Last week, Juliet Stevenson spoke of her lengthy experience of playing Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days in the Independent. When asked about the process by which she created her own interpretation of the oft-performed character of Winnie, Stevenson said:
“I think any character you play is a strange hybrid between the role that has been written by the writer and you. You make very personal choices and you are using your own experience, your own sensibility to shape what you find in the text, so there’s Winnie on the page and a Winnie on the stage – she is going to have quite a lot of me in it, but hopefully only the bits of me that connect to who Beckett has written. The job is to play the character as written, not to pull the character towards yourself which would have been very boring. What you end up with is always some strange, hybrid creature.”
Audition Doctor has become the first port of call for professional actors and drama school students because the character that is created with Tilly is one that remains true to your strengths as well as the text. The reason why Audition Doctor students succeed at auditions is because the regularity of the sessions give you the time to make well-known characters unique to you. Finding your interpretation involves an organic and unforced process of discovery and rehearsal which Audition Doctor expertly offers.
As Stevenson contends: “I don’t think I have known any character as well as I know Winnie now. We’ve gone on and on discovering new resonances, discovering new connections between different parts of the play.”
Audition Doctor has also proven indispensable with regards to finding the new within the old. Many actors come to Audition Doctor with characters by well-established playwrights; characters that have been performed ceaselessly since their creation. Audition Doctor forces actors to do away with the cumbersome historical baggage that comes with say a Shakespeare role. Attending Audition Doctor rids actors of entrenched preconceptions of character in favour of the creation of a new and believable human being.
Aside from professionals, a sizeable number of Audition Doctor students are drama school applicants. For those who come to Audition Doctor on the fence with regards to professional training, Audition Doctor always encourages students to do so. There aren’t many places like Audition Doctor where you can experiment and fail in private. Drama school gives you that opportunity and encouragement to make mistakes.
On the BAFTA website, Chloe Pirrie was asked whether she feared her vocational training at Guildhall rendered the possibility of her originality being forcibly trained out of her. She responded:
“There was such emphasis on who you were [at Guildhall]. You won’t suddenly not be that person. They’re not going to break you down and mould you in the image of one of their alumni…It can all be kind of mysticised….You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff we had to do…but all those things had a point, they weren’t pretentious.
She also spoke practically about getting agents at the end of drama school showcase. “You’re seen by some of the best people in the industry and that is the amazing thing of going to one of the top places, you get exposure in a way that is quite unique. I thought if I don’t go to drama school, I won’t get access to auditions, I won’t get in the room.”
Being practical and proactive within the industry is a must. Attending both Audition Doctor and drama school are ways that will ensure you amply increase your chances of not only getting in the room, but impressing the people who are in there.
In the Guardian’s “Before and After the Show” series, various actors recounted their experiences on stage. Both Lisa Dwan and Stephen Mangan spoke of the “nerve-racking and thrilling” feeling of being “hit by a truck” by the end. Mangan went onto describe the difficulties of “getting yourself into exactly the same mental state every night after six months of doing the same show eight times a week. You come to the theatre with whatever anxieties or triumphs the day has brought, and there are times when you really don’t want to be there.”
The mental and physical exertion that actors routinely experience night after night is argument enough for proper training. The series itself debunks the myth that many wrongly assume to be true – that acting is easy. It’s a myth that sometimes drama school students themselves believe.
Theatre producer Richard Jordon related depressingly that “Even among drama school students, when you ask people what they’d like to do after graduation, some answer that they want to be famous. It’s a big problem in the industry that reality shows make it seem as if being an actor is easy, and that you don’t need the training. But if you’re going to survive, then being properly trained is crucial, not just in acting technique but also in the techniques of getting a job, building a career and surviving in the longer term. Lots of young actors are no longer in the profession just six months or a year after leaving training. They may be very good actors, but they haven’t got the skills to survive the harsh realities.”
Drama schools not only have the professional teachers to nurture each student’s craft, but also the practical tools to ensure their training doesn’t go to waste. In an industry where 80% of practitioners earn less than £10,000 a year, it would be foolhardy to ignore the incomparable resources and guidance that drama schools offer their students.
In the same series, Juliet Stevenson mentioned: “It’s a weird thing, acting: it’s like playing tennis, or the piano. One day you can’t get a note right, and the next the piece just seems to play itself. The audience won’t necessarily know the difference, but I do.”
For drama school auditions, you normally only get one chance to get the note right. The level of scrutiny that every candidate is under by professionals at a drama school audition is high. This means that a lot of the time, they will know the difference.
A recall rests on the necessity of getting to the same mental place every time you are in front of an audition panel. Audition Doctor ensures that nerves are harnessed in a profitable way. Students at Audition Doctor routinely get places at drama school because the work done during the sessions mean that auditions are never lost opportunities. Most of the time, the graft and exploration that each student undergoes at Audition Doctor mean that students eventually find that the pieces just seem to play themselves.
When interviewed on the BBC, Juliet Stevenson was asked whether she would have become an actress had she not gone to drama school. She confirmed that she would have done through a more indirect route. Without resorting to over sentimentalising romanticism, she acknowledged that acting was, for her, a vocation – “I do feel alive on stage, sometimes I don’t, but very often I feel like this is what I’m meant to do whether I like it or not.”
Drama school can feel like the only option to get into the Industry but it isn’t necessarily for everyone. Stevenson admitted that she nearly left drama school on several occasions as she found it extremely emotionally taxing: “I was very young, you’re using who you are to play other people when you don’t know who you are yet at that age.” However, the process of delving into the uncomfortable recesses of your psyche is going to be draining whether or not you do it within the peripheries of an accredited institution.
