For Tilly Blackwood, being authentically yourself is what will give you the best chance of a successful audition. Sessions often focus on speech-work, trying to find the characters and plays that give you the best chance of landing a job or getting into drama school – the ones that feel authentic and tailored to the individual.
As one former student explained: “When I first started working with Tilly, I’d almost given up on the possibility of going to drama school. From our first session I could see why she had such a phenomenally successful track record with helping students get places at top schools; in just an hour, she was able to pinpoint the things that were holding me back, and the ways in which the pieces I’d chosen weren’t serving me. I’m so delighted to have been offered a place on the BA Acting course at RADA.”
For Blackwood, it’s about creating a safe space at her home where you can truly open up. “It’s completely private,” she explains, “and you can tell me the things you’re too frightened to say to your mates: I’m never going to work again, or I don’t know how I can fit into the world of acting, I’m worried that drama school is too expensive or it’s not for me. Whatever you want to talk about, I will listen.”
Blackwood expects hard work in her sessions – “I’m on your side,” she says, “but I will also tell you the truth” – and the results speak for themselves. From practical tips for drama school auditions to rediscovering the pleasure in acting, The Audition Doctor is the best medicine.
The many testimonials from Blackwood’s former students attest to her skill. Emma Corrin, known for portraying Princess Diana in Netflix’s The Crown, visited The Audition Doctor at the beginning of her career: “As an untrained actor new to a hugely intimidating industry, Tilly managed to truly inspire me and instil in me the courage to recognise and begin to cultivate my talent.”
The ethos of The Audition Doctor is that it’s all about you. “When I meet people for the first time they’re surprised that my obsession – whether you’re a professional actor or you’re trying to get into drama school – is always you. No one does you like you. Often I find that a lot of people are quite scared of being absolutely authentic and uncensored.”
“You don’t go to a doctor if you’re well,” says Tilly Blackwood, founder of bespoke coaching service for actors The Audition Doctor. “In the same way, people don’t come to me if they’re doing fine. They come when they have a problem or a need, and I create bespoke sessions to help in any way that I can.”
Whether you’re a student applying for drama school, a professional actor looking for help with an upcoming audition, or simply need a self-esteem boost, The Audition Doctor can ignite confidence, while never losing sight of the main prize: securing the job.
Blackwood has been a full-time working actor for more than 30 years, and she set up Audition Doctor to pass on the skills and expertise she has learned from her time in the industry. “I’ve got all this knowledge, and it gives me so much joy to share it. I’ve experienced many of these same things myself: I’ve suffered with stage fright, with lack of confidence. I know what it feels like.”
She prides herself on creating a safe and welcoming space at her flat in Borough where you can work through specific problems – delivery, posture, characterisation – or just sit and chat.
In an article for the Independent entitled “How to tell good acting from bad acting”, Christopher Hooton wrote: “An actor’s job is to know the breadth of human possibility and the depths of his or her own possibilities. He or she must pull from this well and surprise us. Otherwise, the actor becomes boring and predictable.”
He went onto cite the importance of emotional vulnerability, listening and knowing “how to use [their] voice and body to serve whatever role [they’re] playing” as essential characteristics that good actors must be in possession of.
The reason why people value weekly Audition Doctor sessions is because they give students the opportunity to focus on each of these attributes. Students find that as a result of Audition Doctor sessions, they land not only more parts, but parts that are also far more varied.
Daniel Mays recently warned actors to avoid stereotyped roles: “Having a posh guy playing posh is just playing it safe. There’s this huge debate about diversity at the Oscars – and if that’s the case, we have to mix it up as best we possibly can. Because any actor worth their salt wants to risk, and wants to play outside the box.”
Students always credit Audition Doctor with fostering the sense of possibility and risk in their acting. It’s where nothing is played safe and where they are encouraged to make strong decisions.
Kathryn Hunter was interviewed for Whatsonstage and said: “When an actor has invested in the creation of the piece, with ideas, rather than being told to stand there and do that, that’s fuel.” “For her, acting is about engaging heart, body, soul and, crucially, brain too.”
Aside from professional actors, Audition Doctor is also extremely popular amongst drama school applicants and always stresses the importance of training.
Fenella Woolgar said: “Nobody knew who I was when I got a part in Bright Young Things, I was a couple of years out of drama school, so that was just brilliant. I would always recommend to anybody if they really want to act, go to one of the top five because you’ll get seen and that will launch you.”
She went onto say: “The glory about doing theatre is it’s a relationship, you’re not on your own.” For those applying to drama schools, the entire process can feel daunting and difficult – especially if you are preparing on your own. Audition Doctor gives them the chance to collaborate and get a taste of what it’s like to be directed so they are able to show their best and most confident selves in the audition.
