Julian Fellowes recently caused a debate when explaining why he had rewritten vast swathes of his film of Romeo and Juliet: “To see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearean scholarship, and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on,” he told the BBC in 2013. “I can do that because I had a very expensive education; I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that, and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare’s language choice.”
Antony Sher, who will be playing King Lear next year, responded: “I am sorry, that is nonsense,” he said. “I never went to university but my job as a Shakespeare actor — and I have done a lot of them now — is to work hard on conveying the meaning. It’s not a university degree you need, it’s the craft of speaking Shakespeare, which we at the RSC work very hard at.”
As an actor, understanding the text is an undeniable necessity. However, comprehension as a result of intellectual analysis does not automatically mean you will be effective in portraying the heart and emotional heft of a speech. The craft of speaking Shakespeare and doing justice to the poetry of the language is difficult, which is the reason for Audition Doctor’s unabated popularity amongst both drama school applicants and professional actors.
An actor’s responsibility, particularly with Shakespeare, is to use the language as a means to communicate a character’s truth. Actors come to Audition Doctor for help with Shakespeare because, unsurprisingly, sometimes the language can feel more like a hindrance in portraying that as opposed to a help. The antiquated wording and ornate lyricism of it all can sometimes prompt actors to “act” or “perform”.
Director of the Television Workshop, Ian Smith spoke about performance in an article for Ideastap:
“In my vocabulary, performing is something that gets in the way of truth. As an actor, your bullshit detector should go off. You should know if something doesn’t feel right – but you then have to work out where and why it didn’t feel right. What made you hit the wrong notes. Why do you say something the way you say it, when you say it? Why does that thought occur to you? How do you bridge that change from one thought to the next thought?”
At Audition Doctor, these are the kind of questions that every student explores through their work.
Smith went onto say: “If a cat walks across the stage – a real cat – of course it upstages everybody. The whole audience is looking at the cat, because you’re looking at real life; at something totally unpredictable. That’s an element to Samantha Morton, Jack O’Connell, Vicky McClure; you get the sense that you’re watching something unpredictable but absolutely tuned in to the moment.”
Students who attend sessions regularly notice that their ability to be spontaneous on the line and to react honestly is greatly strengthened, which is something that cannot be achieved by having an expensive education or a university degree.