Choose a two-year accelerated degree in musical theatre

Two-Year accelerated degrees are here to stay

Nowadays, your finances are more important than ever when choosing a degree. The COVID pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, forcing business closures and job losses. Rising living costs make it even more imperative that you do your research and think about what is right for you when deciding on a musical theatre degree.

With more Universities beginning to offer accelerated degrees, have you considered what that means in practice, or even financially? That’s exactly what we’ll look at here.

What is a two-year accelerated degree?

Accelerated degrees can be completed in a condensed period of time (sometimes called two-year degrees). While they have the same course content as traditional three-year degrees, you’ll have shorter and fewer breaks so that you can finish the course faster. Initially, it may seem impossible to do this, but on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that for many, this is a viable option.

Several universities offer financial aid, such as student loans and maintenance grants that help students with their tuition fees and living costs. However, does a three-year degree still make sense for you in our new economic environment? Remember, take into account that you will not be able to work full-time for three years.

Additionally, you might be living away from home while studying, and there will be downtime, term breaks, and extended holidays when you aren’t actively pursuing your degree.

This adds up to a lot of hours not spent working towards achieving a degree, and with it, a chance to start your career.

Getting down to what is important

With an accelerated degree, you can cut out a lot of unnecessary work, allowing you to concentrate on what is important to you.

Let’s take the example of the ICMT’s recently-launched their first two-year undergraduate course in Musical Theatre Performance.

The performing arts industry and particularly in musical theatre is one where being young is a definite advantage, similar to a career in athletics. To be able to sing, act and dance your way through eight shows a week takes stamina and energy as well as talent. The sooner you can get out into the business and work, the better for your long-term career.

There is a very real possibility that you might choose to do a traditional three-year degree in musical theatre, and come out of it with a great degree, but no practical skills in performance. While this is fine if you want to teach or work in administration; but if you want to perform for a living, you need to be doing practical training daily.

In our experience, we see many students studying a musical theatre course at university only to take another year to learn the practical skills necessary to fulfil the role of a performer. That’s a lot of time and money to spend on the wrong path.

Consider what you want to achieve with a degree and what you can afford in terms of time and money to accomplish it.

What is your end goal?

Musical theatre degrees can include both practical and academic elements. For example, a quarter of a musical theatre degree might be spent in the studios, learning to sing, act and dance. The rest of the time might be spent in the classroom. While this will give you a broader education, it might not be what you are looking for if you want to go straight into a performance career.

Is your goal to perform? Is your goal to teach musical theatre? Is it a choice because you simply love musical theatre? This is something you need to decide early on.

How much time and money do you want to spend?

Would you prefer to take your time and finish the three-year process, and have plenty of time off to experiment with life? If so, then the traditional route is for you. However, you want to become a working performer as soon as possible, an intensive, practical-based, accelerated experience might be more your style.

Many people fear they won’t be “ready” to enter the industry any sooner than three years, but the two-year option is so intensive that students cannot help but be immersed in their training, so this is very likely not an issue. Remember, you’re still getting the same amount of content as a three-year degree.

If you are in the process of applying for degree courses, then you already know – it all costs money. There is no free ride. Yes, you may be eligible for student loans and financing. Yes, you might be a select few who are offered a scholarship, but living expenses whilst training is a significant portion of the overall cost. So, save your pennies as early as possible and make sure you have a plan.

One of the benefits of a two-year degree is being able to save money and time. With a two-year course, you will pay less for food, accommodation, and travel than you would with a three-year course. In fact, studies show that you can save up to £18,000.

You need to keep in mind that student loans are limited, and top drama schools in London will cost much more than you can borrow. Therefore, you will still need to fund a good portion on your own.

What do I need to do to prepare for a performance career?

It is likely that if you want to become a professional performer, you already have some training experience. You may have trained at stage schools on weekends, taken voice lessons, come from a musical family, or lived, breathed, and ate musical theatre when you were young.

If that’s the case, you’ll likely have a solid foundation. In some cases, that may suffice, but most of the time, postsecondary training is required to provide individuals with the tools, skillset, and knowledge they need to succeed in the industry.

How do I make the right choice?