Recently, there have been several articles where both actors and directors have spoken about how important an audience is in a play’s growth and development.
Ralph Fiennes said: “It’s in front of an audience that I start to really learn what I’m doing. You rehearse, but a play grows over time. I feel sad that we don’t have a system of adjusting and changing things after the first night.”
Many people find that rehearsing solo is only helpful up to a point and it is only when they attend regular Audition Doctor sessions that they discover a freshness in to their speeches. The longer you give yourself to rehearse with Tilly, the quicker it is to find the rhythm of the speech, develop originality and plumb the depths of the character.
In the Guardian, Matt Trueman said: “In preview, Waste was – frankly – a bit dull: a fascinating, intricate play but a long, drawn-out watch. A month on, it’s far livelier. Everything’s more expansive. Lines have more spring. Each becomes a rollercoaster with ups, downs and loop-the-loops. It keeps you listening, holds your attention. Each individual moment is 1% or 2% better. The whole lifts by 10.”
Students who attend Audition Doctor report much the same after a consistent string of sessions.
Watching [Waste] most nights, staff director Oscar Toeman commented: “If you read Waste, it’s heavy,” he says. “The actors are doing a hell of a lot of work to make it feel as light and buoyant as it does. The point is that they have learned what an audience needs. Just as you only learn to drive after passing your test, you only really learn how to play a role after press night.”
Similarly, Audition Doctor gives actors the chance to learn what a potential audience needs and road test different takes on their part.
Charles Edwards, playing Henry Trebell in Waste, said “[As a show goes on], you find that running the thing with a crowd, allowing the language to strike you in ways it hasn’t already, you make realisations of your own”.
The rigorous sessions at Audition Doctor mean that students often find they continue to find nuances which keeps a rawness to their performance – a quality highly prized by audition panels.
Fiennes advised young actors: “It’s important not to get into a little hole of just perfecting one’s own technique. I’m always looking at other actors.”
Tilly strongly recommends that her students go frequently to the theatre. Students have found that a combination of both observing other professional actors and attending Audition Doctor lessons quickens the pace of their own progress and they become more confident and successful in auditions.
Emma Rice, new artistic director of the Globe, spoke in the Telegraph about her mission of getting rid of the idea that Shakespeare was something audiences felt that they had to endure as opposed to enjoy.
“There’s a lot of theatre, some of it Shakespeare some not, which feels like medicine. You feel like if you can get through it, you’re a better person. I have no interest in that; I can’t bear to be in a theatre that feels like medicine. I think it should be a celebration and it should be joyful and at the end you should get it.”
Accessibility is a word that she uses frequently throughout the interview in the Telegraph.
“I think I make very accessible work,” she says. “That doesn’t mean it’s not sophisticated or meaningful or intelligent, but it’s accessible.”
With regards to all her previous work, she says: “I’m always making sure the audience knows what’s happening at any given time so they’re free to feel or to respond in a personal way. My guess is that there’s an excitement that I might be able to do that with Shakespeare – open it up a bit.”
The general consensus with her appointment is that Rice is expected “to strip away generations of bafflement and bring Shakespeare really, truly, to the masses.”
Audition Doctor’s demand is also down to this commitment to making Shakespeare feel reachable, true and unforced. This begins with unpicking the text itself. Although the language can sometimes appear difficult, over the course of the sessions students often find that it no longer feels restrictive and burdensome. Instead, it conversely becomes a great help in conveying the emotion and intention of the character.
Audition Doctor is also a space where students ask questions and where they are immediately addressed.
It’s a relief to know that Rice stated:“I think I can be really rigorous in saying I don’t understand it, and I’m not ashamed to say that,” she says. “I say it all the time. I think there’s a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes in theatre: nobody wants to be the one who doesn’t understand it so nobody says they don’t. I feel that then becomes a conspiracy.”
Aside from unpacking the text, Audition Doctor’s popularity also lies in the gradual and organic method with which each student is guided to form a unique and emotionally genuine character.
Tom Hiddleston said “I suppose I’m fascinated by the private vulnerability and the exterior of people,” he says. “I think that’s an essential truth. I sort of quite like trying to find what makes people tick behind the construction of their identity.”
This is what Audition Doctor sessions are known for. Constructing an identity that is real as well as complex takes time, which is why most students attend regular weekly sessions and continue to seek Tilly’s guidance even after they land the job.
In an article in The Times, Emma Rice – new artistic director of the Globe – stated that “she would like to aim for a 50-50 split between roles for actors and actresses at the Globe, despite female characters being a minority in Shakespeare’s work.”
“There is a target,” she said. “I’d love for it to be 50-50. There’s no reason why Gloucester [in King Lear] can’t be a woman. If anyone can bend gender, it’s Shakespeare.”
