The chief reason why people come to Audition Doctor early on in the audition process is preparation. Advice on picking monologues and direction on the speeches themselves can only be assimilated and played with if you give yourself enough time before an audition.
The Stage warned against hurried interpretations: “Once you’ve selected your speech, experiment. See what it could be, rather than stamping a panicked performance upon it. You must deliver the text audibly, truthfully and connectedly – with intention. That is the actor’s job: to convey the words without false acting voices or daft, uncontrolled head and body-wobbles. The panel will be excited by a clear, clean performance that delivers the words with connection and conviction. Heaped emotion is less interesting.”
In the same article, Andy Johnson explained how “an audition is a two-minute show”. Many candidates comment on how much quicker they perform their speeches. Usually, these are applicants whose first “public” showing of their speeches have been in front of the panel. The combination of nerves and under-preparation is a detrimental cocktail in auditions. Audition Doctor sessions ensure that you don’t throw away your audition by rushing. They give you the reassurance that it’s okay to not throw yourself unthinkingly into your speech, but to do what the Stage recommends: ” To take a moment to imagine the audition space as the location of the monologue. The best auditions are those in which the actor successfully transports the panel from wherever they are to an urban street, a clearing in the woods, a vast hall in a medieval palace etc.”
Audition Doctor is also beneficial for advice in the interview part of the audition; running through possible questions and answers can make all the difference. Ben Caplan recently lamented: “I’ve known actors come into class and have not properly read the play or don’t know basic things like who is running the Royal Court. That is not good enough. But if you do prepare yourself you can have a successful career.”
As almost every actor has said, they key to a good performance is preparation and this is what Audition Doctor gives you. Tilly doesn’t give out answers but something much more powerful – the ability to ask more questions. The curiosity and willingness to engage in trial and error that is fostered in her lessons prepares all her students for drama school auditions.
When applying for drama school, its common to only see your immediate goal – getting in. The audition process is such a lengthy process that often candidates forget that securing a place is only the very first step to even possibly beginning a career in acting. I use the word “possibly” because like law students who end up in advertising, or trained medics who go onto become playwrights, drama school students frequently end up doing something different from what they studied.
There is so much hype surrounding getting into drama school ,but it is a misapprehension that everyone who wants to go to drama school wants to be an actor. This is undoubtedly the majority’s main goal – made crystal clear by many candidates when asked to “approach the panel individually and state why you want to become an actor”, leading to the audition to descend into a situation horribly familiar to anyone who has ever had the misfortune of watching X Factor auditions, with people citing ill-ridden family members who “inspired them to act” – but many fail to realise that drama school is often the springboard into different areas of the industry, as well as other fields entirely.
Rufus Norris recently declared in The Stage: “I absolutely think, hand on heart, that an acting training is the only way to train for directing.” The article went onto talk about how his training at RADA suggest “that acting is a valuable route in right to the top jobs in British theatre. And it’s far from unprecedented, of course – Michael Grandage and Jonathan Kent, who would go on to lead the Donmar Warehouse and Almeida Theatres, were once actors, but both gave up their acting after turning to directing (interestingly at the Almeida, Kent shared his artistic director duties with the still-acting Ian McDiarmid).”
In another article, journalist Matthew Hemley, wrote of how his training was “three very formative years of my life, which [he] wouldn’t trade for anything” despite realising that “acting wasn’t for [him].” Now he writes about television for The Stage. When asked what training gave him, he responded: “What I did get…was an understanding of the works of practitioners such as Artaud and Brecht. The ability to work alongside others (even though I couldn’t stand the sight of many of them) and the chance to work with a variety of directors, and experience different techniques and approaches to staging a production. I refined any acting skills I may have come to my training with, and also began to understand how disciplined the industry requires people to be. I also gained confidence and communication skills.”
Audition Doctor specialises in drama school applicants. However, it is worthy to note that increasingly more students are booking lessons who earn a crust in other sectors. The skills that an actor acquires at drama school – effective communication and understanding how to connect with an audience to name a few – are basic requirements in most jobs. Promotions in the corporate sector depend heavily on self-presentation, as well as the confidence and nous to market your company effectively to potential clients. Even if you don’t want to be an actor, drama school and Audition Doctor lessons can pave the way to success in other sectors.
When asked what advice he would give for any actor starting out, James McAvoy replied “Advice is difficult for me, because everyone’s journey is so personal and different. Everyone’s style is so personal and different. What makes anyone good is so personal and different. Some people just try to be truthful and are brilliant at it, but I work very differently to that. A lot of the industry is down to luck, and being ready at the right time.”
Being “ready” is vital but, as McAvoy emphasises, whatever your chosen method, it’s up to you to inhabit your character as believably as possible.
