Drama School Survival Guide - Part 1: Getting ready to rumble - BFA / MT Shopping List
Anyone who ever chose to go for a course in Acting, Drama, Musical Theatre etc. knows this weird feeling you have the weeks before your course start: these buzzing sensations of excitement and happiness on the daily, and yet you’re somewhat scared. I mean, leaving your hometown, family and school is pretty scary enough, but there is also that sudden realization that you might no longer be the strongest dancer, singer, and actor in town.
You might be asked to compete with 2nd and 3rd years and mostly you don’t know anyone. As the weeks pass, suddenly you are facing all sorts of burning questions: “What do I take with me?", "Am I good enough?" and “Do I have what it takes?".
Consider this series to be written by ATB Members for ATB Members, and we will try to address all your questions and worries. We will make sure you take the most of your course whether it is at a small school, or a highly recognized university; whether it’s in the US, the UK or anywhere else in this world.
This week we’ll start with the basics, what to do to prepare, what to pack and some general advice to calm your nerves.
We collaborated with nearly a hundred ATB Members, and here it is:
THE ULTIMATE ATB PACKING LIST
For your Course
This is certainly only a guideline to help you with the process, most schools will give you some kind of an (often times) incomplete checklist, but obviously if in doubt, always go with what your school says and ask someone there. The Obvious:
- Loose and fitted plain black clothing (i.e. jogging pants, leggings, t-shirts etc)
- Jazz shoes/trainers make sure to try a couple of different ones on, some people prefer harder soled, some softer, some splitter and so on
- Ballet shoes
- Ballet tights/Leotards Make sure you have enough, you will be dancing a lot if you do MT and that might get really sweaty, start stocking up!!!
- Tap shoes
- running trainers (indoor and outdoor) most schools won’t have special colour regulations here, but if you want to be on the safe side go for pure black
- Girls- Character/practice skirt, character shoes (black or tan, with a heel of at least 2-3” (think LaDucas), Sports bra
- Boys- black character shoes (smart brogues), Jockstrap/dance belt (look for something in either nude or black, but make sure you feel comfortable in it, it doesn’t help anyone if it’s perfectly tight, if you’re not going to wear it)
- Bone prop (Especially UK Schools will ask you for that, it is a device to train your acting voice ) and Hand Mirror for your voice lessons
- a pretty/cool/handy water bottle (keeping yourself hydrated is crucial)
- A Bag where you can carry a lot with you (dancing stuff, sheet music and scripts do need a lot of space)
- I found it useful to get packing cubes (google it), one for each style of dancing etc., that allows you to find the stuff you need much quicker and make sure no drinks or ink spills on your expensive shoes.
- headache pills, vitamins, skin care, heating pads and cool packs for muscle pains, cough drops and any other things you can think of to secure your health
THINGS YOU MIGHT USEFUL
- good speakers and headphones this might sound very random, but it actually might be one of the things of this list you will need the most. First of all, being able to just relax and calm down with an hour of Netflix, will energize you for all that is ahead of you, but more importantly you will be introduced to a lot of fantastic music, and you want to do the music justice and listen to it in a proper manner. It will also come in handy for warm-ups and practicing your routines with your classmate.
- microphone/camera to record yourself while singing and acting to improve yourself, and later for potential self-tapes, when your phone isn’t doing a good enough job.
- yoga strap - stretching is important and won’t kill you :)
- some acting and theory books to read - we will be giving you a more specific list on that throughout the year
- a piano or an app that allows you to fine tune your pitch
- basic costume items sometimes, especially if you work on your own pieces, it might help you to have things like a hat, a scarf etc. at home to get into character.
- songbooks and sheet music usually you will have some sort of a library in school, but having the score of Hamilton at home won’t only seem professional and prepared but also makes a pretty item on your shelves.
- pointe shoes many schools don’t require pointe work, but if you’ve been trained on pointe shoes before, why not continue your training outside of class.
- barre this might sound crazy, but getting yourself a small barre for your room allows you to train on your own, and they start at around $50 (think about getting a used one), it also makes a lovely decoration item for your room and shows everyone what your passion is.
Gender Neutral Makeup Essentials (as recommend by the make-up-artist of WICKED UK
This is like a cheap and easy starter set for people with less make-up experience (aka most guys). It works perfectly both for stage or camera work and I created that list for myself with the help of a make-up artist working at the London Production of Wicked. I keep everything in a small transparent bag (the ones that are actually made for taking on an airplane: they are handy, waterproof, and really cheap). I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with make-up, because more often than not you will have to apply your own make-up, and you better get some practice while you’re still in the learning phase.
- facial moisturizer - this is crucial, all the sweating and any products will dry your skin. Keep it hydrated and there is less work for your make-up artists. There are tons of products for both guys and girls
- mattifying powder - get one in your skin town or transparent, you will need it for the stage as well as camera work
- oil blotting powder - these are awesome, they take away your sweat and work similar to the powder, but you just wipe over your face and you can go back on, you will find them on any movie set especially for male actors
- concealer/cover stick - we all have our tiny imperfections, and especially if you have no makeup experience, a cover stick is much easier to use than any kind of foundation
- large brush to apply powders
- cosmetic sponge - always useful
- hand cream - not really makeup, still very useful
- sunscreen transparent spray (for filming/outdoor productions) - this is something I’ve discovered on set, these are sprays which you can just apply, they are completely invisible and no rubbing in required; Great between takes.
