The Stage asked Maria Friedman to give advice on auditioning: “Preparation, preparation, preparation. Bring yourself, not someone else, to every audition- you can’t hide you, so get to know yourself and what it is you have to offer; and know that is your three minutes – so don’t allow something else to dominate it, whether it’s your fear, or travel on the train – and use them. Come in and enjoy yourself and do the performing you wanted to do all your life.”
Aside from the depth of preparation that each actor achieves at Audition Doctor – something that is difficult to achieve alone – Audition Doctor’s popularity lies in the fact that work is only done on speeches that enhance your particular ingenuity, individuality and boldness. Audition Doctor sessions, particularly for drama school applicants, are as much about rehearsing monologues as figuring out the kind of actor you are, working out your strengths and weaknesses and finding it within yourself to identify with a spectrum of roles.
Similarly to the work done Audition Doctor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman said: “The first thing I looked at was how were they similar to me and how were they different to me. I had to cover those bases…so I could create this person who was not living my life but living someone else’s life.”
The best speeches to work on are those that provoke an expansion of empathy or understanding.
Benedict Cumberbatch said: “As an actor you have to find a level of empathy and understanding of your character and I think to carve out anything that’s two-dimensional, whether a character is thumbs up or thumbs down, I find that limiting…I want to find out the three-dimensionality, what motivates them, what’s human about them. That’s not to soften the edges at all, that’s purely because it’s near to a human experience so that there’s some common ground for audience to understand the character’s motivation because then it isn’t something that’s ostracised from us, something that’s telling us how to feel and think. I personally get bored watching that type of work and bored doing that type of work.”
The work that actors undertake at Audition Doctor forces them to go beyond the parameters of their perceived capabilities. Imagination and craft are exercised and pushed to places which offer up a whole, truthful and bold performance.
Lisa Dwan spoke in the Guardian about her role in Beckett’s Not I : “Do you know what’s so gorgeous about this role? I’m not a woman, I’m a consciousness. It’s stretched me intellectually, emotionally. To get out of my blonde hair and body and be this thing, I can’t explain the gift.”
Roles that allow actors to experience this are few and far between, however, taking the time to choose the speech that gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself is essential. Once chosen, Audition Doctor sessions encourages actors and drama school applicants to get out of themselves and authentically live out the role.
In the second part of his interview with BAFTA, David Morrissey spoke of the process of preparing for a role and the diverse exigencies that different roles had on actors. He spoke of time being a crucial factor in determining how he prepared. He mentioned that if he was given the luxury of time, he’d unleash his “inner geek” and would do in-depth research.
“I have to find the idiosyncrasies as a character. Sometimes there’s physical work, sometimes there’s accent work as well. You have to do all of that before you walk onto the set or stage because you want to be forgetting about all of that when you’re doing the job itself.”
Actors and drama school applicants who come to Audition Doctor usually attend bi-weekly sessions if they have the advantage of time prior to an audition. Regular sessions allow you to incrementally and organically build authentic characters. Idiosyncrasies are not merely tacked on to seemingly seek attention from the panel, but genuine singularities of the character are unearthed that can be textually supported. This is due to the forensic research that is undertaken at Audition Doctor.
Sessions focus not only on the psychological exploration of the character but also weave historical context into your performance.
As Morrissey advised: “You have to put yourself in their head. If you go further back into Tudor times, you have [to be aware of] strange things like life expectancy have a weight on you that you have to carry. The comfort of life that we have, you have to make sure that your characters don’t have that surety. Also the expectation of life in the sense that if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person then it’s your head on the block literally. So that fear that you’re working in, you have to make sure that is inside the [process of your] decision making.”
It is this commitment to creativity and unswerving drive to drill deeper into the core of human psyche that has made Audition Doctor indispensable to actors. It is also these particular qualities that differentiate the practitioner from the artist.
Lisa Dwan – who recently performed in Beckett’s Not, I – wrote in the Guardian about her recently departed friend and mentor, Billie Whitelaw:
“Billie lifted the lid on all of [Beckett’s] well-worn notes, especially his instruction Don’t Act: “No colour”. She was adamant not to let me emulate her performance or veer towards a surface “Beckett-style” reproduction, but wanted instead for the work to connect deep within the performer. She explained that Beckett dealt with such truths that he had no room for an actor’s craft. He did want emotion, only he wanted all of it – the real stuff, the guts – not some polished fool’s gold…She taught me that truth has a sound, a timbre.”
Audition Doctor sessions are sometimes difficult and demanding – but every single student leaves knowing that no pathway, however difficult, has been avoided in the pursuit of the truth, of which there may be many. The difference is that Tilly encourages the unusual and the ambitious – “the real stuff, the guts” – which means that even just one session at Audition Doctor usually changes not only the way you approach a character, but the way you approach the wider craft of acting itself.
This week Mark Shenton wrote of his pleasant surprise at finding that a triple bill of Beckett monologues seemed to be outselling Andrew Lloyd – Webber’s newest juggernaut – Stephen Ward the Musical.
It was refreshing to see that not only had these notoriously impenetrable plays successfully transferred from the Royal Court to the West End but that Sky Arts are set to broadcast one of the monologues (Not I) in July of this year.
Lisa Dwan, who performs the one-woman trilogy, concedes that many audiences in the past have been “overly burdened by that intellectual reverence and intimidated by the impenetrable nature of Beckett’s immediacy”. However, it seems that current audiences are undeterred.
The nature of the performance is as far removed from Stephen Ward the Musical as humanly possible. The first play is a monologue spoken at unbroken speed for 9 minutes in pitch black. The only thing that the audience can see is Dwan’s mouth, which is suspended eight feet above the stage.
Dwan said: “The performances are transcending [everyone’s] whole view of what theatre is. Why shouldn’t theatre be in the black? Why shouldn’t it be uncompromising? Why should a piece of poetry not play on the nerves of the audience instead of their intellect, as Beckett demanded? He wanted it spoken at the speed of thought. Why can’t you surrender that little bit, and allow it to play itself out on your nervous system? People with conventional positions struggle with Beckett, and people who are willing to be surprised, open, and look at it as a slice of life, not as just one particular medium with their very blinkered view of what theatre is, have a visceral, physical, and visual experience.”
When speaking of the rehearsal process, Dwan commented on how the director, Walter Asmus, always said “‘it always has to cost you. It needs to cost you more, we need to see you bleed up there.”
While Audition Doctor wouldn’t necessarily advocate picking Not I as a drama school audition speech, the speeches chosen should ideally push you to similar boundaries. Dwan said when she was performing that “just being suspended in that light for Footfalls, and the same way in Not I with the deprivation, makes me go places. I don’t even feel like a human being half the time, and that’s just so liberating”.
At Audition Doctor, the sessions afford students a similar sort of freedom. The session is your time to make the sort of decisions that you think will showcase the depth of your emotional range and your willingness to prove your vulnerability. They are pockets of time to safely push yourself, to let a speech truly cost you something. You will rarely find a space that offers the freedom, lack of judgement and professional insight as at Audition Doctor.