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  • Writer's pictureEmilia Hargreaves

Was Drama School Worth It?

Looking Slightly Demonic In My Headshot.

Studying at East15 has changed my life. I am a new woman now. Partly because it messed with my head in more ways than I can think of. And partly because the acting school is where I met my incredible boyfriend, who lights up my world.

Truthfully, I can’t give a straight up answer as to whether drama school was worth it. And I’ll explain why.

The chance to attend East 15 Acting School on their Cert HE course is an opportunity that I will be eternally grateful for. I am so glad that I was able to move away from home and live life on my own for a year. Moving to Southend-on-Sea and starting a new chapter of my life, where I could be anyone I wanted to be, was thrilling. I started packing for the big move no less than five months in advance. I was so ready to start afresh.

In my short year learning there, I realised a lot about myself. The first thing being that I needed some serious mental health support. I struggled deeply during my time there. Constantly battling with the aggressive thoughts in my mind and endlessly hating what I saw looking back at me in the mirror each day.

I had the shittiest room in the whole of accommodation. In the first flat at the front when you enter - everyone that came in had to walk past my bedroom. Outside my window was the smoking area. It also happened to be the place where literally every student met the rest of their friends before a night out. Fun. The ground floor room also was clearly located underneath a bridge. Never a beam of light in the room, I dread to think how high me electricity bill will have been. The darkness did not bode well with my mental health struggles. And I didn’t really get much sleep for the whole year. The beds were more than just uncomfortable and the ‘en suite’ was more of a cupboard with a toilet underneath a shower. But I made the room my own. Somehow I managed to fit everything that belonged to me into our car, but half of it went back home with mum because it didn’t fit in the room.

I ordered a bajillion pictures from the last few years and plastered them onto the mysteriously stained walls just like every other teen girl did.

And then I met my flat mates...

Whilst my mother aggressively showed me how to correctly clean a toilet I laid my eyes on one of the most gorgeous human beings I have ever seen in my life. But that’s for a story for another time.

Freshers was an absolute mad one. I had never consumed that much alcohol on my whole entire life. No classes for the first week so we’d start drinking at 6pm, get dressed and glammed up for 10, be absolutely smashed by 11 and head to the club for 12. We’d all be so insanely out of our minds that we didn’t need to buy any drinks in the club and entry was free with the freshers wristbands! What a life!

Home by 4am and then sleep until the next afternoon. Best. Week. Ever.

The freedom to do what I wanted and when I wanted was overwhelming. Above that, I could buy what ever food tickles my fancy.

6 pack of pickled onion Monster Munch? Yes please. 4 Kinder Buenos? Absolutely.

I could have got used to that!

Then classes started.

And bloody hell. It was a shock to the system.

Imagine complaining about your average 9-3pm school day when we were in lessons from 9-6:30 every day with rehearsals before and after school. Bloody Nora!

So, as you can imagine, the majority of the people on the course became the monstrous result of exhaustion: Bitches.

A few of the girls were really lovely, but I’ve always found it easier to get along with boys.

But of course, if you have any male friends at all, you’re a slag. So obviously, since I had male friends, that clearly means I’m sleeping with them all. Um... I’m alright thanks.

Classes ranged from Project (all day on Monday and Wednesday, basically like tutor time in high school but you just work on the main performance that you’ll perform at the end of the term) to Singing and Movement (my favourite class. Two hours messing around and doing yoga. Sometimes you could even sleep in this class. Probably why I enjoyed it so much!)

Across the three terms we trialed each of the 3 year courses that East15 runs (Physical Theatre, World Performance, Stage Combat and Community Theatre), all of which were eye opening.

I truly felt that the Cert course, which was accredited by the University of Essex, should not have taken on as many pupils as it did. With 60 of us all together, I personally felt that a lot more could have been done by each tutor to check in on their class members. Particularly those who were often neglected or picked last for group projects (because, yes, this does still happen at uni).

In my honest opinion, I don't think any drama school should be allowed to run without a well functioning mental health support team or department running alongside them. For a company of bubbling and exciting performers, I have never come across a group of people more miserable. Although each day was filled with singing and dancing, supposedly joyous events, the days were also filled with panic attacks, the scars of those who had been cutting, the drooping eyes of the those with drug addictions, the pain of those who were fighting so hard to continue with the course. It was difficult.

And when I visited the University’s student hub and asked to speak to the councillors - That is when I started to worry.

After explaining my situation and eventually confessing my suicidal thoughts, I was told that there wasn’t anything that could be done. Specifically I was told to “stay positive” and “go to the GP if it gets worse”.

Bullshit. Straight up bullshit.

Do they not think about what might happen to a person at this point if you don't help them? Have you not seen 13 Reasons Why?

Nevertheless, being rather familiar with these episodes, I did the one thing I knew worked best: get well and truly smashed. Ignore it and hope it would fade away before I did.

I am so lucky to have had a few incredible flat mates and a new boyfriend who managed to scoop me out of my shell and help me bring the black storm clouds down to a constant grey. A constant feeling of nothing. An absence of emotion. A relief from the aggressive thoughts that had tortured me for so long - but still not a comfortable state to be living in.

Then the teachers began to pick up on it. Being late and often absent. Not paying attention in class. But sometimes too much attention. I would shout things out. Passing comments or joking remarks. Some of which got me into trouble. I would walk out of lessons if I got mad. If things weren’t right, or I thought I could to things more effectively then I would not hold back. Surely drama school is where you’re supposed to share your feelings?

Regardless of the weekly timetable, East 15’s planning was shocking. Come term three, we spent most of our time sitting around waiting to have our performances critiqued.

However, having said all this, I am so incredibly grateful for everything I have learnt, performed in and had the chance to see while I was there. I met some of the most incredible people, who, even if I may not ever see again, will be deeply and sincerely treasured in my heart. Regardless of everything I have said, if I was to be offered a place at East15 for the next academic year, I would without a doubt accept it. I would go with a new level of knowledge and the resilience to overcome the same boundaries that knocked me down this year. Additionally, Essex University Accommodation has the most lovely staff team. They work insane hours and always had a smile on their faces.

It’s getting to me now more than ever that I am not going back this year. Everyone else my age has just gone off to start second year and I haven’t even done my first year yet! I don't even know if I’ll get in anywhere!

All in all, to answer the question ‘Was Drama School Worth It’, I think the answer is: We’ll Have To Wait And See.

Maybe I’ll get on to an Acting course.

Maybe I’ll get onto a Writing course.

Either way, I’ll be happy.

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