- lip balm
- toothpicks - there always might be some food stuck in between your teeth, and it can be really distracting to the audience
- fixing spray - the very first thing to apply to your face, and everything stays where it should
- fixing powder - if you want to be sure, add some fixing powder at the very end
- Good deodorant - Did I mention how sweaty your course is gonna be?
More advanced (for girls or experienced guys):
Won’t explain anything here, you girls know your make-up best, but just to put it out there:
- base / foundation makeup
Stationaries - because come on who doesn’t love them?
- extra pencil - trust me, you’re gonna need them.
- a highlighter because you’re basically gonna live from scripts and sheet music
- black binders, auditions might come up sooner than you think. I recommend getting two, one for sheet music, and one for scripts etc.
- a couple of pretty notebooks (one for each class plus one for random ideas)
- sticky notes make you look so professional ;)
For Your (New) Home
Dull but useful
- Storage containers (or IKEA blue bags) Towels, one big and one small
- Stool or chair*
- Laundry bag to hide those dirty socks and leotards
- Bedside lamp*
- Dustpan and brush
- Alarm for when your phone dies - trust me it happened to most of us
- Plates, bowls and mugs
- Cutlery (and a sharp knife)
- Can opener – tinned tomatoes are your new BFF
- Corkscrew/bottle opener yeah, drinking is still important
- Pans including frying pan
- Food containers (for the fridge and cupboard)
- Duvet, a double is a good idea
- Duvet cover and sheets (x 2 sets)
- Plants you can’t kill, and that won’t kill you. Guys leave your Audrey at home!!!
- Rug to cover up that hideous carpet you might get in certain dorms or flats
- Everyday Clothes - might be obvious but bring enough clothes for potential filming, nights at the theatre etc.
- Toiletries - whatever you’re used to
* Might be already provided
To make your life more enjoyable
- Cuddly toy to see you through the sad times, get out you’re Olafs and Pooh Bears
- photos and posters for once homesickness kicks in
- Fairy lights and candles (if allowed) for instant atmosphere
- Humidifier and a steamer - must-haves for every singer
- Washi tape (doesn’t mark the walls)
- a mini fridge this is something almost everyone who lived in halls/dorm recommends
- Lots of cushions, you’ll live in your bed whenever you’re not at the studios
- you might want to get a big mirror to allow you to go through your dance routines once again
- spare cables and chargers - these tend to always break when you really need them; having a couple of them in store will make your life so much easier.
- talking about charging, listening to music and watching your routines on your phone will really drain its energy, a good power bank, will safe you when you don’t have a plug nearby.
This is everything we could think of, but obviously, not everyone is the same, we had really opposing viewpoints from literally “take everything, trust me you will need it” to “Bringing too much unnecessary not only makes it more likely to forget something, but it wastes time and energy to transport. Only bring as much as you need. “
So, the truth lays somewhere in between, go ahead and customize your personal list, it might be you have more or less space, more or less money, and so on…. But this list should serve as a starting point and provide some inspiration.
Here is a selection of quotes from what I have collected, to make it a bit more personal:
"I had a bag of clothes just for theatre. The bag included my obvious dance clothes and shoes but other things like I had my own corset for period shows, long consecutive skirts, big flowy ones, cute flirts ones and of course all the super fun Halloween tights and shorts for dancing rehearsal. I also was great at making things as I needed them. We did Beauty and the Beast, and the plates were having spacing issues during dance rehearsal, so I used hula hoops and strapped them to their backs to get an idea of how much space they needed once they had their costumes. College was where I learned to live a minimalistic lifestyle. I learned quickly that everyone you meet at college brags about all the roles they had and the shows they were part of, but most of them have never been on crew, or built sets, made costumes or been in the pit. Having been on every aspect (required on my high school and at desales) made surviving easier. I didn't bring anything from home with me, except my music note bedspread my grandmother made. “- Deanna Young
“Bring a mini fridge that you can stock with food/drinks that remind you of home or foods you love! But also put some fruits and veggies in there, love yourself. A pitcher with a water filter will save you soooooooo much money on plastic water bottles. I suggest getting Amazon Prime, especially with the student discount, it makes life easier!” - Ashley Offmann
“Pack a bunch of nice clothes/things you look really good in. You're going to be performing a lot and (at least for me) I'm one level less anxious when I have my outfit together.” - RJ Christian
“For packing you definitely need jazz shoes and ballet shoes and pointe shoes. Being a theatre student, your best friend is to always have tea and water and cough drops! I don't have a roommate, so I brought all my posters and playbills but really, bring pictures of friends and family because theatre can be a hard major and you need to remember all the love and support you have!” - Marcus Thomas
“For starters...make sure you're allowed to have some of these things. A Keurig sounds nice if you're a coffee drinker (caffeine yuck) but it might actually be a banned item.