The tightly structured days, the personalities of your peers, the quality of your teachers all have a huge bearing on the nature of your drama school experience. Drama school is a gamble and many have succeeded without it. The pre-audition talk at one drama school entailed a sober reminder from the Head of Acting that “You’ll have RADA graduates that never get a job, you’ll have untrained people nabbing all the roles that you’ve trained 3 years for. There is no fairness in this profession” as we all stared wide-eyed at him and blinked – rewiring our naïve brains to accept the fact that he was telling us with realistic- not pessimistic- reasoning, that a place at drama school by no means guaranteed an immunity to failure.
However, attending drama school gives you the possibilities to know how to deal with the unavoidable setbacks that come with being an actor. Lyn Gardner recently held a lesson for acting students at drama school on theatre criticism: “There’s real value in trying to hone their critical faculties so that they can appraise their own work honestly, as well as that of their peers. If you’re training to work in drama, stringent evaluation of your own and other people’s work is crucial. You can only fail better –to quote Samuel Beckett – if you admit failure in the first place. But the bottom line is that these youngsters going out into the profession will, if they get work, be reviewed. Sometimes those reviews will make them dance with joy, and sometimes they’ll want to hide under the bedclothes. I hope that, when that happens, they’ll…remember that judging your own work honestly is as important as anything the critics might say.”
It’s being given opportunities like this which makes drama schools invaluable to the aspiring actor. The likelihood of Lyn just popping into your theatre company’s rehearsal and “[reading] a complete set of newspaper reviews from Theatre Record, marvelling at different responses, and how revealing they can be of the critics writing, rather than of the shows themselves” is highly unlikely. Nor is it probable that she’ll organise an outing for you all and “take [you] to the kind of shows many of [you] have never experienced before…such as Dreamthinkspeak’s In the Beginning was the End, (a peripatetic piece played out in the basement beneath London’s Somerset House).” Maybe she would if you wrote to her and asked her nicely, but drama schools have easy access to respected professionals such as Lyn on tap. Why wouldn’t you want to go?
Audition Doctor has proven to be indispensable when it comes to drama school auditions. Competition is now so much more fierce and being taught by someone who is a professional actress herself and who runs a weekly auditioning workshop at the Actor’s Centre marks you out from other candidates. Audition Doctor’s students are people in all different stages of the profession – from drama school applicants, current drama school students, professional actors to businessmen who want to improve their public speaking skills. What Audition Doctor gives all of them is confidence and peerless advice that means the prospect of failure is significantly less likely.
In today’s Guardian, Maxine Peake recalled how, when at drama school, her heroes were not screen stars but theatre actors such as Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman and Albert Finney. All of them had illustrious careers at the RSC – Finney famously understudying for Olivier in Corialanus and both Stevenson and Rickman starring together in acclaimed productions of Troilus and Cressida and The Tempest.Yet it’s fair to say that it was their work in film and TV that elevated them to a different level of public recognition.
As it is normally film actors who are at the forefront of the public consciousness, there might indeed be some truth in the Terrence Mann quote: “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich. But theatre will make you good.”
However, when people come to Audition Doctor with the sole aim of going on a screen acting course, Tilly always dissuades them from limiting their options – not only in terms of what work you will be offered but also in terms of the quality of teaching. The traditional syllabus offered at drama schools is still stage-based and the reason for this is that theatre training is considered the solid basis for all mediums in the profession.
It’s easy to understand why upcoming actors might not have any interest in the theatre – the concept of a “stage star” being more or less an anachronism and it being notoriously badly paid – the irony being any ticket to productions in the West End costing less than £50 means viewing will be so restricted and so far back that the only advantage of sitting there at all is the knowledge that you will be the first out of the post-theatre rush – a sort of gross perversity of Easyjet’s “Speedy Boarding”. However, it is worth noting that many famous screen actors have come back to the theatre. Perhaps they acknowledge that to call yourself an actor is to understand the nightly challenge of standing up on a stage with no camera to direct the spectator’s gaze or underscoring to manipulate emotion – just yourself.
Like her contemporaries, Peake admitted: “I do wonder how people are going to afford to go to drama school now. I panic about how people can even afford to go to the theatre. The West End is thriving but at £76 a ticket…I’m really concerned we will tip back into the bad old days when only people from a certain class or people with disposable incomes could afford to send their children to drama school.”
It is true that the current crop of “in vogue” actors all seem to be old Etonians but as with all fashions, these things are cyclical. Ultimately, whatever your background, it is your ability to transcend it that will make you an actor of any worth. Ben Whishaw mentioned in last week’s interview for the Guardian, how he likes to think of himself, especially in the theatre, as “a channel for other people to feel – for, in a sense, it isn’t about you”.
Audition Doctor is not about acting in the sense of showing or demonstrating. Sessions at Audition Doctor are so unique in that Tilly encourages you not to “act” at all. It is in these moments that you truly inhabit the life of another. As you have more lessons at Audition Doctor, you realise that it is about stripping away the ticks and preconceptions and revealing the vulnerabilities which make a performance so compelling. When Sara Kestelman was asked about what her teaching at the Central School of Speech and Drama taught her, she said: “I learnt that the text is sacred. I learnt one must be immensely patient.” Tilly always stresses the former and perhaps most uniquely, is always the latter, which is why lessons at Audition Doctor are such an experience.