Written by Nicola Windridge
Marketing & Admissions Manager at Drama Studio London
Since 1966 Drama Studio London has been graduating professional actors, eager for a career in the industry. The school started very small, with only a 1-Year training programme graduating between 20 and 25 students for the first few years. Once things had got going, this number doubled, then tripled, so that by the early 1980s up to 65 students were receiving our intensive year long vocational training. Things were going so well that a studio was even opened in California where the likes of Forest Whitaker were trained, as well as a 4 week Summer School back here in London. The California branch is no longer running, mainly due to visa issues, but the summer school, which has now been split into 2x2-week programmes, continues to be a great beginner’s introduction to acting and full time training.
The late 2000s saw the start of some big changes. By 2008 DSL had trained near to 2150 students over 42 years. Compared with some of the larger UK drama schools, that’s a pretty conservative number. The school was still small and the student number and administration were manageable. Then, in 2008, the 2-Year course was launched and the total number of students increased. By 2015 we were running 2 summer schools, 2 evening beginner 10-week courses and 2 evening intermediate 10-week courses alongside the full time programmes AND preparing to launch (which we did in October 2016) a 3 Year BA (Hons) degree programme – a huge shift for DSL. While the degree course is validated by De Montfort University, it still retains the hallmark vocational training one has begun to expect from DSL. What this now means, is that we are up to 120 full-time students and, this year, 63 of those will be graduating into the industry. We’ve come a long way from the 20 students per year in the late 1960s and, in a way, we’re still trying to catch up with all those changes. The challenge I now face is keeping track of the nearly 2800 alumni members!
When I started here in 2011 the destination tracking was performed only up to 4 years after students had graduated and, after that, people dropped off the radar. As far as monitoring for statistics goes, 4 years is the required duration of time, but as far as monitoring for interest’s sake, graduate promotion or as a flag-flying exercise for DSL, no duration of time is ever long enough.
Our statistics tend to show that alumni employment prospects are strong for the first 2 to 3 years. During this time many graduates are working the fringe venues, rep theatres, doing short films, getting episodic roles in shows like Doctors and basically bolstering their cvs with as much experience as they can get. But then, around 3 to 4 years after graduating, we see a slight decline in the number of alumni members working in the industry. From anecdotal evidence I know this to be due to a number of reasons, from starting a family to moving into teaching (like Julia De Peyer, a 1991 graduate who now teaches at the International School of Screen Acting), moving into casting (like Charlotte Windmill, 1997 graduate and casting director for the Oxford Shakespeare Co), emigrating or wanting a career that may be more lucrative from day 1! This trend is not in any way unique to DSL graduates, it is a journey that all drama school alumni face in the competitive and challenging industry that they have chosen.
Yet while some may take a different road in life, well over 60% are still working as actors after 4 years of graduating, when our statistical monitoring stops. For me, what is so much more interesting than figures and percentages are the individual success stories that I come across from alumni who may have graduated only a year or so ago (like 2015 graduate Glykeria Dimou who landed a role in Sunset at the Villa Thalia at the National Theatre within 1 year of leaving DSL) or those who graduated decades ago. The hard part, is uncovering these stories! My fabulous colleague, Claire, and I are attempting the momentous task of individually following up the 2800-odd graduates to find out where their careers have taken them. Some may have made the move into directing (such as Peter Howitt, 1977 graduate, who wrote and directed Sliding Doors, as well as directed films including Johnny English and Law of Attraction), script writing (such as Torben Betts, 1992 graduate) or producing (such as Diederick Santer, 1992 graduate who started the production company, Lovely Day, that was behind TV programmes like Grantchester and who is now CEO of Kudos productions), while others are still performing, some working along side stars such as Colin Firth, Hugh Jackman and Glenn Close.
We have been so excited by some of the things we have found out and by the sheer number of graduates who are still working successfully as an actor with regular employment. Though some may not hit the big time, they certainly make a living out of what they love doing – and perhaps the bonus of not getting the Hollywood big break, is that they can still live a private life away from media scrutiny. One such example is Pip Torrens. Google him and you may be surprised that you recognise him. Pip seems to work continuously and barely a month goes by when I don’t seem on film or TV, such as the recent Netflix series The Crown, BBC2’s Versailles, BBC1’s Poldark and the 2015 film The Danish Girl. Pip isn’t someone you’d necessarily recognise in the street or by name alone but he works consistently doing what he loves – he’s living his dream. You don’t have to be Benedict Cumberbatch or Jennifer Lawrence to be a successful actor. Then there’s Alix Wilton Regan who graduated in 2006 and, after the obligatory appearance in Casualty at the start of her career, is now playing the daughter in feature film The Wife alongside Glenn Close, Christian Slater and Max Irons; 2000 graduate Craige Els played Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical for a number of years before passing the baton on in September 2016; bearded and blonde Rune Temte (1994 graduate) has been in recent blockbuster Eddie the Eagle, Sky's Fortitude and historical drama The Last Kingdom; Dan Li (2005) was in last year’s film I, Daniel Blake and plays Detective Yu in BBC radio drama series Inspector Chen; Christina Wolfe (2013) and Sarah Armstrong (2005) are both in Season 3 of the US drama The Royals; and 2004 graduate Henry Everett’s stage work includes Shakespeare’s Globe and The National Theatre among others. This is, of course, not forgetting the ever growing career of Emily Watson, soon to be back on our screens as the lead role on BBC1, Sunday night drama Apple Tree Yard, which also features 2010 graduate and regular on The National Theatre stage, Olivia Vinall. There are so many more that I could mention and, in time, I will be doing so – so keep up to date with news on our website, Twitter (@Drama_Studio) and Facebook (/dramastudiolondon).
Over the years I have been working at DSL I have always encouraged the graduating students to keep in touch to let me know what they’re up to and, by and large, they do. I have been especially delighted when graduates before my time, having heard about our efforts to re-forge links with alumni, have sent me an email out of the blue to updated me on their progress. I urge all graduates to drop me an email whenever you’re working on something new and can promise 2 main paybacks: 1) Your work will be promoted through social media and sometimes on our website homepage raising your profile and/or encouraging ticket sales for your theatre show; 2) DSL looks good by being able to shout “we trained him/her!!” which improves our reputation to industry professionals and subsequently benefits all DSL graduates applying/auditioning in the future (including you for your next job!). It’s a win-win situation. So what have you got to lose? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
On our website we have a brief list of alumni achievements as well as latest stories on our news page. I wish I had the time to focus more on this burgeoning relationship with our alumni but what with running both Marketing and Admissions at DSL my focus is often demanded elsewhere. As the months go by and we uncover more hidden gems we will endeavour to give them the recognition they deserve and in the meantime, if you are a proud DSL-er why not drop us a line?!