In the Telegraph this week, Judi Dench questioned the at times bleak nature of the acting industry towards its newest recruits: ”There are no reps anywhere any more. There’s very little work, young actors have to get something and hope that it’s a success. They go to an audition and now nobody ever writes afterwards to say, ‘It was a terrific meeting, I’m so sorry it hasn’t worked out this time.’ There’s a complete silence. What is your encouragement as a young actor? Where do you go to learn? Where do you get to make the mistakes?”
Luckily for both professional actors and drama school applicants, Audition Doctor has proven to be that place. Audition Doctor is where actors are encouraged to take big risks, fail and subsequently become better.
Lyn Gardner wrote recently about how theatre should be a risky business and how venues should not be afraid of making choices that could alienate their established audiences. Playing it safe, in both programming and performance, betrays a lack of creativity. As Gardner states: “In fact, there is no such thing as “an audience”; only a collection of individuals sitting in a shared space.”
Audition Doctor sessions are sought after because Tilly discourages students from being risk-averse. The choices that students end up making are often daring and different. Drama schools are looking for those who are fearless in defying convention in favour of the unexpected. As Gardner states: “An audience that is up for being challenged and surprised, when it comes down to it, probably won’t like everything it sees.”
Many speeches that students rehearse at Audition Doctor – particularly for drama school – are well-known. Often they are part of a literary canon and have been performed by stalwart actors. Consequently, many people find it difficult to break away from how they preconceive the character to be, whether it be the thoughts behind the lines or even how the line sounds. On the BAFTA Acting Guru site, Idris Elba gave his advice to young actors starting out which is also encouraged at Audition Doctor: “It’s important to have an open mind, you are the vessel and on top of which and added onto are these personalities that you have to portray. [Have] a blank sheet and throw away any ideas and build from the beginning.”
Similarly, in the Guardian, Lenny Henry spoke of his process to approaching Shakespeare, which closely resembles the way text is approached at Audition Doctor: “Think of long speeches as a series of connected thoughts, not one big clump of dialogue. Each thought, each sentence, is a separate piece of your armoury. Think through each sentence: about how you glue it together; what it means; how you feel when you say each thing. You’ll find it comes together like a kind of delicious soup.”
Audition Doctor is about building up an arsenal of authentic emotional responses through risk and failure. Consequently, Tilly’s students get parts and places at drama schools because their performances challenge not only themselves, but also whomever is watching.
Judi Dench recently spoke of how uninspiring teaching led her to a mental stalemate with regards to understanding some of Shakespeare’s plays early on in her career. She credited seeing the plays performed on stage, as opposed to reading “six lines each in turn, regardless of who was saying them”, with igniting her passion and understanding.
Speaking of the reluctance of many to engage with Shakespeare, Dench said: “It’s a fear, there’s a terrible fear about Shakespeare that it’s a language we don’t understand. [But] it couldn’t be easier. It’s the prejudice of things. Somebody telling you it’s hard, and the fear that you’re not going to understand it. You’re not going to be able to understand? Well that’s up to the actor.”
Gregory Doran, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, also said: “If you’re reading Shakespeare you can get baffled by the language, but if you see actors deliver it with passion and engagement, even if you don’t pick up every word, you can follow a story and be transported to a different world.”
The importance that both place on the actor is why Audition Doctor is sought out by professional actors and drama school applicants alike. Audition Doctor students succeed in landing jobs and places at drama school because the sessions places such importance on unpicking the text. Once the language is understood, there’s a framework within which to experiment. Audition Doctor sessions encourage students to explore the myriad of ways to play the scene and students often experiment in ways that oppose one another. However, as Indira Varma said of her time rehearsing with Pinter: “If you’re truthful, nothing you do is wrong.” Of course, that has to be within the limitations of the play but it was the most liberating thing to be told.” There is no right or wrong at Audition Doctor, but Tilly will guide you to the option that shows you to be bold and above all, the one that rings the most true.
Another reason why actors, particularly those in TV, come to Audition Doctor is because of their lack of rehearsal time. Imelda Staunton spoke about the problem in this week’s Telegraph:
“That’s the thing that’s disappeared unfortunately with television is a terribly old-fashioned word called ‘rehearsing’. As if it doesn’t mean anything – ‘It doesn’t matter, you don’t need it’. Well, you do need it! And I think you need it for everything, particularly this, and thank goodness we got it. There’s no way we could have done it without. And we all mourn the days of – they were awful the BBC rehearsal rooms in Acton – but you rehearsed. You did The Singing Detective – you rehearsed it and then you did it. Like any piece of work you do, whether it’s a play or theatre or film, you don’t just turn up and go, ‘That’s what I’ve done, I’ll do that’. And it was very valuable for this and I wish more people would think about putting an extra two bob in to allow people to have a bit of time. We live in a world where we want instant things. ‘Just do it now! We want it instant, we want it good and we want it successful’. Well, the best things take time, whether it’s a very good stew or a show. The best things take time to cook and develop and I think people underestimate that. No one wants to rehearse to waste time, it saves time.”
