In an interview in The Stage, Charles Edwards said: “It’s a very tangible thing, actually, putting together a performance. It’s twisting and rearranging and changing. One feels one is creating something whole, working on a performance.”
This is something that Audition Doctor’s students have found during the course of their sessions; frequent attendance results in the building up not just of their character, but also of their craft.
Kevin Spacey recently commented: “The craft of acting is to step into someone else’s shoes, someone else’s ideas; to look at something in a mirror and not see ourselves and not feel weird but feel free.”
This ability to be inhibited and open to play is something, like everything else, that has to be honed. Audition Doctor has helped many actors in this regard. With many parts, there is sometimes a difficulty in making them your own – particularly if it has been seen to be definitively immortalised by another actor.
Janet McTeer spoke about making the part of the Marquise de Merteuil (a role that has been played by Glenn Close and Laura Linney) in Les Liaisons Dangereuses her own:
“There’s a process in rehearsal where you have to let go of that and ask what you can do with the part.”
Finding the essence of your unique take on a character is something that Audition Doctor has proved indispensable at doing. Much like the rehearsal process, a character emerges through trial and error.
Charles Edwards stated: “The most exciting part of rehearsals is when you start to feel what the performance might be, and that pushes you into directions you hadn’t thought about before.
Students frequently comment on how they find themselves in unexpected creative avenues and how excited they feel when their limits are surmounted. This is why even when students are not auditioning for a specific role or medium, they still attend their weekly sessions because the work they undertake at Audition Doctor is invaluable.
McTeer said: “In my heart of hearts I love theatre. It’s the joy and terror of putting a play on, the creativity of it,” she said. “It is infinitely harder than film and television and more tiring. Your performance is heightened in the way it isn’t with film.”
Students are encouraged to pick speeches with heft. As Charles Edwards said: “I like plays with sweep. I like watching something expansive, emotionally as much as narratively. I like characters that go from one extreme to another.”
Because students work on parts such as these frequently during sessions, when professional auditions for challenging roles come around, they are much better prepared.
McTeer said: “The people I respected and wanted to be [when I was young] are still the people I respect and want to be. Lindsay Duncan, Harriet Walter, Juliet Stevenson, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, who all did amazing theatre and were just incredibly good at what they did. That’s what I wanted to be. The only way to do that is to be as good as you possibly can be in as varied roles as possible.”
Audition Doctor affords actors this possibility.
In his new book, Year of the Fat Knight, Anthony Sher recounts his experience playing Falstaff in the RSC’s production of Henry IV. In an extract printed in the Guardian, Sher wrote:
“To an actor, dialogue is like food. You hold it in your mouth, you taste it. If it’s good dialogue the taste will be distinctive. If it’s Shakespeare dialogue, the taste will be Michelin-starred. If you’re learning lines before rehearsals, you have to learn in neutral, in a way that won’t cut off the creative choices that will happen when the director and other actors are involved. So I’m speaking Falstaff in my own voice, I’m not attempting any characterisation.”
For both professional actors and drama school applicants, the frequency and intensity of the sessions mean that lines are generally learnt through a kind of organic osmosis. However, professional actors have found that the intense characterisation that is undertaken at Audition Doctor – work that has often landed them the job – is the characterisation that is pushed even further in the professional rehearsal room.
Perversely, the depth of research and work on a character that is explored at Audition Doctor, however, never leads students to become rigidly fixated on one interpretation. The extensive knowledge of their character means they are aware of the myriad of artistic choices that they have chosen not to take. Consequently, in an audition room, students are always flexible and open to bold experimentation.
The process by which a student reaches an understanding of a character is highly individual and Audition Doctor has no prescribed and one-size-fits-all method.
Robert Duvall’s advice to young actors was: “It all begins with listening. I talk you listen, you talk I listen and it goes from there…that’s the journey in an individual scene. Rather than going for the result, let the process take you to the result.” Similarly, the nature of the Audition Doctor process is that the result is often the unexpected. Consequently, audition panels are confronted with an original and exciting interpretation.
In a recent interview, Kevin Spacey spoke about acting as “Putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and trying to plant seeds about what a writer’s ideas are and what they’re trying to say, what they’re trying to express…The only thing that interests me is what scares me. The only thing I’m interested in is what I think I can’t do.”
Audition Doctor sessions are sought after because students invariably enter their auditions with a fearlessness, originality and humanity that marks them out.
