When approaching a part, most actors will say that their definitive starting point is the play itself. As Honeysuckle Weeks stated in an article on Ideastap: “A lot of getting into character is about the rhythm of the speech. Look at the grammar and the syntax of how this person speaks. Also, how other characters react. I learned a lot about my character quite late on in the play; don’t make assumptions about a character until you’ve read all the way through.”
In my experience, many drama school applicants have studied English either to A Level or even degree level. While this is an inevitably natural and often successful route into the Industry, it’s worth remembering that drama schools aren’t looking for candidates who approach the creation of a character in a scholarly manner. As one member of a drama school audition panel put it: “Education in this country focuses on here (pointing to his head), acting focuses on here (pointing at his gut).” While noting diphthongs, caesuras and soft endings are useful in an English essay, as Weeks noted: “I certainly think [studying English at Oxford] was helpful, although I learnt more about Shakespeare from performing the plays. Academia is not what theatre is about; it’s about performance, rhythm and sound.”
Recently, Anne-Marie Duff credits getting to grips with the character of Nina in O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National as “rising above literalness and “get the smell of it, breathe it in, see if you can exhale it – that is all you can do”.
This is what sessions at Audition Doctor give you the opportunity to do. Initially sessions are about understanding exactly what you are saying; Shakespeare speeches are dissected and discussed. This is generally done prior to line learning because Tilly always stresses that not understanding a line means that you, as an actor, will undoubtedly fail to communicate a line with the intention and conviction required to make any character truthful.
This week, Andrew Scott spoke about how the ease of line learning was often connected to how well you understand the text. “Line learning I always think is about wanting to say the lines. There are lines where you go “God, I know that, that’s really weird, that’s really easy to learn that and there are always lines where you can never remember the line. I always think that’s because you don’t like saying the line. Maybe because you don’t understand it or there’s something that you’re not connecting with.”
However, Audition Doctor sessions are so much more than just getting to grips with the meaning of a play. In her preparation for Strange Interlude, Duff stressed that “The real challenge is to become more yourself as an actor, visiting every corner.” Audition Doctor allows you to realise that your limitations are in no way circumscribed and that exploration and experimentation are key to creating what Duff described as “a panorama of character.” She describes trying to find “the extraordinary colours that [she is] trying to find every day in rehearsal” which is precisely what Audition Doctor is all about.