Prominent actors such as Julie Walters and Mark Strong have publicly protested the inaccessibility of drama school for those from under-privileged backgrounds. They frequently cite the £9,000 yearly fee as being a prohibitive barrier to pursuing an acting career. The Stage wrote a rebuttal that said “It shows concern, which is welcome, but actually comments like this are not very helpful.”
The increase in tuition fees was not particular to drama schools and while there is a lack of actors from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, The Stage argues that the problem isn’t funding.
“The difficulty seems to be that the training industry is struggling to find ways of getting the message to socio-economically deprived young people that yes, they can train vocationally if they have the talent and potential to benefit. They may belong to families for whom the idea of drama school seems derisively effete. No one locally knows much about professional performing arts training. The press continuously reports well-known actors inaccurately bemoaning the financial impossibility of it. And everyone focuses on actor unemployment. The messages are all negative.”
There is an assumption, especially during our “age of austerity”, that the arts are (to quote Sam West) “an add on” as evidenced by “the double squeeze of Arts Council cuts and local authority cuts.” Consequently, disadvantaged young people shy away from drama school training because they see themselves as acquiring loans and subsequent debt for an industry that is fast shrinking.
Many of Audition Doctor’s students have been successful drama school applicants and are able to fund their training through the audition waivers, free lunches, DaDA grants and bursaries that The Stage writes about. Drama schools understand the obstacles that their students face and have made concerted efforts to ease the financial strain on their students.
The other main contingent of Audition Doctor students are professional actors, many of whom have varied stories about how they entered the profession. Regardless of whether or not they went to/are going to drama school, all of Audition Doctor students approach their work with passion and a determination to unceasingly push their training to the next level. Those that come to Audition Doctor regularly as well as work on their speeches find that they do better at auditions and consequently decrease their chances of unemployment.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that even the best actors have had their doubts when it comes to the validity of their profession. When interviewed by James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio, Meryl Streep said: “When I was applying to law school and thinking that acting was a stupid way to make a living because it doesn’t do anything in the world, but I think it does, I think there’s a great worth in it. The worth is listening to people who maybe don’t even exist or who are voices in your past and through you, through the work you give them to other people. I think giving voice to characters that have no voice is the great worth of what we do because so much of acting is vanity. I mean, this feels so great to come out here and sit here and have everybody clap but the real thing that makes me feel so good is when I know I’ve said something for a soul, when I’ve presented a soul.”
This week, The Stage wrote about how the concerted effort drama schools have made to encourage their actors to self-produce and self-create has paid dividends.
“Traditionally drama schools focused on developing stage skills and getting paid jobs in theatres at the end of it. And for that, the wisdom went, you needed an agent because he or she would work miracles for you in return for a 15% commission on all the work you did. Cynics have described drama school as a one-way ticket to a showcase – and all those brilliant agents hungry to snap up you and your talents.”
However, there has been a sea change with regards to the way drama schools educate their creatives. The difficult reality is that even with a final showcase at a top drama school, “common sense and arithmetic suggest that many of them will not get agents or paid jobs in companies.”
Many actors would strongly identify with Toni Collette’s recent comment: “I think acting arrests me, it keeps me awake. The way people live their lives, the whole psychological labyrinth, is what turns me on, so the job itself feeds me”. Not working and waiting for your agent (if you have one) to ring can be hugely dispiriting. This is why drama schools are pushing students to form their own theatre companies so they can make work for themselves. Mischief Theatre Company is one such company, born out of LAMDA graduates, that recently won an Olivier for The Play that Goes Wrong.
Audition Doctor is another example of being proactive and increasing your chances for professional work. Actors, whether in or out of work, have found regular sessions at Audition Doctor to be an invaluable driving force in pushing their careers in the direction they desire. The continual character exploration and textual analysis mean that whenever an audition arises, Audition Doctor students never feel they are “out of practice” and always have new approaches and ideas to experiment with.
Toni Collette said: “The great luxury of being any kind of artist is that you explore and challenge yourself. You can paint different pictures. You don’t have to draw a cloud every day.” What Audition Doctor fosters is the hunger for the new, fleshing out aspects of character that you have yet to inhabit.
