Last week, Susan Elkin wrote in The Stage: “I happened to be visiting a prestigious London drama school recently while it was auditioning potential students. The applicants were huddled, anxious and nervous in a stark corridor waiting to go in one by one. Each was wearing a large placard bearing a number as if they were anonymous runners in a race. What price human dignity?”
While this week, when Vicky McClure was asked if auditioning had got any better the longer she’d been in the profession, she replied: “No! I think it’s getting even scarier for me… I lost out on a job just before Christmas and I was devastated. It really knocked me because I did all the prep I could possibly do… and yet you don’t get it, and it’s not because you can’t act, it’s because the chemistry doesn’t work or you’re slightly too short. It does knock you for a bit.”
Auditions, for both professional and aspiring actors, are unavoidable prerequisites for any job. However, much of the time, the outcome in an audition rarely resembles the perhaps stunning rendition you gave in the privacy of your bedroom. As Simon Russell Beale said last week: “I always used to joke that the best performances are done in the bath.”
When auditioning for drama schools, the speeches are key. Although the content is paramount, there are other things that have to be considered. Most drama schools will have guidelines as to the length of your speech. Many panels will simply cut you off if you go over the time, with some even starting a stopwatch as soon as you stand in front of them. Yet it is surprising how often candidates go over the allotted time. When questioned as to why they didn’t adhere to the audition advice (with “advice” read “strict instructions”), an applicant will proclaim that the speech had to end then because of the nature of the monologue’s emotional arc. However, due to the large volume of applicants, the panel simply don’t have the time for protracted monologues. This means that the speeches that you choose are incredibly important as they have to highlight your strengths, as well as showcase your vulnerability and versatility, in a considerably limited amount of time.
It takes students often multiple trips to French’s or Waterstones to find the right speech. However, it is worth it. Audition Doctor lessons are a bonus because they are opportunities to discuss the speech that is right for you specifically. Although a speech may be interesting, it may not suit you at this stage of your development.
Furthermore, Audition Doctor sessions are vital both before and during the lengthy process of auditioning. As candidates get more recalls and reach the final stages of auditions, it becomes even more critical to ensure that you make bold and original choices that also have emotional depth. Audition Doctor sessions offer students the gift of knowing that their best performances will not be in the bath, but in front of the audition panel.
During the build-up to drama school auditions, my focus was solely on the text (As You Like It); sessions concentrated understandably on my individual performance and personal interpretation of Rosalind.
Having watched Helen Mirren play the part in the BBC 1978 version, it was initially hard to shake her impeccable performance from memory and I found it impossible to see the character as anything other than what she had portrayed. My initial Audition Doctor sessions were filled with embarrassingly pale imitations of one the country’s most respected Oscar-winning actresses. It was frustrating as I could envision the drama school audition panel wearily putting their pens down and wishing fervently to forcibly remove me from the building and the profession.
This is when Tilly’s advice became crucial as she reminded me why I had chosen the speech in the first place. We went back to the text and not only analysed the minutiae of the play but also plotted the psychological journey of Rosalind. The resultant Rosalind was not worthy of being televised by the BBC but thankfully it was my Rosalind and not a plagiarised version of Dame Helen’s.
It’s easy when applying to drama schools to only focus on the audition and forget about the workshop. While Tilly’s acting coaching inculcates you with an element of self-assurance, it is unnerving having to work with other drama school applicants during the group sessions. You’re aware that you’re all competitively vying for the same places whilst simultaneously sharing a feeling of camaraderie due to working together in the workshop and being in the same boat during the rigorous process of drama school auditions.
From the energising pre-audition pep talk to the buoying texts of encouragement, Audition Doctor proved to be a godsend during auditions. Wobbly moments and feelings of intimidation swiftly vanish when a text from Tilly pops up with the simple rallying cry: “COME ON!”
The most exciting parts of the following sessions were when audition speeches were approached in different ways. It was exciting to realise that sometimes the ambiguity of the text actually encouraged the freedom to experiment; audition speeches worked equally well when performed in totally contrasting ways. Even when a speech didn’t work, Tilly and I analysed why it didn’t and it revealed subtleties of the character that were previously not apparent. The “failed” attempts actually meant that my understanding not only of my character but the play was far more profound and I avoided any superficial decisions. Eventually after trial and error and through Tilly’s acting coaching, it was reassuring to know that at the drama school auditions I had a backup of alternatives. This versatility gave me confidence which was instrumental in ensuring that I wouldn’t be caught off-guard if the audition panel chose to redirect me.
In addition to character analysis, Tilly also focuses on physicality and vocal proficiency. You will find this preparation indispensable for drama school auditions. It is crucial not only for your speeches, but also for the workshop part of the audition where you are closely observed in movement and voice sessions.
In the beginning, Tilly is indeed what she claims to be- an “audition doctor”. As you perform your speech, she will stop you and dissect precisely why you have chosen to make certain choices and both of you will continue to analyse the language and plot. This is invaluable during auditions when at times the panel will question your decisions. Having done such detailed research, you feel like you can respond to the panel confidently which is a real boost during the uncomfortably nerve-wracking process of auditioning for drama schools. Gradually, the speech begins to flow and she stops you less and less. Soon, your familiarity with the character, coupled with all the work you have done together percolates and you realise that you are inhabiting not the one-dimensional character that was present at the beginning of your sessions, but an authentic human being.