In today’s unforgiving climate, Audition Doctor has become a rehearsal space where actors have the time to work on their parts and develop their craft. The instant success that Staunton speaks of is nigh on impossible to achieve without professional direction, hard graft and time – all of which Audition Doctor provides.
At the Cheltenham Literary Festival, The Times reported Judi Dench disagreeing with the commonplace practice of understudies playing the roles of leading stage actors in matinees. She credited her training at drama school as the thing that equipped her with the stamina: “That doesn’t faze me at all – eight performances a week, I know it’s rather fashionable now to get someone else to do two performances but that’s not the way I was trained.”
However, she also recently mentioned the difficulty for actors without significant private backing to receive professional training. Earlier this year, The Times carried out research in which “a study of 100 British actors to have been nominated for Bafta or Olivier awards in the past decade showed that state-educated actors outnumbered their privately schooled peers until 1957, when the trend reversed. Even before that turning point, products of a state education were still at a disadvantage as they represent more than 93 per cent of the population.”
With drama schools now charging £9,000 in fees and complaints about the dearth of working-class stories portrayed on television, acting is understandably seen as being a profession monopolised by the wealthy. Furthermore, Dench lamented the fact that “there aren’t [repertory theatres] where you get to learn about how other actors do it. Where do you go to learn, and to make mistakes?” The disintegration of the repertory system has meant that drama school has increased in importance as a space where young actors can learn and make mistakes.
Dench went onto warn that “it [is wrong to assume that good actors will rise to the top. It doesn’t hold that the actors who are good actors are in the jobs. It’s if you’re lucky, you’ve got the job”, reinforcing the idea that getting a place at drama school has become even more important.
However, as Jake Gyllenhaal said on the On Acting blog of the Bafta website: “Education is essential…it doesn’t mean you have to go out and get it from an institution but educating yourself is the most important thing, otherwise you’re making blind choices that you’re not sure about.”
Audition Doctor has become an alternative place for both professional and aspiring actors to educate themselves with professional guidance. Gyllenhaal stated that what he looked for in a role wasn’t “about a genre or even about a specific character, it’s if I feel that there’s an honesty and a sort of beating heart that exists underneath the material…it’s the honesty and truth between characters.”
It is this that Audition Doctor focuses on: the creation of a truthful and three-dimensional human being. Audition Doctor’s students come regularly because unlocking the beating heart that is underneath the material that Gyllenhaal speaks of, takes time and a commitment to both failure and experimentation.
Furthermore, Audition Doctor students understand what Gyllenhaal means when he said: “For a long time I was looking for a sense of resolution at the end of a movie or a scene, feeling like as Chris Cooper said to me once “Never having regrets”, but that’s impossible, there is no resolve. You never fully get there and it’s a constant search.”
As a testament to the proliferation of learning tools for actors, The Stage have started to compile weekly lists of the best that are currently on offer. These range from apps that help you learn lines to books that offer advice and exercises.
Although written material and websites with video blogs can undoubtedly be useful means of furthering your development as an actor, they are still passive ways of learning about a practical and active profession. The reason why Audition Doctor is popular with both professional actors preparing for auditions and drama school applicants is that they understand that there is no comparison between reading a book on acting and physically getting up to play a scene.
Describing how she operates while on stage, Judi Dench said: “Although you and I can be playing a scene together, this ear here is not actually listening to you, it’s turned round like a cat’s and it’s listening to that person up there is coughing and this eye is also watching over there. It’s kind of a dichotomy.”
The skills required to achieve this kind of balancing act is something that cannot be reached using an app. It has to be practiced endlessly and diligently.
Harriet Walter advised: “Start from a humble point of view about your own knowledge. Be open to everything. It’s better to risk being a prat at drama school than in the outside world.” Students have realised that both Audition Doctor lessons and drama schools are concentrated pockets of time where they have the freedom to take risks. The rules of probability state that risk will involve a sizeable amount of failure. The advantage about doing this at Audition Doctor is that decisions that don’t serve the character or scene are scrapped and you have the opportunity, under Tilly’s guidance, to make better choices.
Talking of the nature of film versus theatre, Judi Dench said: “There are a thousand ways to do a scene, it’s agony to me that only one way is chosen. So that one way is kind of in formaldehyde…that’s why the theatre is so alive and spontaneous. Tonight I will do something that I didn’t do last night; I may do it worse but I may do it better.”
