Terry Pratchett's Mort

An Interview with Ryan Heenan


YMT's Ryan Heenan talks to us about what it’s like to audition for drama schools as well as his experience at YMT.

After taking part in several YMT shows – including this year’s Variété as well as the lead in the 2012 version of Terry Pratchett’s Mort The Musical – Ryan Heenan has just started at Central School of Speech and Drama, where he is doing the BA (Hons) Acting course, with the Musical Theatre pathway. He was also successful in his applications for Mountview, Arts Ed, and Guildford School of Acting! We spoke to Ryan about what it’s like to audition for drama schools as well as his experience at YMT.

Which drama schools did you apply for?

I applied for: the Central School of Speech and Drama, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, Arts Ed, Guildford School of Acting (GSA), Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and the one-year course at the Royal Academy of Music. I’d always wanted to do drama; I’d never really thought about applying to university.

When did you apply?

I was quite strategic about it. You don’t want to seem too eager and rush your application, but you don’t want to leave it until the last minute either. Some of my friends applied in September or October and got through to the final rounds, but they weren’t offered places because the drama schools didn’t know who would audition in the future. I applied in my last week of school in December. That way I could relax over the Christmas holidays and then had my auditions in January and recalls in February.

How do you apply?

It’s different for every school. I applied to GSA and Central through UCAS, which is a bit weird for drama schools because you get emails from UCAS saying when to audition, rather than directly from the institution. Arts Ed and Mountview are both done privately: print it off, fill it in and send it to them directly. The Royal Academy of Music and RCS use CUKAS – the Conservatoires Admission Service UK.

What were the auditions like?

It all depends on your course. There tends to be about 100 people a day. The ArtsEd and Mountview auditions were all in one day. After that day you don’t audition again and you hear within two weeks whether you’re in or not. Central’s was a bit crazy: there were about 120 people there and then went down to 17 at lunchtime! We were split into groups and then they told us which pathway we would be recalled for – whether it’s pure acting or musical theatre etc. At central they’ve also got a devised and collaborative theatre course.

I was inevitably nervous, but I dealt with it by sipping water – the adrenaline was sort of a good thing. I’d say, generally, that it’s much harder to be a girl auditioning for drama schools.

What did you have to do in your audition?

Every school wants something different and they all ask you to prepare different things. I ended up preparing four or five songs and up to eight monologues. Central have their own list of Shakespeare monologues and they can be very specific. Every school is looking for something different. You get an idea about the schools from their students and the sorts of shows that the schools put on. So, for example, you may want to do something more modern for Arts Ed whilst others want something a bit more traditional.

What songs did you do?

I did "Lost in the Wilderness" from Children of Eden and for a more traditional song I did "Younger Than Springtime" from South Pacific.

Guildford had list of songs, so I did "Maria" from West Side Story. It was interesting because they had a list and songs that you’re usually told are too obvious for auditions. If you do an obscure song, though, there should be a healthy balance between traditional and obscure. Don’t sing anything from Les Mis because that’s so obvious, but equally if you go too obscure it could be bad. They’ve heard "On My Own" too many times. If stuff is really obscure, there’s usually a reason it’s obscure. However, there are some songs that you think are too obvious, but if it suits a person it doesn’t necessarily matter.

Did you have to dance?

At dance schools like Laines, Millennium and Urdang you tend to have to prepare a one minute dance solo with your track and you have to do jazz, tap, and ballet classes. So I didn’t audition for those! I did dance workshops where you go in do a warm-up and they watch you and teach you a short routine.

How do you feel your auditions went?

The examiners don’t let anything on. I had a few auditions where I know I messed up, but the panel very rarely engage or give anything away, even if you’re doing a comedic monologue. They might give you an awkward smile. You go away thinking ‘I have no clue how that went’.

How long did you have to wait to hear back from the schools?

They take their time with their final decision. They tend to be quite quick with their recall, it can be a week. With their final decision, it tends to be it can be a bit longer up to three weeks; Central took a month with mine.

Do you think YMT helped you?

Yea, I do. It opens you up. It’s not like other people coming to auditions, who have only done classic musicals like Guys and Dolls and Anything Goes. They’re probably very good productions, but with YMT you get to do new and interesting stuff and you get to work with professionals. It makes you grow and sort of appreciate it more.

What is your favourite YMT moment?

I don’t know. I think, maybe because it’s recent, but the last night of Variété was really special. I think as a cast we were all really close and there was no one who doubted the show. Everyone was really into it. When we got to the last show, we were like, ‘this is the last time, let’s go out and give them a great show’.

What was it like working with the creative team?

It was crazy, in a brilliant way.

What three pieces of advice would you give to our young people thinking of drama school?

  • Preparation is key! There’s nothing worse than being nervous and learning the lines the night before. Everything’s going to go wrong. Be prepared! Don’t be worried about over-working a piece. Just keep at it and finding new thingss
  • Be really open, they can throw anything at you to see how you react. Go in open-minded. For example, if you’re doing a monologue and they sense that you’ve done it like that loads of times, they’ll probably throw something at you and see if you can take direction and respond well. They’re not looking for the finished product; they’re looking for potential!
  • You don’t have to give up if you don’t get a place. The students show us around at the schools told us that they got in on their fourth or fifth time auditioning. It’s difficult. You have to be able to take rejection and let it make you stronger.

We wish Ryan the best of luck at Central and we hope he mentions us when he wins his first Olivier or Tony!