Phillip Seymour Hoffman often spoke about the level of commitment and dedication acting required: “I think that the amount of concentration — sometimes the amount of personal exploration — it takes to do something well, can be not pleasant … like hard work is. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to do it, or that you don’t love it, or that it’s not ultimately satisfying. You know that old cliché; … nothing’s worth it unless it’s [a] hard to do kind of thing. I wear that on my sleeve sometimes when I’m working. … There’s always something about that job that’s exhausting, and that’s what’s exhausting about acting, is the level concentration over very long period of time.”
Many students, both professional actors and drama school applicants, come to Audition Doctor because sessions give them the time and space to focus on their craft. Sessions are hard work as the effort and creativity required for students to create three-dimensional characters that are unique and believable is significant.
Past and present students attest that the work in Audition Doctor sessions is rigorous, however, most commit to regular sessions. The more sessions they attend, the more students become acutely aware of when they are hitting the emotional truth of the scene and when they are merely skirting around it. Consequently, they become more astute when judging the credibility and honesty of their own performances.
Hoffman said: ”[When there’s] true acting going on, then [the audience] will give over — you know what I mean? Because they want to give over because what they’re watching is true…It’s really about your belief in the circumstances of this character and what they’re going through and that you buy that story in that character’s journey as long as what you’re doing is honest.”
Becoming adept at making audition panels believe they are the best candidate for the part is the reason why students continue to come back to Audition Doctor.
Andrew Scott said recently: “You have to be very wary of heroes having to be flawless. Human beings aren’t perfect – I hate perfect heroes. It’s boring.” Characters created in the sessions are never cliched or even a “perfect” interpretation. Audition Doctor encourages experimentation, malleability and a daringness to make bold and less obvious choices.
Furthermore, Audition Doctor also excels at making sure students plumb the emotional depths required while consistently delivering an artistic performance and not a performance that is a form of therapy.
Hoffman said of certain roles: “If you’re carrying that emotion on one level or another for a long period of time … it can be burdensome. But it’s part of the work, and you’re trying to create something artful out of it. And so, it’s not therapy. So, you’re not there to be in therapy; you’re there to take what you know and the experiences and behaviour and emotional life of yourself and others and try to make something artful out of it. But the carrying of that around and the focusing of that can be, it can be tough.”
Audition Doctor focuses students on the art, which is why the majority so frequently land both professional parts and places at drama school.
Simon Russell Beale stated in an article for the Guardian entitled “Actors’ advice to actors”: “The actor’s primary responsibility is to make the text understandable at first hearing. That’s quite a big thing, and quite difficult, especially if it’s a fairly complicated text. Know the rules about verse-speaking. After that, I don’t care whether you break those rules – just make me understand what you’re saying, the first time you say it.”
Students have come to rely on regular Audition Doctor sessions because the rules of verse-speaking can be found in countless books on Shakespeare and acting, however, it is putting them into practice that is challenging.
Andrew Scott said in this week’s Guardian Chat: “If you can’t remember the line it’s because you don’t want to say the line. When you work out what it means, you’ll be able to remember it.”
Students who benefit most are those that attend Audition Doctor sessions consistently because there is a process to unlocking a character and a text that takes persistence and routine, which can only be partially achieved in a one-off lesson.
Tilly guides her students, especially those applying to drama school, through every stage of the process – although this does not preclude an inordinate amount of work on their behalf. Picking a speech and character that will raise your game as an actor requires patience and time.
Denise Gough, who recently played Emma in People, Places and Things, said: “I had a profound moment on stage the other night, I was on stage with Nathaniel who plays Mark, and I realised that my storyline does not depend on him, and it meant we could play, because you’re not having to grab on to the male storyline to make your woman live. She lives anyway.”
Andrew Scott said: “The endeavour is everything.” In the rehearsing, researching and performing of a piece, Audition Doctor’s students find out a huge amount about their acting – their strengths, weaknesses and the kind of parts they can see themselves playing in the profession.
Moreover, those that come to Audition Doctor also comment on how much easier it becomes to take notes and act on them. Malleability and versatility are qualities highly prized in actors and are what drama schools are looking for in a potential student.
In the Guardian, Anthony Sher advised fellow actors: “Take notes not just graciously, but gratefully. Don’t argue back. You get actors who, as soon as a director starts to give a note, will say, “Ah, what I was trying to do …” What you were trying to do is irrelevant – just listen to what the director, if it’s a good director, is saying, because it’s worth gold. I love notes; I thrive on them. I can’t wait for someone to help me go further than I can by myself.”
Put simply, this is Audition Doctor’s USP.
Many will have noticed that in the initial letter from various drama schools, aside from delineating the acceptable length of speeches, what timeframe constitutes as “modern”, the precise date and time of your preliminary audition, there will be general advice. Some of it is invaluable – “Don’t imitate a performance you have seen before”, some of it is unrealistic – “Don’t prepare for for your audition by receiving any sort of coaching.”
Coaching comes in all different guises. The vast majority of the applicants will have had been members of the National Youth Theatre, some will have parents who are actors, some will have already had experience in professional productions. The term “coaching” does not only mean attending acting workshops or private lessons. In the hugely competitive world of drama school auditions, it would be unwise to naively walk into an audition thinking that all your other competitors have done to prepare is recite their speeches to a cupboard in their bedroom which “acts as the panel” a couple of times.
In his final interview for Ideastap, Andrew Scott said: “I think often in an audition situation what they want is to see if you are directable. Even if they like what you do, they want to see if you can do other things. That you’re not a one-trick pony.” It’s hard to do this if you are on your own with said cupboard. Experimenting with different intentions for your character’s thoughts is crucial to prove that you are malleable. Thinking of the intention yourself inhibits the spontaneity that comes from just receiving the instruction and throwing yourself into it. Discovering new nuances to a speech often comes from not over-thinking and just trying it out.
Mark Rylance mentioned in his talk at The Old Vic how crucial the rehearsal period is for any actor. Audition Doctor sessions are rehearsals for your drama school audition. Rylance mentioned that he didn’t expect actors to understand every line of a Shakespeare play in the initial stages. However, he did mention how the rehearsal period was integral to unearthing the text, which is precisely what the initial lessons with Audition Doctor focus on. Rylance also stated: “If an actor understands the meaning of the line, but doesn’t understand why he says it, it’s clear to me and it’s clear to the audience.” One can only assume that a drama school audition panel will be just as unequivocally forensic.
Andrew Scott also voiced the opinion: “With character work, if you go too far from yourself, it can over-complicate things. Try just acting it as yourself – don’t put any character on it.” This is much harder than it sounds; there is a natural tendency for most people to “act”, thinking that’s what the panel wants. What Audition Doctor does so brilliantly is strip away any “theatricality” and get to the simplicity which is often more real. Even Mark Rylance mentioned how hard it was not only for an actor but a director to do this. Having played Benedict himself, he fought hard to ensure that he didn’t force his own Benedict onto James Earl-Jones and wanted this Benedict “to be as close to James as possible.”
Like Rylance, drama schools don’t want imitations of previous Beatrices or Benedicts, no matter how marvellous they were. They want to see you. Audition Doctor sessions make sure that you don’t enter thinking that you will only be noticed if you are the “bells-and-whistles-you”, they make you realise that the “you-just-as-you” is far superior.
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.