Adam Bruce: Making the Right Decision for Your Training

© Anthony Farrimond

Hello there! My name’s Adam Bruce, and I’m an actor, writer and theatre critic about to complete my studies and training on the University of York’s BA Writing, Directing and Performance degree. I’ve acted in theatre, film and television throughout my studies with national and international companies across a wide variety of projects, styles and genres, stretching from Early Modern comedy to plays from the Holocaust, right through to modern drama for stage and screen. I’ve also reviewed theatre for just under four years for Exeunt Magazine and others, including A Younger Theatre and The State of the Arts, and have recently been invited to write for a USA-based blog publication On Stage.

I’m also incredibly pleased and excited to have signed to Scream Management in Manchester, based in the heart of MediaCityUK, after a successful audition earlier this year. So now, with my training and this reputable agent, I’ll be able to properly start my journey as a professional actor. But everyone’s journey is different, and there are so many different choices and ways of starting such a journey – so it’s crucial to make the right choice for yourself, and that’s exactly what I’ll be talking about in this article for Actor’s LIFE.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a storyteller. I loved videogames and immersing myself in those worlds – but getting a job as a professional storyteller isn’t quite as simple as my five year old self would’ve thought. There are so many routes into the industry, as I’ve found after hearing modern fables of success, devouring issues of Equity’s regular member magazines and trawling through The Actors and Performers Yearbook frequently.

I knew that I didn’t want to go to drama school. I always wanted an academic education so I could always have an academic degree to fall back on in case things don’t work out for me in the future. I chose to go to the University of York to do my degree because of the fantastic teaching and holistic view they have with regards to the industry and its many facets. The course is housed in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, and you interact with Film and Television Production students on a regular basis. Everything I’ve learned has been underpinned by academic exploration and lots of study, which has made it fun, challenging and exciting to learn my craft as a performer. There’s also been lots of opportunity to work with professional theatre companies and attend guest lectures and masterclasses with professionals from across the industry, whether they be actors, writers, directors and so forth.

Some academic degrees, however, are very different. I chose York because it did exactly what it said on the tin, and it had a limited number of optional modules to take alongside core ones. At some university interviews and open days I attended, I was given a real headache by the dizzying number of options they offered. One university even said that some of their modules wouldn’t run and you’d be forced to take the most popular one if it came to it, which I thought defeated the objective of offering such options in the first place.

York had a distinctive voice when I came to its open day. It made it quite clear that the course would teach you professional skills and prepare you for work in the industry through a practical application and analysis of such skills. Some universities were very, in the most technical term for it, wishy washy. They made out that their courses offered students a wide range of choices and study options, but not really any practical skills for the industry, which to me sounds like a one way street to anything other than a career as an actor.

University is just one option, of course – I ultimately chose my university and course because of the large volume of transferable skills that come along with studying an academic degree. Again, I can’t speak about other degrees, but those are the reasons why I chose York. Having said that again, there are some students on my course who want to further their training at drama school, which proves that University can certainly be an excellent springboard to other opportunities.

During my previous term at York, I attended an audition for my first and current agent in Manchester. I knew that this audition would be incredibly important, and there would be a certain degree of skill required for it. When I attended, I was confident that York had taught me a wide range of skills that would allow me to tackle the challenges of the event much easier, and afterwards, I felt very positive about it. Acting is never about how your skill compares to others, but on the day, you could clearly see who had completed a good programme of training or had come very prepared.

The audition day mainly consisted of a group improv workshop and some script work, and made me realise the significance of training and learning your craft in a way that empowers you as an individual artist. I brought together my skills and way of working to the challenges required, and demonstrated the skills the agent was looking for. This wasn’t a case of being lucky, necessarily – it was about meeting the implicit requirements the agent had in mind. The requirements weren’t to be the best actor in the room or the greatest actor ever – they were to do what was asked of you and to the best of your ability, and tell the story that was asked of you to the best of your ability too.

I strongly believe that the training that’s right for you should always push to develop you as an artist and evolving thinker, and never just as a bog-standard cardboard cut-out. Such a mindset and way of working needs time to develop and be nurtured in the right place. Of course, people can argue that drama school fast-tracks this and helps you get an agent much faster too – I wouldn’t know, so can’t really comment there. Some people also argue that you need no training whatsoever to be an actor, and that you could just as easily be sat on a supermarket checkout and get popped into a TV series and be a star. This is certainly a rarity, and I would argue that to be a real, realistic actor in today’s modern age, training should always be imperative.

The one other thing I will mention, which might seem obvious, is to seriously take the time and save the money to go to the theatre. Theatre has always been, and will continue to be, a home of connectivity, of live storytelling, and of learning and development. Nothing is more important than watching active performers and practitioners, whether they’re been around for years or are just starting out, practicing their craft. No matter what the quality of the production, you will always learn something on an outing to the theatre. I’d even argue that a poor quality production will teach you more about the art of performance and acting than an exceptional one.

Whether you decide to go to drama school or a good university with a good degree programme, make sure that you take the time to develop properly and research your prospects afterwards. It’s also crucial to remember that no two journeys are alike, and just because someone famous or renowned graduates from an institution doesn’t mean that your journey will be like theirs. It’s ultimately about your individuality and how you harness, develop and nurture the skills you’re given. Practitioners from across the world have been writing handbooks on acting for years, and they’re all widely available to the public – it’s just about how you harness them and the environment you do it in. For me, that environment was the University of York and I’m confident that, after I graduate in a couple of months’ time, I’ll be ready to tackle the challenges of the industry I’ve always wanted to be a part of and the job I’ve always wanted to do.

In summary, here are my top tips for choosing the training that’s right for you:

  • Pick somewhere that is appropriate to your style. Whether that’s university, drama school or evening acting classes in your city or town, you need to make sure that it’s suitable for how you want to learn and develop.
  • Also pick somewhere that’s ‘good’. I know that might seem a contentious answer, especially regarding what ‘good’ might actually mean, but personally I believe it’s somewhere that doesn’t waffle about and understands the importance of industry skills and personal development. It’s entirely subjective to the individual, but you’ll know if you’ve made the right choice before long!
  • Take the time to visit the theatre regularly. It’s crucial to see live performance of all kinds – doing so enables you to see how the industry is developing and how real professionals and aspiring professionals are putting the skills and language of performance into practice.
  • Take the time to develop yourself as an artist, not a cardboard cut-out. Synthesising the skills you acquire to achieve your objectives really helps you stand out as a performer. It lets you focus on the fun of what you do and why you wanted to do it in the first place.

You can watch my showreel here:

I’d also love to stay in touch with you, so do feel free to follow me on Twitter at @AdamCBruce and I’ll follow you back!

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