Last week, Denis Kelly declared that nothing annoyed him more than the lazy and commonplace assumption that theatre was elitist. “I’m the son of a bus conductor and a cleaner, I grew up in a council house and left school at 16 with no qualifications, but I found a home in theatre…I got involved in theatre young and it kept my mind alive, through brain-numbing jobs that meant nothing to me.” He went onto say that the number of people currently seeing theatre in this country was comparable to attendances at Britain’s other populist event – football matches.
Drama schools such as LAMDA are also working hard to change the false perception that the industry is an exclusive club open only to the moneyed. Having recently appointed Rhiannon Fisher as its first Access and Widening Participation Officer, the drama school has set up new initiatives to give school students more information on vocational drama training.
Speaking to The Stage, Fisher commented: “The idea was to use our [final year students’] first public production as a way of introducing secondary school students to Shakespeare. The students were split into two companies, one of which did Macbeth and one Twelfth Night so they covered four schools each,” says Fisher, adding that each performance runs for 90 minutes followed by a question and answer session with the cast.
Fisher acknowledges that the “Q/A is vital. It allows audience members not only to ask questions about the play and acting those roles but also about vocational drama training in general and LAMDA in particular – the very information which so often fails to get into schools because, on the whole, it is outside the experience of teachers and careers advisers.”
There are further plans afoot to run workshops in 2015 for underprivileged young people in five major cities around the country. Furthermore, the audition fees, which have been cited as eye-wateringly expensive, may be wavered for those who have attended the workshops.
If you don’t qualify for workshops such as at LAMDA, or simply can’t make events such as the Surviving Actors Careers Fair, where Susan Elkin noted: “there was a programme of seminars, workshops and one-to-one sessions” by industry professionals, Audition Doctor offers something similar. However, inevitably, due to the one-to-one nature of the session, it is far more tailored to the individual.
Elkin said in her column for The Stage: “Predictably, what interested me most in all this were the top-up training opportunities for actors [at the fair] and I was pleased to see The Actors Centre, The Actors’ Guild, The Actors’ Cafe, Actors’ Studio and Actors’ Training Centre among others, all busy talking to dozens of actors keen to learn, develop and hone skills.”
As well as being a private acting coach, Audition Doctor also offers sessions at The Actors Centre. This gives her students the added bonus of understanding how drama school students continue to top-up their training even after having graduated, as well as what institutions such as these offer.
Recently in The Guardian, Kristin Scott Thomas spoke about her rediscovery of theatre after years of doing purely film: “I suddenly felt independent. You could walk on stage and you could stand on your head if you really wanted to. No one’s going to say stop, don’t do that, that’s a ridiculous idea. There’s this feeling of independence and trust – I could give myself permission to play things in a certain way and see if they worked or they didn’t. I could trust myself.”
That encapsulates why Audition Doctor is in demand by both professional actors and drama school applicants alike, as the overriding feeling that students take away from sessions is a confidence and trust in their own artistic judgement.
The progress that Audition Doctor’s students achieve can rarely be attained by going to a Q&A or a seminar; the experimentation and discovery lies in actively doing, as opposed to passively listening. This is why Audition Doctor is considered to be so significant in her students’ development.