“You should do whatever works for you, and trying to be a method actor doesn’t work for me at all. Maybe it will do one day, but I try to keep an eye on what story I’m telling. It’s not just about what character you are and being truthful to that; it’s about keeping your eye on the narrative. I see acting as more about mimicking truthful situations. You’re a storyteller, and naturalism and realism and all that stuff are just a style. I prepare by spending a lot of time working out what story we’re telling exactly.”
When asked what they do to prepare for their part, most actors will cite reading and re-reading the play. Yet it’s surprising how many drama school applicants fail to read the play which their speeches come from. Often when workshopping speeches, the audition panel will ask what has happened in the scene before as a gormless candidate squirms and gabbles something palpably vague. It is mortifying whether or not the panel put it down to nerves and soothes you by saying “don’t worry, take your time”, or in one case, defiantly write the word “NO” across a hapless candidate’s assessment sheet.
The Stage cited the reason as being because “many students and actors are frightened of the verse in Jacobean and Elizabethan plays and, in some cases, of the language itself. Odd when you think about it given that 95% of the vocabulary Shakespeare uses is still in current use and that the heartbeat-like iambic pentameter sits very comfortably in the rhythms of modern English. Think about “I left my brief case on the Northern Line” or “When Susan wants to rant she shouts a lot”.
Evidently, however, the key is striking a balance as the publication simultaneously lamented how many times they had heard actors “gabble [words] so fast that they’re incomprehensible” and were adamant that “you cannot make Shakespeare sound like a bit of dialogue from Eastenders and it’s very misguided of actors and directors to try.”
Making Shakespeare sound both unforced and convincing takes an inordinate amount of preparation.. To be dexterous with Shakespearean language requires you to understand the text. After comprehension comes practice and this is what Audition Doctor sessions afford you. It is uncommon to have an interrupted hour purely to work on Shakespeare, especially if you practice in the comfort of your own home – distractions abound. Having the space to concentrate solely on your speeches with an experienced actor at hand is a rarity which more and more applicants are realising. With the drama school audition season officially beginning, time with Audition Doctor is getting booked up. Those who want a fighting chance this year should book lessons well in advance to ensure availability.
This week the Stage announced that figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Service show that the number of applications to drama courses for 2013 have increased by 7.3%, with nearly 50,000 made.
The expectation that applications would slump drastically due to the tuition fees hike has proven to be unfounded. You would have thought that with the papers routinely filled with phrases such as “fiscal cliff” and “challenging economic climate”, entering a profession with no guarantee of regular work would be an unattractive prospect. Not so. The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama said it had experienced a 12% increase from last year. Of the near 5,900 applications it received this year, around 4,900 were for its BA acting course.
If the odds are in your favour (175:1) and you do manage to get a place at drama school, it’s cheering to know that the competition is just as infuriatingly furious in the actual profession. However helpful conservatoire training is, to think that a drama school degree will automatically mean you are “set” is to be naïve.
The Stage also published an article in the same week entitled “Top tips on How to Make Your Audition Count” where they asked actors, casting directors and agents to give their most valuable advice. Every single one of them began with “preparation”. From April Nicholson’s “Proper preparation prevents poor performance”, Alexandra Lloyd-Hamilton’s “Preparation, preparation, preparation”, Jimmy Jewell’s “Over-prepare”, Mark Inscoe’s “Be prepared” to Spencer James’ “Prepare!”
Not only is the run up to auditions a long one, but the wait between multiple recalls sometimes feels interminable. Most people find the early stages of preparing for drama school auditions easy – finding speeches, filling in the forms, organising audition dates, are all done in an initial optimistic flush. The hardest bit comes when you are six months in the process, when you’ve had a couple of recalls but also a couple of rejections. It is at this stage that the need to keep your audition speeches fresh and spontaneous is crucial. The audition panel don’t care that this is your tenth audition, the whole point of acting is to make it seem like it’s the first time you’ve uttered the words that you’ve said countless times before in front of countless impassive panels. They want you to be a convincing human being. This can be difficult when you’ve woken up at 5am to catch the train to get to your 9am audition in Bristol. This is why sessions at Audition Doctor are priceless. Getting to the emotional place in your speech every time is vital to securing a recall and the work done with Audition Doctor enables you to do this.
The temptation to just “wing it” and “see what happens” is alluring at some stages during the auditioning process – with many erroneously confusing under-preparation with inspiration. The ability to make interesting and daring choices spontaneously can only happen with months of text-work, exploration and preparation. Professional actors continuously stress the necessity of extensive preparation and working with Audition Doctor means that you automatically outrival those naïve or arrogant enough to think they can just go into an audition without having done any work on their character or the play.
