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.
The Times recently dispatched one of its journalists – Richard Morrison – to attend and report back on the increasingly popular intensive courses that RADA offer for people in business. The article was entitled “How RADA helped me find my inner Gordon Gekko”, which leads me to believe that the infamous decision to send a Tower Hamlets councillor on one of the £625 a day courses was made in the spirit of shrewd business acumen, intended on swelling the council’s empty coffers in the face of government cuts instead of what some perceived as gratuitous profligacy.
The commercial courses that this drama school offers attract people from all job sectors – The City, the NHS, the Civil Service, event management, the Home Office and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The skills that actors require such as the ability to be clearly heard, to hold the attention of an audience and to stand up in front of a group of people while “exuding such an air of friendly but confident ease that all present will feel the impact of [your] charisma” are not exclusive to a career on the stage but also in the boardroom. Edward Kemp, artistic director of RADA, explained the reason for the courses’ success was its focus on voice work coupled with a focus on “status transactions, which we use a lot in drama training.”
“We used to think of status purely in terms of one’s social standing,” Kemp explains. “But there are many other sorts of status. Experts can adjust their status so they are slightly above the person they are hoping to influence, but not so far above as to be frightening. Effective status transactions can be taught, and the skill can be hugely valuable — for lawyers, for example.”
Throughout the course, Morrison is instructed to participate in various exercises designed to boost confidence such as finding your centre of gravity, delivering an anecdote without any “ums” and “ahs” and passing round a Shakespeare sonnet around a circle one iambic pentameter at a time. You get the feeling here that Morrison should stick to his job writing instead of public speaking when he turns to the hapless person on his left and delivers the line “borne on the bier with white and bristly beard” with what he hopes is “a Hammer House of Horror quiver in [his] voice.”
Audition Doctor offers help with effective communication in public speaking without the eye-watering price tag. People from a range of professions have attended Audition Doctor courses and have found that sessions have got rid of the barriers that prevented them from delivering their speeches confidently. Shakespeare monologues or other speeches at Audition Doctor are used as vehicles through which the speaker’s breath and voice are explored and developed.
Why are actors – professionals concerned with the arts – increasingly looked to as the go-to group to improve things in the commercial arena? As Edward Kemp says: “It’s about effective communication. And don’t forget that as actors we are chiefly concerned with conveying truth.” Furthermore, with the skills that you learn at Audition Doctor, delivering your presentation or speech to a room of besuited colleagues will not feel, as Morrison concedes, like a “recurring teenage nightmare”.
Monday’s article “Man Up!” in the Evening Standard subverted the common perception of drama schools being populated solely by young thespians muttering Shakespeare soliloquies whilst stretching at the barre in black leggings. Instead, RADA played host to a group of businessmen and women and held the increasingly popular two-day “Personal Impact in Meetings” group course which teaches corporate executives “practical physical and vocal techniques to improve communication” and how to be “more powerful, confident and effective in business.”
History has proved that this is not an unusual coalition; actors have often been called upon to advise people in various job sectors on how to effectively communicate. Thatcher’s political strategist recognised the authority and influence that came with being a confident public speaker. He sought Laurence Olivier’s advice which led to Thatcher attending voice coaching lessons at the National Theatre and soon “the hectoring tones of the housewife gave way to softer notes and a smoothness that seldom cracked except under extreme provocation on the floor of the House of Commons.” Whatever your views on the former Prime Minister are, the improvement in her communication skills was unfortunately undeniable.
The rigorous training at drama school equips the actor with the technical skill that is required in holding the attention of an audience. In a business world where promotions hinge on adroit presentational skills and the ability to pitch ideas in an engaging fashion – the professionally trained actor is golden. No other job focuses so intently on the importance of captivating listeners; actors understand that it isn’t just what you say, but how you say it that is important. Breath, posture, voice, eye contact and even attire (or “costume”) affect your ability to communicate.
With drama schools now offering courses to business executives, the demand for an actor’s perspective in the corporate world has never been greater. Audition Doctor has had a marked increase in demand from clients in the corporate sector. Many businessmen and women prefer one-on-one sessions as opposed to the group sessions which some drama schools and companies offer. Private lessons under Tilly’s focused tutelage foster a less self-conscious atmosphere and quicker progress.