For all drama school candidates currently in the throes of auditions, it might be marginally reassuring to note that Anne Marie Duff once said that “The hardest thing of all is getting into drama school. You’ll never have that level of competition ever again. I mean thousands of people apply for 30 places; you never have that when you audition for a job.”
In many auditions, applicants are sometimes surprised that they are asked to perform their monologues in front of their fellow candidates. Although one hopes that candidates are aware that getting into character in front of an audience is the point of it all, it can be daunting to unexpectedly have to get into character in front of 20 other people.
Anne Marie Duff explains that it’s because “you’re frightened of making a fool of yourself. But you just have to find the truth in it. Instead of just putting on a fuzzy nose and going “ta daaa!” Many people mistakenly think that the “ta daa” element is a precondition to being remembered by the panel. It is – but for all the wrong reasons.
Her advice, whether you are auditioning for drama school or for a feature film, is to remember that “you’re having a conversation with an audience and the audience is either out there, a thousand people, or here, down a lens. It’s the same creative process.”
The initial stages of auditions are focused on the individual and it is usually only when you get further that you are required to participate in group workshops.
When asked about drama school, Michelle Dockery commented that the thing she learnt above all was “to be gracious. And by that I mean to work well with others and to be generous. There is nothing worse than working with an actor who thinks it’s all about them: there’s more than one person creating whatever you’re working on.” Although drama schools want to see you, it’s also as much about how you respond to fellow actors.
When asked about her experience auditioning for drama school, Sally Hawkins said: “I didn’t get in to RADA first time but I knew that was where I wanted to go. I was very single-minded. The only other option was art school and I didn’t have much confidence in that.”
“I did Juliet. I also did Road by Jim Cartwright – talking about “gargantuan men”. It was a very sexual, big Northern woman I was playing. It was totally against type but the writing’s so fantastic that I loved saying it. I also did a very inappropriate Shakespeare: Margaret from Richard III, an old wench. I came with a prop – this was the year I didn’t get in – I had a stick. I’m always drawn to people who are a challenge: it’s interesting to unlock who they are, but you have to be careful of not picking Queen Margaret! Probably better to pick someone closer to your age and your own experience.”
Aside from guidance on audition speeches, Audition Doctor also offers what Anne Marie Duff mentioned – a conversation. It’s important to discuss your choices and it’s helpful to know your strengths and weaknesses before you step into the audition room. In the audition, the panel ask questions that range from your personal ambitions to what theatre you have seen recently. It’s useful to have articulated your thoughts at Audition Doctor prior to the audition. Understandably, when confronted with three staring faces, drawing a blank is common.
Furthermore, in Audition Doctor sessions, actors are confronted with their unconscious habits which are duly discussed and addressed. Nothing elicits a more confident audition than knowing you have prepared in advance with Audition Doctor. This is why booking ahead with Tilly is crucial as places are filled especially quickly during the final recall stages in May.
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.
People deliberating over whether to apply for drama school will wonder whether the tuition fees and length of time spent training will be worth it. This is a profession that deifies youth, where the possibility of steady gainful employment is largely non-existent and which has a reputation for being elitist.
This is why it was so refreshing when this week in the Guardian, Anne-Marie Duff described the profession as a “sublimely egalitarian world”. Her working-class background that was untinged with “entitlement” meant that her ambition was in no way neutered: “”I knew if I wanted to do this for a living, I really had to pursue it.” However, she did mention: “When I was auditioning for drama schools, the girls around me were from very different backgrounds. I remember thinking, ‘Should I lie about my family?’” Without wanting to sound trite and melodramatic, being anything other than who you are is a waste of time as it will be your specific experiences and upbringing that will be your most valuable resource.
Duff remembers her drama school training as a “masochistic” but “exciting” time. “It put me through my paces. I toughened up. I was by no means the star of the year. It taught me to be resourceful, to go away and do the work myself. Invaluable.”
There is no substitute for consistent and rigorous daily training; since reparatory theatre no longer gives actors the opportunity to learn on the job, drama school is one of the last places where the actor can learn her/his vocation. Talent can only take you so far and no matter how young and talented you are, there will be someone else who is younger, just as talented and who will have the technique and skills developed over three years. Although drama school training doesn’t necessarily put you in the fast track when you enter the profession, it is proof that you take yourself seriously as an actor and have put in the effort to improve and nurture your potential.
When interviewed by Erica Wagner of the Times about Complicite, Wagner noted how Simon McBurney sees himself “almost as an instrument through which others may find the means to express themselves. Curiosity drives him: curiosity about his fellow human beings, about literature and art, about the world.” This is why Audition Doctor sessions are so valuable; your curiosity about the character and the play is encouraged and pushed further. Analysing the myriad of possible psychological impulses that prompted a character to say or do something means that you have a wide range of artistic choices at your disposal. At a drama school audition, the work you do at Audition Doctor is constantly drawn upon and being redirected is neither surprising nor difficult because you will have explored so many alternatives with Tilly during your lessons.
When one journalist asked to sit in on an audition for a piece on the “secretive world of casting directors”, one casting director opined: “Asking an actor if they mind someone sitting in is a bit like asking a woman if she minds someone watching her gynaecological examination.” Attending Audition Doctor sessions guarantees that your drama school auditions will be as exposing as having your legs in stirrups – but in the good sort of way. Exposing your unique vulnerability and openness is something that Audition Doctor sessions foster and a quality that drama schools prize above all else. This is why Audition Doctor lessons are so essential. They give you the unique opportunity to come closer to fulfilling Laurence Olivier’s credence – that “ The actor should be able to create a universe in the palm of his hand.”