely incredible regional theatres across the UK producing world-class work and it simply isn’t true that you must visit London to access high-quality theatre. Make sure you’re familiar with your local theatre and some of the large theatres near you and get involved in any way you can.
- Theatre Royal, Bath
- Birmingham Rep, Birmingham
- The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
- Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
- The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
- Hull Truck Theatre, Hull
- Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
- The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
- Curve Theatre, Leicester
- Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
- Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
- Royal and Derngate, Northampton
- Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
- Crucible, Sheffield
- The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Tread the Boards Theatre Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex
- The Worcester Rep, Worcester
Some will cast primarily through Spotlight, others have in-house casting directors, some have their own acting company and some even post casting breakdowns on their websites. If a particular venue doesn’t specify its casting process, find a contact and get in touch.
It’s refreshing to know that some of the biggest television and radio companies have studios situated outside of London, or are at least based in London but commission to multiple UK regions. Channel 4 film Hollyoaks in Liverpool, Emmerdale is made in Yorkshire, the BBC’s Doctors films in Birmingham and Manchester is home to ITV’s Coronation Street. BBC radio can also be found in the centre of Birmingham and ITV has a production office in Leeds. It’s nice to think that if you got a job at one of these places you’d be the one popping down the road to work while the Londoners make the commute for a change.
Now more than ever is social media truly a valuable tool. Creative Linda Bloomfield (@LindaBxx) posts #OpportunityTuesday every week to her Twitter feed, comprised of ten paid arts opportunities not specific to London – nor just acting for that matter. For those not on Twitter, she’s also launched Opportunity Tuesday in blog form at www.opportunitytuesday.substack.com. In Good Company (@IngoodcoEM) also post a list of opportunities every week on Wednesdays which are regularly focussed on work outside of London. Other groups and accounts to follow are The Actors Planet (@TheActorsPlanet) on Twitter, and ‘Midlands Actors and Extras’ and ‘The Actors’ Guild, North West’ on Facebook.
Having said all of that, don’t close your mind to London. Some of the regional theatres I’ve mentioned, despite their location, hold their auditions in London, so your career will invariably take you there from time to time. London is the hub of the industry and, undeniably, is where a lot of the action happens. However, for those looking to enjoy the rest of the country whilst following their acting ambitions (and let’s face it, save some money!), I hope that this guide has given you a bit more confidence to do it. Being an actor outside of London is more than possible.
By Katie Burchett