In a webchat for the Guardian, the first question that Fiona Shaw was asked was whether she recommended going to drama school. Her response was: “Yes, I advise training, you can turn from a stooped library smelling tweed-skirt wearing philosophy undergraduate into the hawkish swan that I was at 21.”
It’s reassuring to know that despite rather depressing articles such as The Stage’s “Surely we are training too many students?”, successful actors still support the idea of professional training. The argument against being saddled with substantial debt is routinely employed as justification for eschewing drama school. However, the industry is responding to rising tuition fees with alternatives such as the NYT Rep Company and Cygnet.
Susan Elkin of The Stage wrote: “Cygnet really does seem to be providing fine, informed, very professional and successful training. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and I had an excellent taste last week. Cygnet isn’t Bristol Old Vic or LAMDA and it isn’t trying to be. There is room for a range and I’m all for students having as much choice as possible. There is a lot to be said, for example, for training at over £2,000 per year less than the big schools charge.”
Drama school is the place where risk and the possibility of failure are accepted and even encouraged. It’s where Shaw learned to “think on the line – which means don’t analyse but allow what you’re saying to completely be of you and from you.”
The three years spent focusing on aspects such as movement and voice are also invaluable. On the webchat, someone wrote to Shaw: “I saw you alongside Alan Rickman in ‘John Gabriel Borkman’ in the Abbey in Dublin. I was sitting at the very back row and at one point I literally felt your voice hit me with its power. I couldn’t believe it.” and asked what technique she used to achieve this.
Shaw responded: “If you are concentrated, and your imagination is fully engaged with what you are saying, it is remarkable how quiet you can be, but how you know not only the listener’s ear can hear it, but ideally their mind too. I’ve always been interested in the mutual hypnotism of acting. If the actor’s heart is racing due to a thought, engaged members of the audience’s hearts also race.”
Although this is inevitably achieved through years of experience, the process of communicating and attempting some form of communion with the audience is an essential part of drama school training.
When applying for drama schools, performing monologues is the litmus test for assessing potential. The reason why so many students attend Audition Doctor is because the sessions arm you against the overly introspective effect that monologues can sometimes have.
As Shaw says: “The audience in a monologue are, she says, her fellow characters and fellow performers: “Even if I can’t see them I can hear them, I can sense them, and every moment is being played with rather than for them. It would be dreadful if I just stood there and went blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t feel like that at all. I love talking to them and them back to me. We’re making the play together. Usually there’s a huge dialogue going on.”
Audition Doctor is about truthful communication and the portrayal of genuine emotion. This why so many students find they sail past the monologue stage of auditions and onto group workshops – because they have proven that even when performing alone, they are doing it for an audience and not for themselves.