In the Guardian last month, Sylvestra Le Touzel spoke of how many actresses felt shortchanged by Shakespeare. She spoke in light of her experience playing Lady Percy in Henry IV: “Inhabiting Shakespeare’s women can be frustrating, not because he lacked insight into the female condition but because he didn’t give us enough space in which to play. “Have you ever felt that one of your scenes is missing?” Elizabeth Bell once asked me as she adjusted Gertrude’s lipstick, rose from her chair and exited with resignation to meet Hamlet in her closet.”
The advice most frequently dispensed by Audition Doctor to drama school applicants is the imperative of finding the best speech for you. The speech is the medium through which you will be judged first and foremost. For women, the range of speeches to choose from is narrower, however, the way a speech is interpreted has no limitation.
Le Touzel went onto comment on how “Many years later, while working on one of [Lady Percy’s] speeches with a drama student, we came to a section where the pentameter has an unexpected rhythm. I’d skipped over it 20 years before, but working on it again we found the underlying beat of a drum woven into the sentence structure. You can work on a speech for years and still find new insights.”
This week, Carrie Cracknell gave an insight into the National Theatre’s rehearsal process of Medea which incorporates dance into the production. Choreographer Lucy Guerin mentioned: “Actors need a lot of background on what they’re expressing and why. Carrie does these sessions called intentions, where everyone sits down and goes through the play line by line to figure out each character’s place.”
Audition Doctor sessions are not at all dissimilar; sessions are spent discussing motive and unpicking the text line by line. Such commitment to detail roots the performance in truth. Consequently, when questioned by panels as to why a particular decision was made, Audition Doctor students are always clear about the psychology behind every choice.
However, the thing that marks Audition Doctor’s students out is their awareness of how many different ways a character can be played. Redirection during recalls is common and due to the experimental nature of Audition Doctor sessions, students find that they are able to play many, and often opposite, intentions truthfully.
Cracknell said: “I do think we live in a culture of liking to know where we’re being led,” she says. “I would much rather be drawn into a work, and asked lots of difficult questions, than be taken on a well-worn story where I know what the outcome will be.”
Audition Doctor sessions are characterised by the refusal to go down the well-trodden path of the easiest option. Drama schools are looking for those who are prepared to be bold and ask difficult questions. It’s what Audition Doctor prepares each of her students to be.
Drama School Coach Tilly Blackwood
Bel Knight speaks to Audition Doctor founder Tilly Blackwood
What would a typical lesson at Audition Doctor be like?
Happily for me, I don’t have a set lesson plan that’s set in stone for every student. I see drama school applicants, professional actors and also people in other professions who want to improve their presentational and public speaking skills so there is no standard lesson. Every lesson is fashioned to suit the unique needs of each individual.
When does your coaching start for people applying to drama schools?
With drama school applicants, I see students at every stage at the audition process; some come to me months in advance and others the day before. Ideally, a student would come to me earlier rather than later because it’s important to have time to experiment with various speeches and to ensure that at your audition, you are presenting yourself at your very best.
How do you come to choose drama school speeches?
A lot of the time students initially come to me with English A- Level speeches that drama schools see time and time again. With people wanting to get into drama school, I suggest they go to the biggest bookshop they can find with a cup of tea and spend some time looking through as many plays as possible. They tend to bring me a selection of speeches and then we try them out in the lesson. Students often very quickly know which speech feels right for them but the most important thing is to give yourself the luxury of doing lots of ‘acid tests’ when it comes to drama school speeches because you will be doing them often and over an extended period of time.
So what would you say is the ideal period to start lessons if you want to get into drama school?
I would say about 5 months before your drama school auditions start. I’m always very wary of giving specific periods of time because obviously it depends on the student. What I am certain of is that I need to ensure that I have sufficient time to get to know the student and steer them to see specific plays that I think might spark an idea. It’s surprising how little drama school hopefuls go to the theatre. Often great performances by professional actors might influence a way of doing a speech or simply change a student’s perceptions of what is possible. Recently, I encouraged students to see Jerusalem and Much Ado About Nothing. It’s interesting, I notice a marked difference in my students after having watched actors such as Mark Rylance and Eve Best give such phenomenal performances. I often find they are more daring in their choices and more open to taking risks in their speeches for drama school.
Theatre tickets can be incredibly expensive; how would you encourage your students to go more often?
The vast majority of my students applying to drama schools are in their teens and twenties and there are so many schemes that give cheap theatre tickets to young people. I think if you want to be an actor and go to drama school, you must be aware of the goings-on of the profession and constantly expose yourself to experienced actors who have already been through the journey that you want to embark on. Also, at drama school auditions, they frequently ask what plays you’ve been to see recently. Drama school places are in such short supply that inevitably they want to accept aspirant actors who are knowledgeable and passionate about the theatre.
Audition Doctor offers One To One Coaching consisting of an introductory meeting to discuss your needs and requirements and to work out a plan out a working strategy up to and until you get into drama school. My success rate is very high and I take great pride in this; putting this down to my experience and understanding of what is required.