The article cited the examples of Fiona Shaw as Richard II at the National Theatre, Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female productions of The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe in 2003 and Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse in 2012, as well as Maxine Peake’s Hamlet at the Manchester Royal Exchange in 2014.
While the film industry is famed for its conservative outlook on gender and race – (see Idris Elba’s recent speech on the lack of diversity in television here), theatre is where unconventional casting is allowing actors and directors to explore more radical avenues.
In an earlier interview for BAFTA, Idris Elba also advised young actors to keep an open mind both in terms of approaching characters and in terms of approaching their career.
“Keep an open mind. This may seem like an obvious thing, but you are the vessel and then on top of you and added into you are these personalities that you have to portray…Throw away any ideas you’ve got and start building a character from the beginning.
[Also], some actors starting out have this idea that they want to be movie stars and on TV but I started out in theatre and ended up in television…The theatre route just opened doors for me. As an actor you can do voiceovers, read scripts, read plays. Get as involved as you can without being too choosy about the kind of work that you do. It’s just really great to get your performance and creativity out.
Many actors have found that Audition Doctor have given them the opportunity to get their creativity out. Whether they are preparing for auditions or between jobs, the work that comes out of the sessions is vital for keeping their options open. Elba went onto advise young actors to “have an attention to detail” when it came to observing the emotional and psychological reactions of human beings.
Audition Doctor allows actors to put their observations and creativity into practice. The sessions are focused and at times exacting, however, all of Tilly’s students have credited the ambitious level of preparation that is expected of them as being an integral part of their development as an actor.
Many drama school candidates and professional actors attend Audition Doctor sessions in an attempt to unravel Shakespeare. For some of those applying to drama school, Shakespeare represents a hurdle to overcome as opposed to a weapon in their arsenal.
However, it is clear that Shakespeare plays are increasingly giving actors more opportunities to play the atypical and avoid being pigeon-holed. Competition for these kinds of roles is fierce and many have found that the space, time and guidance that Audition Doctor provides is an integral part of their preparation to getting the part.
Last year, Ophelia Lovibond was interviewed for Whatsonstage before she appeared in Lucy Prebble’s The Effect at Sheffield Theatres (Crucible Studio).
“I’m so excited…The luxury which I am realising I’ve not had working in film and television is the time to figure out every different facet of the character and discuss everything – it’s very addictive.”
Students at Audition Doctor often comment on sessions with Tilly in a similar vein. The regularity with which most attend is a testament to the value they place on the time for experimentation and discovery that Audition Doctor provides.
Lovibond spoke particularly of how acting for the stage was pushing her to learn “a different aspect of her craft. There are so many ideas that you can interrogate. And Daniel Evans, the director, is so full of ideas; he’ll make you try things out that hadn’t occurred to you and you discover something you never could have anticipated which enriches your performance so much more.”
Similarly, Audition Doctor alerts students to less obvious and consequently more interesting character choices. Many make the mistake of making bold choices for the sake of being remembered in an audition. At Audition Doctor, the choices made are original and daring without compromising the motivation of the text. Audition Doctor students are remembered for the right reasons at auditions – for playing unique characters that are ultimately rooted in truth.
Gael Garcia Bernal commented on his time at LAMDA saying: “Looking at it in retrospect it was of course very formative and incredibly important.” Aside from professional actors, Audition Doctor has proved highly popular with those applying to drama school. While some have used Audition Doctor as their main training ground, Tilly encourages everyone to receive formal training and the focus that the one-on-one nature of the sessions affords is integral to drama school candidates. With 5000 people auditioning, the need to assert individuality and imagination is a must to pass the numerous recall stages.
Furthermore, the brilliance of working consistently on one character at Audition Doctor is that the intensity of focus encourages a feeling of ownership. This is invaluable especially with parts – such as female parts in Shakespeare plays – that are not only limited, but also performed with such frequency.
Bernal spoke about the importance of ownership and how much easier it is as an actor to achieve in a television series and in theatre than in film: “In a film you don’t get the chance to feel that. Even if you do feel and develop that, later when you see it put together, you see a whole different collage of what you did. [In a series], you feel more in the chronology, like in a theatre.”
With drama school auditions, candidates don’t have the luxury that a full-length play affords to display this ownership over character. Audition Doctor gives her students the ability to show a panel that they are fearless and innovative in the time it takes to perform their monologue, which is why most of Audition Doctor’s students go on to gain places at leading drama schools.
In an interview for Whatsonstage, Kate Fleetwood spoke about Medea’s rehearsal process and said: “It’s hard in rehearsals to get that contact with something emotionally whilst also trying to contain an intellectual dialogue as well; it’s easy to bellow and scream your way through these things, you have to make sure you’re clear and the argument is being addressed.”
