The decision of whether or not to study abroad is a tough one. I faced this issue just last year as I weighed the options of spending the Spring semester of my junior year comfortably at USC, or halfway across the world at the British American Drama Academy—better known in the School of Dramatic Arts as BADA.
There were a lot of pros and cons to consider. On one hand, I had my life at USC. Leaving for a semester meant leaving behind friends, opportunities, and the comforts of familiarity. I was finally starting to really find my place at USC, why would I want to leave?
On the other hand, I knew that studying abroad was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was my chance to not only live in another country, but to receive intense, conservatory style theatre training. Classmates who had gone to BADA the previous year swore that the experience changed their lives.
Inspired by their stories, I decided to swallow my fear; when offered a spot at BADA, I accepted.
However, I still doubted my decision. In January, as I boarded my London-bound plane, my mind raced. "I've made a horrible mistake." I thought. " I don't want to do this anymore." I couldn't shake thoughts of all that could go wrong. Would I hate it? Would I make friends? Would it be worth it?
Honestly, it was the most incredible four months of my life.
For starters, the location of the school cannot be beat. BADA sits in Camden, down the street from the world famous Camden Market. Many lunch breaks were spent sampling the different cuisines in that food-lover's heaven. I quickly became a regular at one little Russian pie shop in the area, Stolle's, which I visited every Tuesday after working up an appetite at stage combat class.
BADA students spend the first 8 weeks in classes. Intense classes. The school day generally lasts from 9am-6pm, and the curriculum is made up of movement, voice, stage combat, theatre history, theatre critique, Shakespeare, and High Comedy classes. Because the class sizes are generally smaller than they are at USC, students are up and performing everyday.
Accomplished actors—many of whom call the West End or the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) their home—led these rigorous classes. Their intelligence matched their intensity, and the respect I hold for each of them only grows as I continue to recognize the impressions they left on me.
The final 5 weeks of the program are spent in rehearsals for a production. All of the hard work in classes and rehearsals culminates in a final performance in a London theatre.
London's love affair with the theatre meant that I could find a performance any night of the week, anywhere. Literally. I attended shows in big theatres, in pubs, and even in an abandoned tube station. During my time in London I attended 26 productions. My secret for affording this? Finding cheap tickets: I entered lotteries, sat in the back row, and scouted out smaller theatres. Luckily, I was there the same time the annual Vault Festival was going up. Held in the former—now abandoned—Waterloo Station, this festival offers innovative, original theatre for very low prices. Many of us in the program would make a night out of it by attending multiple shows!
For me, one of the best things about being in Europe was the ability to travel to countries I had only ever dreamed of seeing. All of Europe was at my feet. I took a weekend trip to Paris. Eager to explore on a Saturday, I hopped on a bus to Wales. After 8 weeks of classes, I spent a well-deserved spring break in Spain and Portugal, and traveled for a couple of weeks following the program. By the time I returned to the states, I had visited 8 countries. I learned to navigate airports, train and bus stations—even loading docks for water taxis!
But don't just take it from me, read what my—and your—fellow classmates have to say about the experience.
What do you think BADA offers that students can't get at USC?
Sophie Thomason: Rigor. With nonstop classes everyday stemming from 9am to 6pm taught by world-class professors (seriously, these guys are masters of their craft, ranging from RSC company members to West End-quoted theatre critics to Royal voice coaches) students learn what it truly means to be immersed in the craft. The professors require 150% of you constantly, and not participating each and every day is not an option. You must be willing to give your all, always. It is physical. It encompasses your entire day. At night, you're either seeing a play with the Academy, rehearsing in your flat, or talking over the day with your cohort-mates, whom you also live with. It builds stamina. It teaches you what it means to be a technically trained actor in every sense of the word. And most importantly, it equips you with the tools to carry that training with you throughout your acting career—a simply liberating feeling.
What was your favorite class? Why?
Ezie Nguyen: BADA was the most incredibly rewarding 15 weeks of my life. With a conservatory style program and some of the best drama teachers you can find in London, I grew exponentially as an actor. My favorite class was Voice with the brilliant John Tucker. I left with plenty of novel tools for my acting toolbox in regards to approaching, dissecting, and performing text. I couldn't have asked for a better experience.
How do you think you grew as an actress? As a person?
Caitlin Kilgore: I think that BADA had a huge influence on me as an actress. I left with a solid foundation in technique and a wider knowledge of theatre. Also, seeing so many productions in the city definitely influenced me as well because when I wasn't actively working on my acting, I was watching how other people act in professional settings. The study abroad experience in general made me so much more confident in myself and who I am as a person. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. I never thought I'd be the person who traveled around Europe by myself, but I did. And I think BADA gave me the confidence to be bold. I fell in love with London and much of Europe during the semester, and my most cherished memories are actually from when I was exploring alone, even though that's what I was initially afraid of.