The success of Audition Doctor students, however, lies in Tilly’s ability to draw out aspects of your individuality in the speech. It reflects Michael Sheen’s description of acting as “being like a sound desk, fading sliders up and down on aspects of your personality until you have someone.” The advantage of coming to Audition Doctor is the total focus on you and what you are creating. Many actors have found the one-on-one Audition Doctor sessions to be essential, as they find that they are consequently able to give more back in the collaborative work that they do with their theatre companies or in rehearsals for professional jobs.
Ultimately, those who attend Audition Doctor are there to improve their craft and to create art, which Stanley Tucci defined as “taking whatever is in front of you and making it into something else. To me that is what art is.”
Sean Holmes, Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, was interviewed in The Stage and spoke about his attempt to radicalise and disquiet the traditional model of British theatre through Secret Theatre. It was based on a speech he made in 2013 when he stated that “maybe the existing structures of theatre in this country, while not corrupt, are corrupting.”
Secret Theatre was about “forming an in-house ensemble of actors and creatives, deploying gender- and colour-blind casting as default, keeping show titles secret – almost to prove to British theatre as a whole that there are other ways of doing things.”
Holmes elaborated: “All of Secret Theatre was about one thing and one thing only, though I didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t about being German and it wasn’t about new approaches to new writing. It wasn’t really about directing. It was about acting. It was about empowering the actors individually and collectively to reach their potential. Because the biggest thing that no one talks about is the deep conservatism in the choices British actors make, and the reasons – before they all come and kill me – are structural. It’s not their fault. It’s to do with economics…It’s really hard to earn a living in theatre, even if you work a lot. If you want a relatively nice life, you’re going to do TV and film meaning you’ll do your one play a year. That leads to different choices…You can’t affect the structures…[but] you can’t moan because the answer is “Well, do something!”
Audition Doctor has become the answer to many professional actors who want to be pragmatic. Like Secret Theatre, Audition Doctor is a space where the actor is truly allowed to play and where the actor is put first and foremost. At Audition Doctor, the actor is encouraged to shake off any preconceived notions of how Shakespeare should be approached or how a part should be played, and instead explore different routes that require imagination and lead to a genuinely original performance.
Audition Doctor has proven to be crucial for actors who want a quick brush-up before an audition but also actors who want to delve deeper into how they engage with acting as an art form.
Speaking recently in The Stage, Anthony Sher was asked whether he had pinned down what he considered to be good acting and he replied: “No, other than that you can smell it. You can see it, and feel it, instantly. I don’t believe there’s one way of doing it, and I find myself changing from show to show. I like that.”
The actors that come to Audition Doctor long-term are those that use the sessions to change and experiment. Speaking during his third week of rehearsals for the upcoming production of Death of a Salesman at the RSC, Sher went on to say “It’s ridiculous in this country. Six weeks of rehearsals is not nearly enough for these great plays. In Europe or in Russia they rehearse for months.”
The actors who have had the time to come to Audition Doctor regularly before auditions are generally those who have the time to eschew the obvious and conservative artistic choices that Holmes laments – not only within the work itself but also in terms of the type of work that they are offered. This is because Audition Doctor encourages every student to be an artist – something that Stanley Tucci described as “[taking] whatever is in front of you and [making] it into something else.”
A recent interview with the cast members of the upcoming production of Mamet’s American Buffalo revealed the intensive and challenging nature of the rehearsal process. Director, Daniel Evans, and actors (John Goodman, Damien Lewis and Tom Sturridge) all admit that the play is one that requires “forensic detective work. Because Mamet writes so elliptically. He says himself that his characters never actually say what they mean, but they always try to say that which they think will make the other person give them what they want. It’s all hidden…It’s an onion to peel. It has layers and layers.”
Audition Doctor’s success resides in the detailed process that students experience – that of close examination of the character’s actions, the intentions of other characters in the play and understanding the motivation behind every sentence. Such depth of research means Audition Doctor students become confident moving within the linguistic complexities of writers such as Shakespeare and Mamet.
Lewis said: “I think most people would leap at the chance to be in one of his plays, because the muscularity and the musicality of the dialogue can be such great fun – but it’s also very dense, so it’s not easy, either.”
