In the Guardian this week, David Morrissey was interviewed about the process of preparing for his role in Hangmen.
Far from worrying about the potentially incendiary nature of the play, Morrissey described the anxiety he felt with regards to his own performance.
“All the way through rehearsal I kept thinking, how am I going to do this justice?” All my worries were personal. It has been a while since I have been in the theatre” – he played Macbeth at Liverpool’s Everyman theatre in 2011 – “and even longer since I’ve done comedy in theatre. So my worries were all about that. I never had any about how the play would be received.”
The return from a break from a particular medium is why many professional actors go to Audition Doctor. Nothing prepares you for a role other than the doing of it. The space that Audition Doctor offers is a unique place where actors feel the freedom to research, rehearse and experiment under professional guidance.
Speaking of Hangmen, Morrissey commented: “From the first two pages I thought, I want to do this. Sometimes when you read a script you are slightly outside it, thinking technically about how you will do this and that. But very quickly I forgot that I had even been offered the role. I just read it as a story. And it was wonderful.”
The brilliance of Audition Doctor lies in guiding students towards plays such as these, whilst also teaching the technical finesse that these kind of roles demand. Lessons are rigorous and it’s the students who combine private work with weekly sessions that see the quickest progress. This echoes Morrissey comment on his own way of working: “My instincts get more alive the more research I do.”
The actors who attend Audition Doctor sessions are those that take their career and craft seriously.
Students find that spending time and effort on continuously pushing themselves to be better is important and rewarding.
Morrissey said: “I went through a stage as a younger actor of feeling that what I did wasn’t worth that much, that it was frivolous and unimportant,” he says. “I don’t feel that now. I really believe in the power stories have to illuminate and the need of a collective audience to witness things together. Now I am getting older I feel it is a very important job…”
This echoes what Mark Rylance said in a recent interview: “I think that is all we want as human beings. That is why there are religions and philosophies. Without stories, life would be overwhelming.”
As actors, communicating those stories effectively requires work, commitment and courage.
Fisayo Akinde said in BAFTA’s Acting Guru series: “You have to go for it, I think. Bold choices are always the best choices even if they don’t work, because then you’re memorable and you’re remembered for being brave.”
Audition Doctor sessions make you braver and better professionally, which is explains why students keep coming back.
Tom Conti was quoted in the Telegraph worrying over how young actors got started in the industry: “We don’t have rep theatre…That was a phenomenally good start, actors developed stage craft, learnt how your voice worked.
He went onto state: “There’s no training ground at all now. Actors come out of drama school – and I want to say, go and ask for your money back. They have taught you nothing.”
While this is an opinion held by some actors, particularly by those who gained a foothold in the profession through repertory theatre, many actors credit their success to the three years spent at drama school.
Actors such as David Morrissey have been vocal about their support for drama schools, with the latter describing how his training at RADA helped him maintain momentum and longevity in his career.
Morrissey is about to appear in Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen at the Royal Court. When interviewed by the Guardian and asked what is it about McDonagh’s writing that inspires such respect? He replied: “His love of language. You’re reading the script through with other actors and there’s immediately this incredible rhythm, like you’re batting words back and forth. That’s energising in itself, and then you start to pick up on the complexity of the script, all the underlying strands that are threaded through the play in such a subtle, revealing way.”
This idea of understanding the muscularity of the language and the ability to unravel the complexity of the text are what training grounds such as drama schools and Audition Doctor focus on.
At Audition Doctor, the concentrated sessions assure students that they are using the language to communicate character and emotion.
Freddie Fox, due to appear as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, said: ”I think every actor probably has a little bit of apprehension at the beginning of [their] first Shakespeare. And yet my dad had said to me many times: you will suddenly realise how blessed you are to say those words because Shakespeare makes it very easy for you.”
Audition Doctor’s popularity with professional actors and drama school applicants lies in the way Tilly gives every student the tools with which to overcome obstacles. Although the work undertaken in the sessions is often difficult, the performance itself in front of the audition panel becomes far less daunting and, perhaps unusually for some, enjoyable.
Picking suitable speeches is something that Audition Doctor considers vital for audition success and many come to Audition Doctor for this guidance alone.
Fox recounted his drama school auditions: ”It was awful. I made such a fool of myself! I went into the audition feeling like the Laurence Olivier of the public school system. I did Noel Coward, Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde – and they said surely you can do things other than drink tea and speak nicely? So for my second audition I did a piece from [David Mamet play] Glengarry Glen Ross, in my gruffest Pacino voice. Dan looked up at me afterwards and said, ‘That is the most preposterous audition I have ever seen in my life.’”
Thankfully, Audition Doctor students rarely have similar experiences to that because Audition Doctor guides them in choosing speeches and characters that showcase the best of what they can offer.
In the second part of his interview with BAFTA, David Morrissey spoke of the process of preparing for a role and the diverse exigencies that different roles had on actors. He spoke of time being a crucial factor in determining how he prepared. He mentioned that if he was given the luxury of time, he’d unleash his “inner geek” and would do in-depth research.
“I have to find the idiosyncrasies as a character. Sometimes there’s physical work, sometimes there’s accent work as well. You have to do all of that before you walk onto the set or stage because you want to be forgetting about all of that when you’re doing the job itself.”
Actors and drama school applicants who come to Audition Doctor usually attend bi-weekly sessions if they have the advantage of time prior to an audition. Regular sessions allow you to incrementally and organically build authentic characters. Idiosyncrasies are not merely tacked on to seemingly seek attention from the panel, but genuine singularities of the character are unearthed that can be textually supported. This is due to the forensic research that is undertaken at Audition Doctor.
Sessions focus not only on the psychological exploration of the character but also weave historical context into your performance.
As Morrissey advised: “You have to put yourself in their head. If you go further back into Tudor times, you have [to be aware of] strange things like life expectancy have a weight on you that you have to carry. The comfort of life that we have, you have to make sure that your characters don’t have that surety. Also the expectation of life in the sense that if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person then it’s your head on the block literally. So that fear that you’re working in, you have to make sure that is inside the [process of your] decision making.”
It is this commitment to creativity and unswerving drive to drill deeper into the core of human psyche that has made Audition Doctor indispensable to actors. It is also these particular qualities that differentiate the practitioner from the artist.
Lisa Dwan – who recently performed in Beckett’s Not, I – wrote in the Guardian about her recently departed friend and mentor, Billie Whitelaw:
“Billie lifted the lid on all of [Beckett’s] well-worn notes, especially his instruction Don’t Act: “No colour”. She was adamant not to let me emulate her performance or veer towards a surface “Beckett-style” reproduction, but wanted instead for the work to connect deep within the performer. She explained that Beckett dealt with such truths that he had no room for an actor’s craft. He did want emotion, only he wanted all of it – the real stuff, the guts – not some polished fool’s gold…She taught me that truth has a sound, a timbre.”
Audition Doctor sessions are sometimes difficult and demanding – but every single student leaves knowing that no pathway, however difficult, has been avoided in the pursuit of the truth, of which there may be many. The difference is that Tilly encourages the unusual and the ambitious – “the real stuff, the guts” – which means that even just one session at Audition Doctor usually changes not only the way you approach a character, but the way you approach the wider craft of acting itself.