Good questions to ask are:

  • How many students are in a class? This is important because if you want to join Spotlight or Equity, you need to have done a course with at least 30 contact hours per week and no more than 22 students in a class. The ICMT, for instance, has a maximum of 14 students in a class.
  • How big is the school? Is it more important to you to train at a school that can accommodate a manageable number of people or one that has 400 students?
  • Where is it located? You probably want to be where the action is. A school too far from London can detach you from the industry when you need to be networking while training. Additionally, a lot of students work as ushers in theatres. This gives you a great understanding of how it all works, and you feel inspired every time you arrive at work.
  • Who are the teachers? Several schools claim to have industry professionals as teachers. You should do your research to determine who will be teaching you. There is a difference between being taught by professionals on a daily basis or once in a while. There is an important factor here – current professionals understand how the business operates today. These professionals can also help you to make connections.
  • What percentage is spent on each discipline? Another great question. Musical theatre is constantly evolving, and nowadays, versatility is imperative. As production companies tighten their budgets, the casts become smaller. As a result, each performer might have to play a variety of roles, so the more versatility you have, the better. For the best chance of success, choose a course that will focus on all three disciplines equally.

Is it harder to get into a two-year degree course than a three-year course?

Considering that there is only one two-year accelerated degree available in England (at ICMT), it would be a fair assessment that landing a place on the two-year program will be more challenging than the hundreds of three-year programs available. However, here are a few things you should consider if you are interested in being selected for the accelerated degree:

  • Do I have the talent? Talent is important, but there are many talented people out there trying for the same place you are.
  • Do I have the drive to keep going and succeed? This is a much more relevant question. Do you thrive on being challenged every day? Can you pick yourself up and keep going after a fall? Do you have the energy and determination to keep going every day? Or would you prefer to go at a more relaxed pace, take the occasional sick day or day off and arrive at the destination in your own time?
  • How do I stand out? Acting is vital. It doesn’t matter how good of a singer or dancer you are; if you can’t act, you might be in trouble. But isn’t acting subjective? Who says if you can act or not? The answer here is simple. If the audience feels something when you perform your songs and monologues, you’re doing the right thing. If you feel nothing, the audience feels nothing. Remember how you felt when you went to see your first big musical? That on-stage energy and feeling are what the audience wants. That’s what you need to come through.
  • Choose the right material. Make sure that it is within your skillset. For example, don’t choose a song with a top note that you can only hit on your best day in your bedroom at home. Once the nerves kick in, you won’t perform like you do for your cat. Choose a sensible song where you can relate to the storytelling, and shows a good part of your range.
  • Remember that for an audition panel, the days can be long. So, if everyone comes in with a monologue about death and destruction, it can make for a depressing day. Maybe you’re the one who comes in and lifts the mood and does something really uplifting or at least different. Be memorable.

What does the audition involve?

At the ICMT, the audition day will take a good half a day, so be prepared to spend approximately four hours minimum at the audition. Make sure you dress appropriately, with proper dancewear and a good audition outfit for the non-dance portions of the audition. Make sure you tie your hair back if it is long, and don’t wear noisy or distracting jewellery.

At the audition, you will:

  • Perform two contrasting songs and a monologue.
  • Do a group dance audition consisting of some technique and a routine. Don’t worry, with the exception of a few, schools will take a mixture of movers and dancers. Just show your personality in the room no matter what your background.
  • You will do a short interview. This is where you show the panel that you have what it takes to succeed. You want to show that you have drive and passion for musical theatre. The panel will also want to know that you’re prepared to put in the hard work; make sure that comes across. You will need to be that type of person to make it in the industry anyway, so bear this in mind.

For more information on the audition process at the ICMT, visit our Audition Information page >

What next?

Whatever path you choose for your musical theatre education, making an educated decision is always best. Ask questions; email the school, their response time will tell you how much they care and how invested they are in you. You are the one paying the bill at the end of the day and should be respected and treated like number one during the whole process. If you are not, you need to think twice about that establishment because the training will likely match.

You have chosen an industry that is hard (you knew that, right?) so put your faith in a school that will nurture and mentor you. The days of tearing you down in the first term and rebuilding you in the next one should be well and truly gone! Choose a school that celebrates your individuality and boosts your beliefs, and pushes you to be the best version of yourself, not the worst.

Choose to be around positive people. If you choose a two-year intensive degree option, you will be counting on support from friends even more. We all know those people who are unhealthy for us. Strangely they are usually the ones we seek acceptance from. Surround yourself with positivity and say no to those who put you down or are less than encouraging.

For those living outside of England, you can audition by self-tape. All you need is a good video on your phone and backing tracks, and away you go. The ICMT receives a lot of video submissions each year, so don’t feel you need to spend a lot of money travelling to London when a self-tape will do just fine. But checking out the facilities is always a good idea too.

Not ready for a degree?

Why not check out the other courses that we offer:

*The Level 4 Diploma in Musical Theatre Foundation Course can be studied full-time in London or part-time in Belfast.

You can apply to any location (London, New York, Belfast or Rome) and split your training in multiple locations.

February 18, 2022
Kenneth Avery-Clark