The reason why students normally have regular Audition Doctor sessions is that they know that from lesson to lesson, Tilly’s advice can give their performance an added dimension that they previously hadn’t thought of. No performance is ever set in stone. Furthermore, the experimental nature of the sessions mean that actors enter auditions with the advantage of having unusual choices in their arsenal while not stubbornly clinging to them. The unselfconscious willingness to experiment is something that Audition Doctor fosters. Audition Doctor’s success rate, in terms of drama school places and professional jobs landed, is proof that listening to a podcast is poles apart from a session with Tilly.
Both Judi Dench and Helen McCrory have recently professed the importance of the continuation of training outside the confines of drama school.
In her column in The Stage, Susan Elkin wrote: “Judi Dench told Patsy Rodenburg, who repeated it to me en passant, that when she was a young actor you could sit in digs at breakfast with other older cast members who would casually pass on advice such as: “You know, if you paused for slightly longer after that line you’d get a bigger laugh”. Now, Dench had trained at Central but here she was humbly honing her craft…”
McCrory, in an interview at the National Theatre, in turn spoke of how her early experience at the National was an extension of her drama school education: “That was my training for the next four years”. Appearing in The Seagull alongside Judi Dench was integral in her progression as an actress: “That’s what I’ve learned from watching Judi Dench all those years ago – she asked questions.”
Elkin went onto suggest that apprenticeships in theatre, currently offered mostly to those working backstage, should extend to actors: “Many a graduating actor would benefit from, say, a couple of years with a company. During that period the actor would see the production of several plays, gaining hands-on, on-the-spot experience of professional theatre with plenty of exposure to more experienced people.”
In the same week, Emilia Fox described going to drama school as an “insurance policy”. However, it’s worthy to note that Elkin is advocating “a formal mentoring structure, a development, perhaps, of what used to happen in the good old days of rep theatre” for actors who have received professional training. Even those who have had access to guidance from drama schools find it hard to avoid “the usual agent-at-any-price-regardless-of-quality scramble”. It appears evident that even those who have attended the best drama schools are not inoculated against the difficulties of the profession.
While apprenticeships such as the one Elkin advocates have yet to turn mainstream, drama school applicants, recent graduates and professional actors have been attending Audition Doctor as a way of broadening their abilities and seeking advice. Audition Doctor has proved especially popular with freshly graduated drama school students who book Audition Doctor sessions to maintain momentum and originality between their first professional auditions.
Helen McCrory’s comment on the importance of asking questions is what Audition Doctor is all about; not just questioning the text and artistic choices, but also having Tilly available on-hand to give experienced and unbiased advice.
Whenever advice is proffered by teachers at drama school before auditions, they always encourage the following: Be open to suggestion, be willing to be vulnerable and be receptive to your fellow actors.
It’s difficult to follow such advice when experiencing the often fraught atmosphere of an audition. Frequently, lines that you were so sure of weeks before are inexplicably wiped from the brain as you engage in a group exercise.
Drama school auditions cannot be predicted and it’s essential to know that you will be entering them in a prepared state. No matter how connected you feel to your speeches and how impressive you believe your performance to be, it will all go out the window if you don’t have a measured and practiced state of mind.
This is why Audition Doctor is an essential prerequisite to any audition. Aside from cultivating the character’s psychological state, Audition Doctor prepares you for how you choose to present your own personality. It is this that the panel, more than anything, want to see in a candidate. (“We want to see you“) After all, it is you that they are interested in; it is your character that they will be training.
Being open to vulnerability and having the ability to listen are characteristics that have to be acquired and practiced. This is what Audition Doctor sessions allow you to cultivate.
Furthermore, much as Audition Doctor is about building up particular qualities that are useful in auditions, lessons are also about removing any extraneous “acting” that acts as a hindrance to truthfully portraying any character.
When Judi Dench was interviewed in The Sunday Times, the article mentioned that “at the Central School of Speech & Drama, her group were given the task of preparing a mime by the old actor Walter Hudd. They were to take a few weeks. Dench forgot about it and had to improvise on the day. She came up with a very minimalist performance. “I did it on the hoof, I hadn’t thought about it. Everybody else did very complicated pieces. Walter just said after mine, ‘That’s how you do it.’ And that was it, it was really accidental. He made me think.”
Audition Doctor sessions are about stripping away the unnecessary complications and blending improvisation with informed decisions as a result of exploring the text. It’s this that drama schools are looking for – the ability to use the text as a springboard for a variety of different possibilities and to find the truth in each decision and situation. If taken on as a student, Audition Doctor lessons are a rare opportunity that give you the time and space to allow you to do just that.
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.