Professional actors and drama school applicants have found Audition Doctor indispensable precisely because Tilly ensures complex dialogue becomes far less of a hurdle. Instead difficult speeches are used to push their own capabilities – they force an actor to bypass the obvious and the facile and plumb the depths of their own intellectual and emotional world. Chris Thorpe wrote in the Guardian of how “Theatre acts as a national laboratory for thinking about how we think and how we are and what we are”. Actors who attend Audition Doctor routinely land jobs because audition panels sense that their artistic choices contribute to this idea.
Goodman said: “It’s utterly terrifying. But putting a play on still has that very romantic connotation for me. It’s what I grew up doing, I went to drama school to learn how to get better at it, and all my ambitions lay in theatre. I took a turn – a couple of turns – and went off and did a lot of interesting and wonderful things that satisfied and stimulated me. But just being in a rehearsal room with guys, the messy nature of creeping towards an understanding of a play, then getting up out of the trenches together and crawling across no-man’s-land to the other side, hopefully roughly together… there’s something very romantic in that to me. You have to bring a level of trust, and just assume that trust will not be betrayed.”
The atmosphere at Audition Doctor is characterised by trust, especially the safe and encouraging space that each session affords. Students routinely find it an encouraging environment to road test difficult parts and speeches.
The most successful of Audition Doctor’s students are those who have indefatigably persisted in expanding the speeches that they have worked on, thereby improving their craft. This echoes Harry Shearer’s most recent advice on the BAFTA website to would-be actors: “Talent is good, luck is better but nothing beats sheer brute persistence.”
The Times this week featured an article centred around the current crop of British male acting talent and the evolving face of theatre. Tim Piggot-Smith spoke of how “British theatre has been forced to become leaner, less complacent. “There’s not as much theatre around now which means there’s much more competition for less and less work.” This competition, in turn, raises everybody’s game. The result? A virtuous cycle of effort and ability.”
Mark Strong commented on the difficult nature of vying for the same roles as your peers: “It’s a complicated dynamic, a really odd balance because you form these very, very tight relationships with people. They’re your pals, but then you’re also competing with them for work. There are a lot of us chasing a few jobs.”
The rise of professional actors coming to Audition Doctor is evidence of actors being aware of the need to continuously push through their own creative barriers in order to be real contenders in auditions. Actors who come to Audition Doctor are conscious of the value of relentless practice.
As Helen McCrory said: “I’m aware that I have been very lucky but I have also grafted hard. Acting isn’t something that’s just in you. As with anything in life, you have to learn it, and work at it, and improve yourself all the time.”
James McAvoy also voiced the importance of actors being vulnerable enough to stretch themselves to emotional brinks – something that Audition Doctor students are pushed to do.
“The source of theatre is human sacrifice. The first time we killed someone in front of a crowd to make the gods like us better, that’s where we got our theatre. And I think there’s still an element of that, when it’s frightening and electric, and you’re watching actors who are giving themselves in such a committed way that they are almost sweating blood. And that’s what I always try to do. I’d rather people went out twice a year to see a really good, dangerous piece of theatre in which they were genuinely concerned for the actor on stage, rather than just going to see loads of dead-easy bourgeois f***ing pieces of s***, the dead-easy stuff that gets put on just to sell out quickly.”
Consequently, the speeches that students choose to work on are important. Speeches that give students a chance to commit and sweat blood are the monologues that Audition Doctor urges students to pick. The reason for the success of Audition Doctor’s students is the emotional depths that they plumb. These come as a result of rigorous analysis of both character and play.
Viggo Mortensen recently spoke in the Guardian of his legendary commitment to research when it came to approaching roles: “I just think that the more realistic and specific you are with the details, the more universal the story becomes.”
Audition Doctor students succeed in landing jobs because they give something more in auditions. As a spectator you end up not merely watching a performance but getting the sense of being actively involved in the story.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote in the Stage of the pressure young actors feel to unquestioningly take directors’ decisions as gospel.
“For years, the gratitude I felt for anyone who had given me an actual job, coupled with the embarrassment of disagreeing with them, meant that I simply nodded eagerly when I was handed an abhorrent costume or told to make a ludicrous entrance. I didn’t say anything because it’s not my job. I am ‘just an actor’.