Speeches that demand this balancing act are the speeches that Audition Doctor always encourages students to tackle. If properly worked on, these speeches often reveal vulnerability and a real mastery of craft. As Harriet Walter said in the Guardian: “Treat directors (and writers) as innocent until proven guilty. The good ones, if you don’t resist them, will take you places you never thought you could reach.”
However, as Fleetwood attests, it’s easy to confuse being loud with conveying honest emotion. This is a particular area in which countless students have cited Audition Doctor as being a great help.
Lenny Henry advised actors: “Think of long speeches as a series of connected thoughts, not one big clump of dialogue. Each thought, each sentence, is a separate piece of your armoury. Think through each sentence: about how you glue it together; what it means; how you feel when you say each thing. You’ll find it comes together like a kind of delicious soup.”
From the premeditated “actioning” of every thought, to spontaneous experimentation, Audition Doctor guides her students through a variety of techniques to ensure that the resultant performance is an original and true take on a character.
Aside from the obvious artistic reasons, students also come to Audition Doctor to gain practical knowledge on how to harness the inevitable nerves that most, if not all, actors suffer from in auditions.
Lesley Manville said in the Guardian: “Accept that you’re going to have nerves to begin with. I don’t know many actors who aren’t nervous the first time they do a performance on stage. You’re nervous about whether you can remember your lines; whether you can get through it; whether the audience are going to like it; whether the other actors are going to remember their lines, or you’ll have to bail somebody out. But after that, the nerves should get better.”
The level of preparation that each student goes through at Audition Doctor means that nerves do get harnessed and cease to negatively affect performances. With these under control, students find that they feel much freer to experiment, make bold choices and generally be unafraid to take risks. Although the outcome sometimes may not quite serve the writer’s intention or indeed your own, being vulnerable enough to make such unorthodox artistic decisions is what audition panels are looking for.
Audition Doctor sessions push students to combine imagination as well as thought, to risk and to embrace the uncertain outcomes that ensue. The sessions remain so popular because students can clearly chart their progress week by week as they take what they’ve learnt from one speech into the next. It is the students that persist in this unceasing quest for improvement at Audition Doctor that find they land the jobs they audition for.
In Backstage, Timothy Simons (who plays Jonah Ryan in Veep) spoke about the importance of approaching an audition from a personal perspective, rather than the perceived perspective of those on the other side of the table. “You don’t want to go in trying to force yourself into some archetype that has been thought up by a director and translated by a casting director,” he said. “If you have a particular read on it, go in with your point of view, because it doesn’t make sense trying to go in with somebody else’s point of view.”
Many of Audition Doctor’s students come to work on Shakespeare speeches. Students often come with idea on how to “act” Shakespeare; performances are often more declamatory and not approached in the same way as they would a modern speech. In their initial Audition Doctor sessions, they often begin by having no clear cut vision of their character’s emotional journey. However, as the sessions progress, students find that they cease to copy the performances of other actors that they may have seen, and instead, come to develop something truly original and wholly their own.
This is what audition panels are looking for and Audition Doctor has helped countless actors reach this by eliminating all extraneous and unhelpful preconceived notions on acting Shakespeare. Students are encouraged to approach the text with the aim of creating a truthful human being as opposed to “ A Shakespeare character”.
Audition Doctor has no one size fits all approach and each student benefits from different kinds of advice and practical exercises. What they all need and receive at Audition Doctor, however, is the gift of guided preparation.
When preparing for her role in “Two Days, One Night”, Marion Cotillard worked extensively on her character’s backstory. She said: “I wrote her life before. I wrote scenes I would use later when I needed some support to be able to burst into tears out of nowhere. I needed to build a structure of stories that I could use when I needed to reach this or that emotion.”
Audition Doctor students have done similar exercises. The reason why most students sign up for at least several sessions is because many find that their abilities and subsequently, their confidence, progress significantly once they have had the time with Tilly to identify which methods of approach works best for them.
Through working with Audition Doctor, students routinely report how much their confidence improves. Last week, Eddie Redmayne said in The Telegraph: “…if you begin to believe in yourself too much then you can’t access the fragility of the characters you have to play and you are not listening enough to play them.”
At Audition Doctor, students always gain the right kind of confidence – the assurance that grows through the results of the rigorous work that is achieved in the sessions, as opposed to any kind of mistaken self-belief.
Students rate Audition Doctor so highly because they also remain open to vulnerability, astute to direction and unafraid of making unconventional artistic choices.
Audition Doctor is delighted to be teaming up with Bespoke Reels-the #1 showreel providers in the UK, who also host a range of talent in their custom built self-tape suite, which accommodates live streaming sessions if you need to audition internationally – to provide you with the perfect, stress free self tape experience.
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