I’ve only been working at Drama Studio London for a little over two and a half years but when I think of my life before, it feels as if it were more like decades ago. I once mentioned this to Kit Thacker (Managing Director) and he nodded knowingly and said, “Ahh yes, that’s the DSL vortex”. People who’ve experienced DSL - both faculty and students alike - will understand that comment.
There is something all-consuming about DSL, something that draws you in and welcomes you, something that wraps its arms around you and makes you feel like you belong. It is often said that DSL has a ‘family feel’ and I’ve seen people come for a single Open Day and leave with that DSL bug. So for most students, after being here for a year or two, they really do feel like part of the DSL family – and that bond continues to remain strong even after they graduate.
We are currently approaching graduation, with the excitement of the Graduation Productions, the leavers ceremony (where everyone recites their favourite line from a play they’ve performed) and then, finally, the graduation ball. But my excitement is somewhat tainted with an air of melancholy, because after this period of high spirits comes the inevitable – all the people I’ve learnt to call my friends suddenly leave. That friendly atmosphere, that close camaraderie, that affectionate banter is diminished and, for a short while, we are bereft of both students and teachers. A small team of merely 7 or so staff members are left rattling around these empty halls until a new cohort of timid and nervous 1 Year course students arrives.
The new academic year always starts the same way - staff members struggle to learn new names and faces, students hurry to learn the ropes and everyone seems to be treading on egg-shells. Though with these similarities come noticeable differences. Sometimes we find that individual personalities are carved out early in the year with the big characters quickly making a name for themselves. Other year groups take a while to warm up, the students appearing quiet and withdrawn for some months before the confidence kicks in.
But just when everyone feels they’re well and truly settled, the 2 Year course students descend and up to thirty new faces begin their first year on the 2 Year course (as the 2Yr1s), plus, the second year students (the 2Yr2s) return from their long summer holiday with that familiar air of relaxed confidence. Cross-year bonds can sometimes be slow to form but the Panto season and the Christmas Cabaret bring with them a chance for the 1 Year and the 2Yr2 students to join forces and cement new friendships. From then on, these bonds continue to strengthen and students begin to relax with staff and faculty, burying their pre-conceived notion of the ‘us-and-them’ divide that many students learnt at school and university. Soon enough, those new faces we once struggled to remember quickly become our friends.
Throughout the year I try to see as many student performances as I can, my favourites being Restoration and Shakespeare Comedy, not to mention the final, fully-staged Graduation Productions. Although I’m not a teacher here at DSL, it’s always interesting to watch the students develop, both personally and as performers. I’m intrigued by the shy students who break out of their shell the minute they’re on stage, and am impressed by the versatile performers who can turn their hand to any character. And let's not forget the musicians who sing and play with an ease and talent that never fails to astound me.
But despite all the performance blocks tucked into the school calendar, when the Graduate Showcase appears on the timetable it always manages to instil fear into the heart of even the most confident performer. The showcase is the first talent-spotting event of the year, where students perform to an audience of invited industry professionals on the big, iconic stage of the Criterion Theatre. And yet, it’s not the performance itself that seems to incite this nervous disposition, but the meet-and-greet with the industry professionals afterwards. I do my best to encourage and support the students but there’s no hiding from the fact that it’s an awkward and uncomfortable situation. However, if students view the opportunity with the right attitude they can take away some valuable lessons and experiences.
Not long after the Showcase, the graduating students across both the 1 and 2 Year courses get another chance to join forces, this time for their Ensemble and Graduation Productions. Spirits are always high and expectations grow - as does that gnawing panic as the reality of leaving the DSL bubble and stepping out into the big, bad world starts to sink in.
All too quickly the day of reckoning arrives and Graduation Day sparks a whole plethora of emotions. Then they’re off - making their way in the profession and carving out their own, unique paths. Most remember to drop me an email now and again to tell me about a new show they might be in, or a project they’ve been working on, and it’s always fabulous to hear their news.
But back at HQ there’s no denying the DSL beat that keeps on rhythmically pounding away, and when one lot of students leave the clock quickly re-sets and the dance starts all over again. But, thankfully, even though the steps are the same the music is always different.