It has taken me too long to learn that if you’re an actor and you disagree with your director, you are allowed to pipe up.…don’t be afraid to challenge things politely. Our job is about storytelling and if you feel like you’re not telling the story in the best way possible then crack on and politely shout about it.”
The originality of interpretation that results from an Audition Doctor session often rests on the creative debate that arises between a student and Tilly. Questioning and experimentation are viewed as essential parts of developing a character. Testing different approaches to a scene and contesting why some of them fail to work as well as others is strongly encouraged. Consequently the work that students end up performing at auditions is always wholly their own. Furthermore, during the discussions that sometimes arise after auditions, Audition Doctor students are unfailingly articulate about why they chose to stick to certain decisions and why they abandoned others.
Audition Doctor’s popularity with professional actors and drama school candidates rests on the experimental nature of the sessions. There is no mono-methodical approach, especially when it comes to Shakespeare. This is an advantage for students because style of delivery is in constant flux. The current trend for performing Shakespeare naturalistically is constantly being challenged.
For example, Maria Aberg said in today’s Guardian:
“I feel like it’s your responsibility as an artist to stop thinking naturalistically…I think that’s the main problem. We think realism and that trips us up especially when it comes to Shakespeare. It’s not realism, it’s not naturalism. It’s a metaphor, the whole thing is metaphor.”
The reason for Audition Doctor’s popularity with trained actors is also down to the fact that drama schools only teach their students so much. As Tom Hardy said in The Times:
“When you go to drama school, you get a certain amount of camera classes but nothing really prepares you for: ‘You’ll now be working with Steven Spielberg’s company and you’ve got to be on this mark’,” he said. “And you go: ‘What’s a mark?’ Though I didn’t say that. I said: ‘Yeah, course I’ll be on my mark.’ Until somebody said: ‘You’re not hitting your mark […] it’s this thing on the floor.’
“You never admit you don’t know something, do you? Not when you start out, that’s a sign of weakness. Only that’s what keeps you stupid. Make mistakes: that’s when you f***ing learn.”
Audition Doctor is the place where students make mistakes, get better and continue to challenge and develop the tools that drama school equipped them with.
The Stage published an article this week stating that “Spotlight recently sent a memo to agents informing them that 1,700 new performers are to graduate from Drama UK and the Council for Dance Education and Training accredited schools this summer. This is a staggering figure given the likely number of available jobs. The 1,700 figure is a conservative estimate. Hundreds more will flood out of the non-accredited schools to compete for the same small number of professional opportunities. The actual number of 2015 course completers is more likely to be 3,000.”
This, coupled with another article about Gemma Jones claiming that “a rise in entertainment and reality formats on television is limiting the opportunities for young actors”, does not paint an optimistic picture for those starting out in the industry.
Jones went onto explain: “When I first started there was Play for Today, Play of the Week – really good classic dramas were done on television all the time. Now, reality shows and game shows and all these series, however well they are done, mean that there is not so much choice. I was incredibly lucky to come into the business when I did because there was always work somewhere. You might have to go a long way away to a lonely rep theatre but there was always something. Now it’s much more difficult.”
Audition Doctor’s indispensability lies in the high number of jobs and drama school places that Tilly’s students get in the ostensibly overcrowded industry. Whether it’s a speech for drama school or for a professional job, the work undertaken at Audition Doctor unfailingly means that your performance will never be hackneyed or the most obvious option. The originality of interpretation that Audition Doctor students develop during the sessions is their greatest currency. It is this that makes them distinguishable from the other 3000 graduates and the thousands of others already working in the profession.
Luke Treadaway said in Ideastap: “Drama school is a great training ground and a great way of experiencing lots of things. It gives you the space to try out lots of methods of working.” Audition Doctor works in much the same way. Different approaches are taken with each actor to elicit a real and untheatrical delivery.
However, the work that an actor at Audition Doctor chooses has limitations on how far they can exercise head and heart ,which means picking the right speech is hugely important. Jenny Agutter recently said “You need to go after the things that excites you, there is great drama and you need to chase after that.” The more interesting the speech, the more students get out of the sessions themselves.
