Why Drama School Graduates are Making Their Own Theatre

When Ideastap asked David Harewood whether drama school was worth the time and expense, he responded: “I’m really glad I did because it gave me that classical training, and you can’t get that anywhere else in the world. We have a deep theatrical tradition here as old as any other on the planet, and you get trained in all these different styles. So when you do get auditions, you feel like you can do anything.

I can do a bit of telly, a bit of radio but I can also belt out a bit of Shakespeare, and you’d find that very difficult if you hadn’t gone to drama school. Some people may not want those skills. I’m coming across a lot of young actors who have gone through other forms of training and are fantastic, and maybe some of these guys don’t dream of getting up on stage and doing King Lear – maybe they’re not interested in that. But it’s also the experience of studying the craft – it’s a skill and the more you study it, the better you get.”

Perhaps it isn’t that the actors Harewood is talking about aren’t interested in theatre, but because they are aware of the recent changes that their profession has faced. Their desire to find success in TV or film is based on a realistic mindset that fewer subsidies mean fewer risks. It’s a well known fact that conservative tastes reign during times of financial trouble.

Even Trevor Nunn acknowledged: “It’s a changing world as drama students leave their drama schools thinking ‘I have to get into television and I have to get into film,’ because there are fewer and fewer opportunities in theatre.”
However, this has frequently proven not to be the case. More than ever, new theatre companies such as DryWrite, Clean Break and Theatre 503, to name a few, are staging new and radical plays. It also appears that students from drama schools are taking the situation into their own hands by forming their own companies. Invertigo Theatre Company is one such venture which was set up by four Guildhall graduates who focus on “the lesser known, from new writing to European plays.”

One of the reasons why drama school graduates are still pursuing careers in theatre is the liberating aspect of the medium over film.

As Kirsten Scott Thomas mentioned: “The trouble with acting in films, she goes on, is that “you’re constantly being told what to do. ‘Move your head that way. Can you cry a bit more? Can you do this, can you do that? Oh, that was lovely, that was amazing, that was beautiful.’ And sometimes you think, that wasn’t amazing and wonderful and beautiful, it was just a look. But you’ve got this person saying it was. And then it’s taken away from you, and it’s all mixed up and made into something else. Basically, when you are acting in a film, you’re giving the director the raw material to make the film. But when you’re acting on stage, that’s it. And that’s when you discover that you can really do it. It’s this word ‘trust’ that keeps coming to me. It’s not a question of whether one person is conning you into thinking you can do it, saying, ‘Oh, it was beautiful.’ On stage, if it works, it works.”

One of the reasons why actors come to Audition Doctor lies in what Jeremy Irvine said recently in an interview: “What’s worth remembering is, when you finally do get cast in a film, there’s no rehearsal time and you’re not supervised. You get a script and you’re told it’s shooting in two months and you have to do all that work yourself. There’s no one holding your hand. There’s no director asking, “Have you tried this?” That happens on set on the day, by which point it’s too late if you haven’t done the preparation.”

Audition Doctor sessions are popular because they are pockets of time where the focus is on preparation. The intensive and qualitative nature of the work that you do in the lessons often means that students choose to come to Audition Doctor over an extended period of time. Consequently, even if you are coming to Audition Doctor for preparation for a film or TV role, you are afforded the luxury of a more prolonged sort of rehearsal period that theatre is known for.

Acting with Audition Doctor

For me, the number of lessons with Audition Doctor depended on the stage I got to in recalls. With drama schools such as RADA and Guildhall, there are up to four audition stages. While the competition gets stiffer with candidates of equal competency and talent battling for limited places, it became increasingly more vital to try and show flexibility. Regular lessons in between recalls at Audition Doctor gave me the secure environment to do this.

Working on an audition speech from ‘Cock’ by Mike Bartlett was an eye-opener; the speech was a young woman’s angry indictment of what she saw as her future father-in-law’s hypocritical and false leftist ideals.  My initial shallow interpretation was basically quite shouty and accusatory with no varying shades of tone or emotion which made it generalised and quite frankly exhausting to watch. Tilly and I then looked closely at the text and “actioned” it which involved assigning a transitive verb for each line. Initially it was difficult to recall each verb for each line and when I did it again I felt like a car continuously stalling. However, not only did this process ensure that I became more aware of the character’s thought process but also gave the speech far more intensity without resorting to deafening the audition panel.

At drama school auditions, it was interesting to note that different drama schools had varying requirements for performing audition speeches. Most informed you that they didn’t want you to direct the speech at the panel as they would be jotting down notes during your audition and therefore didn’t want to be a distraction if they failed to react to your speech. Others however, stipulated that acting was not a solitary process and interaction was cardinal and therefore preferred you to direct your speech to them. Some drama schools even provided an existing student for candidates to say their audition speeches to. I directed most of my speeches to the bookshelf (more specifically a collection of wartime poetry) just above Tilly’s head which meant that it wasn’t as intimidating for me when asked to look the audition panel in the eyes during my speeches.

While rehearsing audition speeches alone in your bedroom is undeniably a prerequisite to attending an audition, performing in front of an audience is equally important. Acting in front of friends or parents can be excruciating, which is why lessons at Audition Doctor are indisputably beneficial. Apart from her twenty years of experience in the acting profession, her invaluable support and guidance, Tilly is also- to put it bluntly- a person in the room.

Bel Knight interviews Tilly Blackwood

What was your first job and was it what you expected?

 My first job was at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre playing Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and Calpurnia in Julius Caesar. After the initial excitement of getting the part wore off, it was sobering to realise that the small and secure environment of drama school wasn’t an accurate representation of the Industry; and not having a roof was interesting! Working with experienced actors, most of whom had left drama school a while ago, made me realise that I still had a lot to learn.

I also had the expectation that the job would lead me immediately onto more auditions and it took longer than I anticipated for me to feel that I could make a living out of being an actress.

 How do you deal with the inevitable tough competition and rejection that characterises the Industry?

 No matter which drama school you went to or how many auditions you attend, every actor will experience the disappointment of not having got the part; even harder when there are bills to pay. However, maintaining a sense of perspective is key. It’s important to recognise what is within your control. Researching and analysing the text is something that you can always do and if you have feedback from a casting director- learn from it. When you do suffer from a setback, it’s important not to be self-indulgent, change what is within your control and move on. Also, if possible, have a plan B.

How important do you think your training at Guildhall was and do you think if you hadn’t gone to drama school that you would be as employable?

 Drama school has been crucial, as the training continues to be invaluable to me as a working actress. Yet I know that it’s not the only route and some actors have been successful without having gone at all. What drama school gave me was focus and time. A lot of people are impatient and keen for immediate success. Personally, the time to explore and fail without doing it publicly was hugely important. Additionally, drama school equips students with a variety of tools-  specific classes on movement, improvisation, voice and classical texts are indispensable and are vital for every actor. The detailed and rigorous technique that drama school instilled in me, made me less self-conscious and more confident as an actress. The training that I received at drama school is indisputably the bedrock of how I approach the creation of a character today.