With September just round the corner, the inevitable preparation for drama school auditions begins. Most preliminary auditions begin in November and beginning the groundwork in September can seem premature to an outsider. However, candidates who have applied before know that it takes time to choose speeches – you may have to prepare as many as five – as each drama school has its own specifications. Furthermore, they must be performance- ready before you send off your application forms. You could be given an audition date with as little as two weeks notice. Many candidates think they are being strategic by not sending their forms out till the mid-January deadline, in the belief that it gives them far more time to perfect their speeches. In reality, this just means that thousands of other candidates who were more organised than you are forging on ahead; they will do their recall auditions while you are being seen for the first time and will have a greater chance of getting a place before you. It won’t matter if you are more talented than them, you might well be put on the waiting list while they start buying their jazz shoes in anticipation of the start of term.
This is why Audition Doctor already has a set of students gearing up for the 2014 intake. Audition Doctor sessions are the most practical way of furthering yourself as a prospective actor – from choosing speeches to your breath and how you hold yourself- Tilly analyses it all. It isn’t only whether you have the emotional capacity that drama schools are looking for, it’s your ability to connect with your breath, your facility with movement and your openness to direction. Many auditionees think that if they choose a speech that involves hysterical shouting or distraught sobbing, they will prove that they have “range”. In reality, there is far more to choosing the right speech which is why Audition Doctor is indispensable Plays are combed through, speeches are discussed in detail and you never feel like you have settled for something mediocre.
Aside from attending Audition Doctor sessions, Tilly always encourages her students to go to the theatre as often as possible. Sam Rockwell mentioned something similar in his interview with the Guardian: “When young actors haven’t seen films or haven’t seen and read plays, it’s irritating to me,” he muses. “Because you have to always remember that everything’s been done – and it’s been done well. You can’t be Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep or Robert Duvall without really hard work. I don’t know if people understand that acting, if done well there’s a lot of homework involved.” He goes onto mention that during his years at drama school in New York he realised “there was a responsibility, that it was more of a calling, not just a way to meet girls, or a lifestyle – it wasn’t about being famous, it was more like Jedi training. If done well, it’s a noble profession. You can affect people.”
Many people think that actors just get up on stage and are hit with a bolt of inspiration. In reality, there have been hours of preparation and rehearsal. Drama school auditions are no different and lessons with Audition Doctor are a mixture of inspiration and preparation. Starting work on your speeches now only means that you are in the best position to succeed.
If only The Observer’s account of Mark Rylance’s method of auditioning was the norm for all drama school auditions. While they are rarely the “shouty, humiliating exercises, usually of no more than two minutes duration” that the journalist describes, at the initial stages at least, they don’t usually “last up to 30 minutes each”. Furthermore, although most audition panels would argue that, like Rylance, they “are designed to be encouraging rather than demoralising”, everyone will experience the latter at some point throughout the process.
Although Rylance is auditioning professional actors for his upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing, his way of appraisal and observation of each actor is very similar to that of drama school auditions. There is the acting obviously, but also voice work and movement sessions that are also part and parcel of all drama school auditions.
“I try to move them one way or another depending on how much they’re coming out to me, or into themselves,” he says. “Often, their nerves and desire to get the job makes them overly expressive – not bad, but they express more than they need to – so I’ll give them some kind of an obstacle to stop them being so sure-footed. Then I’ll see how they take that note, and I’ll listen to their voice, try to tell whether or not it’s locked in a particular place, and I’ll look at their movement.”
Nerves will inevitably play a huge part in how you perform. If you have only ever done your speeches alone in your living room, auditions in which you have to stand in a vast echoey studio in front of fifteen other candidates as well as the panel, will come as a huge shock. Although all drama schools do send out “What To Expect On Your Audition Day” emails, they don’t specify certain aspects for whatever reason. With extensive experience in drama school auditions, Audition Doctor will be able to tell you what to expect at various stages of the process at specific schools. Some schools require you to perform in front of fellow auditionees, some will be ask that one of your speeches is done to camera. If you are remotely self-conscious or uneasy, there is less likelihood of you inhabiting your character and delivering the performance you want. As Andrew Scott says “an audience can smell authenticity”and you can guarantee that an audition panel will be comprised of human Bloodhounds.
What Audition Doctor ensures is that your nerves are used to your advantage. Each speech is analysed with a fine tooth-comb and Tilly ensures that every intention behind every beat is absolutely understood. As Mark Rylance mentioned: “With Shakespeare, the audience has so many fears and anxieties, so many preconceptions; you have to draw them into the present, to give them an experience rather than a lecture. It should be like a great tennis match: who’s going to win?”