"In the movies, dorms are these awesome spaces. Room for everything. In real life it's nothing like that. If you're going to get a humidifier get the smallest one you can get. The rooms are small and outlet space is at a premium.
"Speaking of - curved surge protectors are the way to go. Something like Flexigon on Amazon.
"Invest in a good mattress topper. Even getting one of those foam egg crate things. Dorm mattresses are evil and do not do a body good.
"Get sticky poster tac. My first dorm room had block walls. Couldn't use push pins for my posters.
"Unless you're renting from the school don't go halvsies on anything with your roommate. That way you know what belongs to whom if one of you leaves mid-year or decide not to room together the next year. Instead talk beforehand and decide who is bringing what. This goes for traditionally shared stuff like fridges, microwaves, and TVs.
"Get a smartkleen ball. They ionize the water in the washer to clean your clothes. They last over 300 washes.
"Oh, and don't get one of those expensive shower caddies from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. A plastic basket with a handle from the dollar store suited me just fine.” - Kristin Márie Veronica
“Must haves (health-related): steamer, all manner of sports guards (e.g. knee, elbow, ankle), all manner of heating and ice packs for those sore muscles, all manner of heat ointments, sports tape, compression gear (I slept in them a lot of the time to improve blood circulation and the promote faster healing), all manner of medical ointments (hot and cold), a gym roller and hockey ball for deep tissue massage
"I made a (vile-tasting but incredibly effective) concoction of apple cider vinegar, raw ginger, fresh lemon and chopped garlic which I drank every day to keep the bugs away. Add a teaspoon of it to juice every day!
"Must haves (performing related): video editing software, audio editing software, a selfie-stick with a tripod (for self-tapes), a keyboard app on your phone
"Must haves (sanity related): a really good set of earphones to block out all the noise and drama” - EuJin Hwang
Last but not least, everyone at ATB really believes in you, and we know you’re gonna have an awesome time wherever you are headed, that’s why we collected some words of encouragement and advice for you:
“I think it helped me tremendously having a sense of purpose for my art. I am very fortunate that my program was designed in such a way that we had to think about what we wanted our art to stand for, and to explore any manner of expression.
"I also think it is EXTREMELY important to become aware of how you need to take care of ALL aspects of yourself – physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. I saw so many people who were talented, but who did not have a healthy way of dealing with the pressures of a career in the performing arts. This is why I have embarked on a journey to help actors develop a “Healthy Inner Life Practice”. In this way, you build a career that you own, that grows and that stands a much better chance of being sustainable. And if you have a healthy inner life, there’s a high chance that the work you create as a performer will also be more authentic, more connected and touch more people.
"Talent will only get you that far. The rest of sheer and deliberate hard work. You can’t meet the Universe half-way. You have to meet the Universe 99% of the way. You have to look under every rock, explore every possible nook and cranny to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. And the final 1% that you can’t control, you let it go.
"Find your OWN WAY to stand out. Compete with yourself. I went to school with 2 identical twins and if you want to talk about identical casting, they would be it. But even they found a way to shine as individuals. So, the rest of us who don’t have our identical twins on our program have absolutely no excuse. The thing is – what is probably the most unique thing about you. There is NO ONE else like you on the planet even though the industry is going to want to pigeon-hole you immediately. That’s OK. There is enough time for that once you are working. For now, find the unique story only YOU can tell.
"Finally, your time in drama school is limited. Don’t waste ANY opportunity. Show up. Every single day. Take care of your shit and don’t bring it into the room. Stay present and when magic happens, you’ll be there to see and learn and experience it.” - EuJin Hwang
“Don’t give up! You’ll be rejected over and over again but it’s so worth it when you get an opportunity to do what you love!” - Gemma Forsyth, Australian/American Actress ( Mako Mermaids, Akoni, Scrap)
“It’s okay to be nervous. My first musical theatre class was terrifying and I thought I was going to pee my pants. I told myself that if this was what I wanted to do I would just have to deal with it. It ended up being my favorite class! We’re only allowed to take it twice but the teacher is letting me take it a third time because it’s just so much fun! It’s ok to be scared, but you shouldn’t be afraid to try things that are new and different! Just be yourself and have fun, make it your own.” - Rachel Blugrind
“A piece of advice would be to keep on top of the work, if you need help, ASK! There are so many times where I was stuck and didn’t ask for help which lowered my grade. As well as this, positivity is key. A negative attitude is no fun and to be a performer you need to be willing to push through the tough times and try and think of positive things through each situation that you may come across!” - Sammy Terry
“You have to want whatever your goals are because they are truly spilling out of you. You have to know what you want and go after it fiercely. My dreams weren’t always theatre based, but I had this unignorable need to create art. Find what you love, hold it close, and surround yourself with people who lift you up!” -Chris Medlin - Mean Girls on Broadway
With that, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make this article happen, it wasn’t possible to feature every single one in this edition, but there is so much more advice that will help many people, so I decided to make a series out of this. If you have any advice to share, or you have questions or worries yourself and recommendations for future topics, feel free to comment below or get in touch with me. If you know of any freshmen, go ahead and share this source with them, because I believe it sometimes really helps to remind yourself that you’re not alone in your situation and to get some advice from the experienced.