My first year experience in BA (Hons) Acting

Kiara Pillai joined Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2019 and is currently studying BA (Hons) Acting. She tells us how caring and supportive her tutors were in her first few months at RBC, how interesting the storytelling rehearsal exercise was and what advice she would give to students starting their first year at RBC.

Kiara Pillai on stage

What were your expectations before starting your first year at university?

I definitely had no idea what to expect as I had never been to the UK and my previous background was in academia, so I had no idea what an acting course would be like. I definitely expected the training to be rigorous and harder than I imagined.

How did you find the first few months of university?

I found I settled into university life much quicker than I expected. Within the first week, my personal tutor and various other tutors had put my mind at ease. They were caring, asking each of us individual questions to get to know us and very clearly went through what we would be working on. Although the acting course was intense with classes from morning to evening every day, the tutors made it a safe environment for us to learn and explore. The small cohort size and constant interaction also made it much easier to get to know one another.

What has been the most fun/interesting project you have worked on?

So far, I’d say the most interesting project I’ve worked on was the storytelling rehearsal exercise (a mock performance) we worked on in the first term. It was the first performance and obviously everyone was unsure about what would be expected or created. I was particularly uncomfortable, given that I had never devised work from scratch before. However, it turned out to be good fun! We were given the space to creatively explore how to tell an epic tale with just our bodies and ideas. We also got the chance to try to create huge monsters and embody larger than life characters. It definitely made me more comfortable taking risks and trying new things and I had so much fun engaging in it.

Have you been on any course trips? If so, where have you been?

We had the opportunity to watch King John at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. It was incredible as I’ve never had the opportunity to watch one of the leading theatre companies in the world perform. It certainly did not disappoint. It was one of the highlights of my first year.

Have you had any work experience in your first year?

No, we haven’t, but we do get a lot of tutors who are active in the industry teach us and their advice is always relevant and applicable to the needs of the ever-changing industry. We are also expected to behave like professionals and prepare as accomplished actors would when coming into rehearsal exercises.

What is the community like in your school?

Because the cohorts are small and everybody has had long-term exposure to each other, the community is incredibly close-knit. I’ve found all of my course mates and seniors to be super supportive. They are always willing to work together and help one another out. I think it’s very rare to find a school community like this and I’m grateful for it, as it very much stomped out any fear or trepidation I experienced as an international student.

Are there any projects/trips/modules you are particularly looking forward to in your second year?

I’m looking forward to preparing for semi-public performances! In year one, we’ve kept our shows only for the rest of our year and the staff to see so that we have the opportunity to fail and grow, which has been immensely helpful. However, the opportunity to increase the scale of our performances and perform multiple times to live audiences will be challenging, but exciting!

Is studying at university much different to college/sixth form? If so/if not, why?

It’s a lot more practical than sixth form. Because of the way sixth form is geared towards A-levels, there’s a lot of theoretical learning. Whereas on the acting course, most of our learning is experiential and comes from diving headfirst into activities and performances and receiving feedback. It requires a lot more courage, but I’ve found it to be so much more helpful and educational than just merely thinking, reading and writing on an academic discipline.

What advice would you give to students who are starting university soon?

I would advise students to make sure what they are studying is what they are truly passionate about. University life is a lot more independent and relies a lot on self-motivation and self-preparation before heading into classes. Ultimately, I would say what motivates me to work hard is my passion for acting and what I'm learning.

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