The Shakespeare speech is often the one that scares candidates and what Audition Doctor does so brilliantly is making it “present”, alive, genuine, and almost unbelievably, fun. Rylance cites directors such as Ian Rickson and Tim Caroll who “make their productions to last, and not so brittle that they’ll break. They encourage actors to surprise each other, to keep it fresh, to bring the sense of discovery and fun from the rehearsal room into the performance. You have to move into chaos.”
This is what Audition Doctor encourages students to do during lessons – to be flexible and bold in their choices and to embrace the uncertainty of the process- because often the most radical and exciting performances come out of it.
It’s easy to forget when you’re at a drama school audition that your chances of being selected hinge as much on your ability to collaborate and work well within a group, as your individual abilities. This is why the further you get in the audition process, the longer the movement and voice sessions become. Your speeches may be stunningly poignant and render the panel irrevocably moved, however, if you don’t appear to support and use your fellow applicants’ choices as a springboard to go further in your decisions, chances are you won’t be considered. Drama schools are looking to build a company – a group of actors who are independently strong performers but when working together are capable of surpassing their own limitations to create work that is both bold and honest.
In these workshop sessions, they urge you not to “feel like you have to perform. Just do what comes naturally.” Despite this, many candidates choose to overlook this advice and act like they’re in a full-scale West End production of Mamma Mia! the musical.
The Guardian’s Secret Actor contemplated the “look at me “ quality that he thinks all performers possess and declared it a necessary characteristic for all actors – without it “they’d be dentists.” However, there is a fine line between “pure peacockery” and using this attribute as a way to be better in your acting.
“What separates the peacocks from the good guys is the finesse they employ when displaying this element of “look at me”. It’s what separates the self-important Russell Crowes from, say, the self-effacing Bill Patersons.” It’s having to strike the balance between doing enough to be seen by the panel yet not forcing them to look at you because you’re an insufferable show-off.
What Audition Doctor preps you for is not to be that person. There is always one and sometimes horrifyingly, more than one, which inevitably leads to a competition for attention from the panel members. It is mortifying to witness but because of Audition Doctor’s guidance and advice about these workshops, you can go to your audition understanding that interesting and brave choices aren’t necessarily those that cause the most clamour and pandemonium. Audition Doctor is about daring to fail – either loudly or quietly – but always with the intention of pushing artistic limits and striving to reach the seemingly impossible.
It’s surprising how often drama school applicants commiserate with each other when they find out that other people are doing the same Shakespeare speeches as them at an audition. The chances of any new material from a man who has been dead for nearly 400 years is slim, so the likelihood of someone doing the same speech as you is statistically quite high. Securing a place isn’t based on the originality of your choice of speeches but your originality of thought and approach.
When interviewed in Fourth Wall magazine, Oliver Ford Davis talked of how there was no fixed way of performing Shakespeare and gave advice that would stand any drama school applicant in excellent stead: “One of the difficult things is we approach it with preconceptions and labels…I think with the big Shakespeare parts, don’t try and fit into a mould, don’t say, ‘This is how Cleopatra should be, how Rosalind should be.’ The audience don’t come to see Shakespeare’s Rosalind, they come to see your Rosalind. You might as well go for broke and say ‘I’ve got to find as much of Rosalind as I can in me and then I will do my Rosalind, and it will be like nobody else’s. Don’t be frightened of it. It’s a magnificent, magnificent thing to drive, to gain control of but you must bring yourself to it. I think Shakespeare, because he was an actor and because he knew his acting company so well, he actually leaves quite a lot of it to you, sort of saying, ‘I haven’t proscribed how this character should be played.’”
Another common plaintive cry is “I just wish I knew what they were looking for.” In recalls, the audition panel don’t just want to see how you take direction but also how receptive you are to your fellow actors. The improvisation exercises and other games that are played aren’t just what one panel flippantly called “a bit of fun for you all”, but an opportunity for them to scrutinise whether you are capable of doing what Alison Steadman advised all actors this week – “ To look and listen. As an actor, all we are doing is pretending to be other people. Look and listen: always listen. Listen, listen, listen all the time.”
At Audition Doctor, there is thankfully never any opportunity to play someone else’s interpretation of a Shakespeare character as Tilly is meticulous in questioning every single choice you make in your speech. Sessions at Audition Doctor will often entail making sure that your intentions behind every thought is clear by “listening” to the text, which ensures that your performance is truthful. The focus that Audition Doctor places on how your character is trying to affect the person he/she is talking to is invaluable. If you are unsure as to how you are trying to affect a fictional character, the real human beings sitting on the panel will undoubtedly also be left unconvinced.