Acting on stage requires a startling amount of both physical and mental exertion. To be a stage actor is to run a nightly marathon. As Ian McKellen attests: “I’m increasingly feeling that theatre is a young person’s game, it takes a lot of energy and concentration – two, three hours on stage – and that’s physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.” Or maybe it’s because there is something oddly primal about an actor standing on stage and the audience are subconsciously reminded of the age-old history of entertainment, from Music hall right back to Elizabethan England and beyond. There were no green screens or special effects to beguile the viewer then; it was the words you uttered and how you spoke them that captivated. Only when you have stood on stage can you truly call yourself an entertainer – the actor’s fundamental job description.
There have been a string of interviews this week with actors acknowledging theatre’s utmost importance in the development of the actor. On the Andrew Marr Show, Patricia Hodge said: “Theatre is the real learning ground and you bring that to the screen”, while Lesley Manville in the Guardian spoke of the stage being “the ultimate test; I like watching established screen actors on stage to see if they can really do it.”
It isn’t just the simple fact of treading the boards that lends gravitas to the actor; acting in a Shakespeare play appears to be the ultimate test. It is only when an actor has cut their teeth on the Bard that they truly cut the mustard. Lenny Henry’s Othello in 2011 was the defining moment when he proved that he could entertain as a different kind of performer.
Othello is at the National again with two actors who have stellar film and TV careers – Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester. However, in an interview for the Guardian, they spoke of how acting for theatre requires hard graft and how it continuously exercises the performer’s acting muscles – both literally and metaphorically – which can grow weak if not used.
“I get antsy if a year goes by without doing a play,” says Kinnear, who emphasises the sheer physical effort of stage acting. “I don’t go to the gym, so this is my way of trying to live longer.”
“If you’re doing nothing but film,” says Lester, “part of you gets soft – your speed of thinking, the amount you have to learn, your physicality, your voice, your diaphragm. When I step back on stage I have to re-engage all those muscles, especially with Shakespeare. You have to make the audience believe this is a real person speaking, not someone standing there reciting poetry. It’s quite an ask.”
The Guardian journalist questioned the actors whether they could offer anything new to a play that has been seen recently and countless times. Lester replied: “People’s preconceptions are based on generalities, our job is to be very specific, and in that specificity to make it real, to make it live again.”
This is what Audition Doctor excels at – making a character live. Drama schools and casting directors aren’t interested in “performances”, they want to see you transform into a wholly believable other being.
Shakespeare forms the basis of many acting courses and to “not do Shakespeare” puts you at a huge disadvantage if you want to go to drama school. Audition Doctor sessions give you the space to unlock the language where Tilly ensures that it becomes a springboard instead of a barrier in your acting. Audition Doctor gives you the gift of making you realise that Ian McKellen was right: “The verse is about giving instructions to the actor as to how to say the part and if you know how to say it then you’ll probably know how to feel it.”
Along with the NHS, Bond and the Sex Pistols, the general consensus at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony was that Shakespeare was emblematic of quintessential “Britishness”. As Danny Boyle intended, we saw Kenneth Branagh “ in the person of Isambard Kingdom Brunel performing Shakespeare to the accompaniment of Elgar” to an audience of one billion people. Without belittling Shakespeare’s transcendent ability to write speeches that are rhythmically in tune with the beatings of the human heart, whilst simultaneously encapsulating the tumultuous vagaries of the human condition, it is also the actors who have performed the Bard’s plays that have ensured his place in the nation’s heart.
It is no accident that the finest Shakespearean actors such as Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Stewart and Anthony Sher were professionally trained at British drama schools. Audition Doctor has many students from abroad who seek audition advice in the hope of securing one of their covetable places. However, the tide may start to turn with The Stage recently publishing an article regarding the establishment of a “lower-fee Barcelona drama school to target UK students.”
The principal declared it would be “aimed at students from the UK who are looking for cheaper fees…, we have [a] lower cost of living, plus the number of contact hours with tutors we have here – from 9am to 5pm – comparable to some of the best drama and dance conservatoires in the UK without students having to pay the big bucks they would have to pay in the UK.”
However, fees are still £8,400 a year for the three-year BA degree which isn’t that much cheaper than the £9,000 in Britain. This, coupled with the fact that students will find it harder to become involved in the British Acting Industry by virtue of the fact that it’s hard to get agents to travel to see final year showcases that aren’t in London – let alone the Continent.
A place at drama school in England is worth the investment if you wish to be a member of the Industry in Britain. Audition Doctor has succeeded in ensuring that students are in the best possible position before entering the audition room. From audition to interview technique, Audition Doctor understands the nature of not only the drama school audition but also the auditioning process for professional acting jobs. Whether you are a professional actor needing extra help or hoping to get into drama school, you will soon find Audition Doctor an absolute necessity.
It used to be that if you were a student at drama school, the presumption was that you were on the three year Acting BA. This is no longer the case, with drama schools offering a miscellany of courses; from six month foundation courses to one year MAs specialising in screen acting. With the acting industry’s seeming obsession with youth and the hike in drama school fees, it’s understandable that hopeful thespians will be eager to “get out there” as soon as possible.
However, at Audition Doctor, Tilly always alerts students to the importance of being aware that such short courses mean that future career opportunities have the potential to be affected. An actor trained only in the art of screen acting might find that chances to tread the boards at the National are slim. The percentage of actors who manage to earn a living in purely one medium is small. A three year course at drama school gives you varied and all-encompassing experience from camera work, stagecraft to voice-over technique.
As the Central School of Speech and Drama states: “In today’s multimedia and multifaceted landscape, it is no longer useful to categorise acting in a single generic or restrictive way – it is not how the industry works and it is not how we want to train you. You will be required to become reslient and resourceful and draw on a wide range of acting processes. We will help you to learn how to frame these with self-determined creative and intellectual strategies, alongside professional career targets.”
Actors who have been to drama school will be trained not only in the art of acting but also how to structure their career; the skills taught at drama school will give them more of a chance of sustained longevity. That being said, the industry continuously proves itself to be unpredictable, with untrained unknowns becoming global “stars” overnight.
However, Ian McKellen this week lamented that the combination of the dissolution of regional repertory theatre and actors being eager to move directly into film and television has meant that Britain will no longer be able to produce high-calibre heavyweight actors such as Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi or Michael Gambon. Like drama school, he credited repertory theatre with the ability to develop his acting abilities.
“The danger is going to be that the current generation of actors won’t develop into good middle-aged performers because they won’t have been able to live from their work…The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle years know what they’re doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.”
In an industry that no longer gives its young members a chance to train “on the job”, so to speak, it seems clear that for the majority, in-depth drama school training is still the best bet to ensure that they can earn a living out of being an actor. Audition Doctor is the best place to go to seek advice, practical direction and professional opinion, which means your chances of defying Ian McKellen’s assessment of the current acting crop’s woeful future are much greater.