Founded more than 50 years ago, Drama Studio London delivers courses designed to give aspiring actors the best preparation for a professional career, and boasts past alumni including the likes of Emily Watson and Forest Whitaker. This summer, DSL’s first group of BA graduates are set to enter the theatre industry and so I caught up with Managing Director Kit Thacker to find out more about the work of DSL and its Professional Acting course.
Can you tell me about Drama Studio London and how you got involved?
DSL began 54 years ago with a one-year course for students with a mature attitude and a desire to be ready for the profession in a relatively short space of time. That course still exists and is in demand. It is not only the basis of our present one-year and two-year diploma courses but also of the more recent degree offering. The focus is on preparing graduates for all aspects of a changing profession. The teaching is done by working professionals and concentrates on the belief that acting is an art and a craft. The student brings the art, which we refine, and we give the skills for the craft. We are a very small school and every student at DSL has a single focus: to be the best and most flexible actor possible.
I first came to DSL in the late ‘90s as a guest director. I enjoyed it enormously and was very impressed by the students and by the other staff members. I came back each year as a director and was then asked to be a tutor on the two-year course, which was then just starting, and again was hugely rewarding. At the very beginning of my third year as a tutor I watched the students do their first pieces and realised that I wasn’t excited; and it wasn’t their fault. I had become a little jaded. There is no place around students for a jaded person; so, I resigned and wrote a long letter to the then owner and principal expressing my affection for DSL. I heard nothing for a while, then got a call out of the blue in 2009 and was asked to become Managing Director. I agreed for a year: I’m still here.
What makes the BA in Professional Acting so unique?
That it is totally a part of the DSL package. Vocational training for people with a passion, a talent and an ability to work creatively with others. Students regularly work across year groups, which results in 19-year-olds and 60-year-olds working together. The course is validated by De Montfort University but is, in every sense, drama school training. The title is deliberate; it is a BA (Hons) in Professional Acting.
When we were planning the course we took it to two well-known and established universities, but they didn’t grasp our ideas. They saw it as a degree in performing arts or theatre studies. From our first meeting with De Montfort University, however, I knew they understood. On the DSL BA degree, the academia supports the vocation, not the other way around.
How does it feel to have the first students graduate this summer?
Exciting. We’re confident. They are a particularly talented bunch who have used the course fully and are now ready for rewarding careers. There was a lot of hard work put into the course before it started and this has paid off.
What impact do you hope the course will have on the theatre industry?
We are going through times when good acting and good drama is vital for the health of society. As Peter Brook says, (and I paraphrase) theatre should stimulate our emotions, our intellect, and our innate sense of joy. That applies to whatever media our graduates will be working in. At the heart of acting is truth and storytelling – this group understand that, and want what they do to make a difference. Whether it is making people laugh or challenging dangerous extremism, acting is important and this group are aware of the challenge that they have taken on.
If you could give your students one piece of advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, your talent and your worth; and believe the same things exist in those around you. Maintain the work ethic, enthusiasm and respect that is embedded in the course you have just completed.
Production image credit: Jacqueline Auty