The most successful of Audition Doctor’s students are those that work on their craft continuously in the lull between jobs and auditions.
In Niamh Cusack’s advice to young actors, she said: “If you see a play and there is a particularly good speech in it, then get the play and learn the speech. Practice is what makes you a good actor. The more you’re prepared – learn speeches, try them out – then the easier it will be for you to walk in and do a good audition. Thinking you’ll get that big break without that hard work is a bit crazy. I don’t think there are that many geniuses; most people have worked really, really hard.”
In an interview for The Stage, Guildhall acting teacher Ken Rea spoke of the qualities that certain actors possessed that marked them out separately from the swathes of actors he has trained.
“They’re unafraid of danger,” he says, mentioning Antony Sher with whom he worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company before Sher was famous. “He was by far the bravest risk-taker in the rehearsal room,” recalls Rea. “It’s the freedom to be unpredictable and spontaneous within the form that marks out people like him. When I see actors I trained working, and when I visit them backstage afterwards, they often ask ‘Ken, was I dangerous?’ because it’s a key element.”
For both professional actors and drama school applicants, risk is one of the main reasons to come to Audition Doctor. The work undertaken at Audition Doctor is unfailingly original as texts are explored through the prism of your experience and your vulnerabilities. Furthermore, the speed of progression rests heavily on your openness to risk.
Particularly with Shakespeare, the likelihood that a panel has heard your speech before is high. However, the intensity of research and experimentation at Audition Doctor means that the complexity of your character’s psychological process is palpable even for the short duration of a monologue. Audition Doctor students are offered recalls because they show the potential and capability for expansive emotional and intellectual inquiry.
Rea also mentioned the necessity of enthusiasm in rehearsal: “Just as one negative nay-sayer in a rehearsal room can drag everyone down so, conversely, an energetic enthusiast can raise the level of everyone’s work.”
Audition Doctor’s popularity with actors is also down to the passion that characterises the lessons. They are never one-sided lectures but a collective rigorous exploration that ensures character decisions are never generalised and above all, yours.
Even when they’re not auditioning for specific roles, actors come to Audition Doctor to continue to test their psychological elasticity and take risks in parts that perhaps they would have less chance to be cast in.
Maxine Peake’s Hamlet is an example of this. Peake said: “I mentioned it in jest [ to director Sarah Frankcom] at first. I felt why, as a woman, can’t I do it? I had always been attracted to it because there aren’t many female warrior roles. Hamlet is fearless.”
The encouragement and safety that have come to define Audition Doctor sessions are why it has become the place where actors feel fearless and able to gamble with the text as well as their emotions.
Television and film actors increasingly come to Audition Doctor because the sessions are very much like the rehearsal process for a play.
Ruth Wilson in the Guardian: “I come from theatre and I feel like I have to go back to it every few years because it’s like nourishment for the soul. And, as an actor, it’s the place you have most control, no one cuts or edits you and you get to tell the story each night. It always boosts my confidence and my choices in the film and TV work I do after that. I tend to make bolder and more interesting choices after I’ve done theatre.”
The freedom of expression and discovery that Audition Doctor sessions instil mean that actors from all mediums have come to view it as an invaluable part of career improvement.
In an interview for BAFTA, Michael Shannon said: “The main thing an actor needs is a great script because you can be the greatest actor in the world but if you don’t have a good script you’re just a mime.”
Audition Doctor’s popularity with both professional actors and drama school candidates lies in both originality of direction and the selective choosing of speeches. The speeches that students pick have a significant bearing on the kind of impression they will have on the panel. A speech can be the vehicle through which actors can showcase their versatility and complexity of emotional intellect while simultaneously hiding whatever weaknesses every actor has. There is no one-size-fits-all speech and the initial stages of Audition Doctor sessions centre around finding the one that feels most suited to you. This can take a couple of sessions, however, the importance of putting aside the time to do so cannot be underestimated.
John Hurt described the sensation when playing Romeo: “I remember playing to complete silence when talking about death and realising that the words I was speaking were so powerful and extraordinary that I could understand Michael Bryant saying “I never want to do anything outside the National Theatre ever again because I only ever want to deal with fantastic writing.” I kind of understood that onstage.”