In their auditions, the work and commitment that they’ve undertaken with Tilly echoes Maria Freedman’s comment that “The best thing about theatre is that it’s a beautiful hand-out to remind us of each other’s fallibility and frailty and humanity. It’s a ‘Hallo, you know me and I know you’ and it’s done with words…”
Michael Billington wrote of how “we are now in an era when the gap between film and theatre, thanks to sophisticated technology, is constantly narrowing.” Filming live theatre has established a new hybrid medium. “The result is to democratise theatre. It’s not just that the performance can be seen worldwide. The key point is that everyone now has the best seat in the house.” The live aspect coupled with the advantage of close ups has meant an end to seating with restricted views. Consequently, every audience member is “the most privileged theatrical spectator”.
Billington professed: “While I remain an evangelist for live theatre, I think it’s time we stopped pretending that it offers an unreproducible event. A theatre performance can now be disseminated worldwide with astonishing fidelity. This represents…a revolution which knocks on the head the old argument that theatre is an elitist medium aimed at the privileged few.”
The emergence of this new form, as evidenced by the popularity of National Theatre Live and Digital Theatre, has rendered courses specialising only in one medium a risky investment. As discussed in last week’s blog, the importance of choosing the right drama school is paramount. Many make the mistake of dismissing Shakespeare as an irrelevance when considering the kind of training they wish to embark on. This is a precarious line of thought when King Lear is being screened in cinemas globally this month, thus disproving the perception that Shakespeare is strictly confined to the stage and of interest to only a particular type of audience.
In the same week, Sarah Crompton wrote of how Kevin Spacey’s performance in Clarence Darrow “makes a pressing case for the power of the monologue”. She laments how the monologue – “one of the most enticing and flexible forms” – has unfortunately become synonymous with “terrible fringe venues” and “actors who crave attention…with their solo shows” in Edinburgh.
The reason why the success rate of Audition Doctor’s students is so high is because their performances neither become attention-seeking nor introverted. The choices that students make in the sessions also mean that the auditions themselves become a place of experimentation. Far from falling into the trap of embodying the cliché of introspective self-indulgence, Audition Doctor’s students perform their monologues “seeming simultaneously to look at you and through you… It places everyone in intimacy with the performer, letting them eavesdrop on his private thoughts”.
When asked about some of his earliest auditions, Simon Russell Beale described them as “terrible. I knew nothing…[and] did odd things like I did a speech of Cardinal Wolesey from Henry VIII…it was odd to have a man of 22 playing a man of 60.They were odd and I made bad mistakes and I talked too much.
The reason why Audition Doctor continues to be in such demand is because the sessions are not merely about performing monologues themselves, but also about avoiding making the bad presentational mistakes that Russell Beale mentions.
Kevin Spacey recently commented on the need for actors to shift their perspective of the audition from something to be conquered to “an opportunity to introduce [themselves] to a group of people. It may not pay off today …but if you have enough confidence and you walk in trusting the material and trusting yourself and not spending time trusting the things that you can’t trust like “Are they going to like me?”, “Are they going to think I’m talented?”, “Do they think I’m handsome?” but controlling the things that you can. [Such as], I’m going to meet you on this day and be the person I am rather than the nervous crazy person who wants the job so badly.”
Trusting the material is something that many auditionees find difficult – especially when it’s Shakespeare. What Audition Doctor sessions do is simple – they demystify the language.As Spacey says: “It’s not difficult. Take the thing that makes Shakespeare scary – the language – but it’s not so difficult. When you approach the plays from a perspective of how people deal with each other, people dig that. It’s just like family. I’ve watched kids of 14 – 15 getting really excited about how relevant the plays can be to their own lives. Don’t put him on a big pedestal – he’s just a playwright – attack him with an excitement about what his plays are about. Don’t dust him off like an antique.”
Audition Doctor sessions focus on the language because the words are the fundamental tools with which to build your character. Spacey opines: “Being an actor is not unlike being a detective, we are given a set of clues; some of them are real, some of them are what other characters say about us, some of them are factual, some of them are red herrings and we have to determine how we play this role based on the clues that we are given, so I spend a lot of time on language.”
Spacey ends his interview with saying “I avoid any judgements about the people I play. It’s my job just to play them.” One of the difficult things about approaching a character is confusing the act of making bold artistic decisions with making unreasonable personal judgements on the character. Audition Doctor ensures that you never do this, but approach both characters and auditions with honesty and confidence.