While actors at Audition Doctor are directed and creatively pushed, an actor’s primal connection to the text cannot be forced. Juliette Binoche spoke of the relationship between actor and director in last week’s Guardian: “I’ve never seen a director deciding for you how the character is. You can discuss things, you can guide somebody in a direction but there’s nothing imposed. Never. It’s too precious. It has to come in a very mysterious way because those words were written a long time ago and the connection you have to have to them belongs to you in a sacred place.”
Whether it is a text for screen or stage, Audition Doctor’s work on character, motivation and emotion is the same. While a huge amount of work is of course done by the actor, Audition Doctor provides a space where this incredibly personal and “mysterious” process is nurtured into fruition.
Binoche spoke of her part as an ageing actress in Olivier Assayas’ soon to be released film The Clouds of Sils Maria: “You know when my character is saying, ‘I don’t want to rehearse because otherwise all the spontaneity is gone…’ this is bull—t. Because you work a lot and then you find the spontaneity. This for me is somebody who doesn’t know about acting, but at the same time [Assayas] doesn’t need to know, it’s fine. It’s his fantasy about actors.”
Audition Doctor sessions are like rehearsals. Unpicking the same speech over and over again can feel repetitious but it is only through in-depth excavation that originality and the spontaneity that Binoche speaks of is achieved.
The hard graft that actors go through at Audition Doctor means their performance at auditions are unforced and instinctive which is why they often go onto landing the job.
Last week, Juliet Stevenson spoke of her lengthy experience of playing Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days in the Independent. When asked about the process by which she created her own interpretation of the oft-performed character of Winnie, Stevenson said:
“I think any character you play is a strange hybrid between the role that has been written by the writer and you. You make very personal choices and you are using your own experience, your own sensibility to shape what you find in the text, so there’s Winnie on the page and a Winnie on the stage – she is going to have quite a lot of me in it, but hopefully only the bits of me that connect to who Beckett has written. The job is to play the character as written, not to pull the character towards yourself which would have been very boring. What you end up with is always some strange, hybrid creature.”
Audition Doctor has become the first port of call for professional actors and drama school students because the character that is created with Tilly is one that remains true to your strengths as well as the text. The reason why Audition Doctor students succeed at auditions is because the regularity of the sessions give you the time to make well-known characters unique to you. Finding your interpretation involves an organic and unforced process of discovery and rehearsal which Audition Doctor expertly offers.
As Stevenson contends: “I don’t think I have known any character as well as I know Winnie now. We’ve gone on and on discovering new resonances, discovering new connections between different parts of the play.”
Audition Doctor has also proven indispensable with regards to finding the new within the old. Many actors come to Audition Doctor with characters by well-established playwrights; characters that have been performed ceaselessly since their creation. Audition Doctor forces actors to do away with the cumbersome historical baggage that comes with say a Shakespeare role. Attending Audition Doctor rids actors of entrenched preconceptions of character in favour of the creation of a new and believable human being.
Aside from professionals, a sizeable number of Audition Doctor students are drama school applicants. For those who come to Audition Doctor on the fence with regards to professional training, Audition Doctor always encourages students to do so. There aren’t many places like Audition Doctor where you can experiment and fail in private. Drama school gives you that opportunity and encouragement to make mistakes.
On the BAFTA website, Chloe Pirrie was asked whether she feared her vocational training at Guildhall rendered the possibility of her originality being forcibly trained out of her. She responded:
“There was such emphasis on who you were [at Guildhall]. You won’t suddenly not be that person. They’re not going to break you down and mould you in the image of one of their alumni…It can all be kind of mysticised….You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff we had to do…but all those things had a point, they weren’t pretentious.
She also spoke practically about getting agents at the end of drama school showcase. “You’re seen by some of the best people in the industry and that is the amazing thing of going to one of the top places, you get exposure in a way that is quite unique. I thought if I don’t go to drama school, I won’t get access to auditions, I won’t get in the room.”
Being practical and proactive within the industry is a must. Attending both Audition Doctor and drama school are ways that will ensure you amply increase your chances of not only getting in the room, but impressing the people who are in there.