Pushing Yourself at Audition Doctor

Pushing Yourself at Audition Doctor

unnamedIn the Guardian this week, David Morrissey was interviewed about the process of preparing for his role in Hangmen.

Far from worrying about the potentially incendiary nature of the play, Morrissey described the anxiety he felt with regards to his own performance.

“All the way through rehearsal I kept thinking, how am I going to do this justice?” All my worries were personal. It has been a while since I have been in the theatre” – he played Macbeth at Liverpool’s Everyman theatre in 2011 – “and even longer since I’ve done comedy in theatre. So my worries were all about that. I never had any about how the play would be received.”

The return from a break from a particular medium is why many professional actors go to Audition Doctor. Nothing prepares you for a role other than the doing of it. The space that Audition Doctor offers is a unique place where actors feel the freedom to research, rehearse and experiment under professional guidance.

Speaking of Hangmen, Morrissey commented: “From the first two pages I thought, I want to do this. Sometimes when you read a script you are slightly outside it, thinking technically about how you will do this and that. But very quickly I forgot that I had even been offered the role. I just read it as a story. And it was wonderful.”

The brilliance of Audition Doctor lies in guiding students towards plays such as these, whilst also teaching the technical finesse that these kind of roles demand. Lessons are rigorous and it’s the students who combine private work with weekly sessions that see the quickest progress. This echoes Morrissey comment on his own way of working: “My instincts get more alive the more research I do.”

The actors who attend Audition Doctor sessions are those that take their career and craft seriously.

Students find that spending time and effort on continuously pushing themselves to be better is important and rewarding.

Morrissey said: “I went through a stage as a younger actor of feeling that what I did wasn’t worth that much, that it was frivolous and unimportant,” he says. “I don’t feel that now. I really believe in the power stories have to illuminate and the need of a collective audience to witness things together. Now I am getting older I feel it is a very important job…”

This echoes what Mark Rylance said in a recent interview: “I think that is all we want as human beings. That is why there are religions and philosophies. Without stories, life would be overwhelming.”

As actors, communicating those stories effectively requires work, commitment and courage.

Fisayo Akinde said in BAFTA’s Acting Guru series: “You have to go for it, I think. Bold choices are always the best choices even if they don’t work, because then you’re memorable and you’re remembered for being brave.”

Audition Doctor sessions make you braver and better professionally, which is explains why students keep coming back.

Making a Shakespeare Part Your Own at Audition Doctor

Making a Shakespeare Part Your Own at Audition Doctor

This weunnamedek, Mark Rylance spoke about the trap that many actors, including himself, fall into when acting Shakespeare.

“[The acting ] is too slow. It’s too reverent. It is like taking a rap song in 400 years from now that we think is really wonderful and deciding it should be said slowly so all the lovers of rap can hear every word. To take a song like Honky Tonk Woman and study it for its literature is fair enough, but if you are going to revere it as literature, you are doing a disservice to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who would like it to be revered as a great rock’n’roll song. That is what I have always felt about Shakespeare. By all means revere him and love him, but revere him in the way he would want to be revered – as a playwright.”

However, saying the lines quicker is not an excuse for under preparing and not understanding the text. If anything, as Audition Doctor students can attest, it requires a commitment to an even deeper comprehension of the play as well as heightened verbal dexterity. Students have found that regular preparation at Audition Doctor gives them structure and they are able to see results quicker under Tilly’s guidance.

Even experienced actors such as Geoffrey Rush, who is rehearsing for King Lear, acknowledges that with Shakespeare: “I had to do my homework. I knew from when I did A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum that it took me a long time to cram in Stephen Sondheim’s very fast patter lyrics at a comfort-zone level. So I started working on Lear early, absorbing it, talking around it, finding out about the history.”

Audition Doctor sessions take a lot of the pain out of the homework through targeting specific aspects of the speech students find difficult and practically solving them in the doing of it. Through this kind of experimentation, students find that they end up discovering their own version of the character.

Rush said: “If you look at Hamlet – not that I’ve played him myself – each actor has to find their own Hamlet. Certainly with Lear, you have to credibly enter an acceptable zone of seeming like an octogenarian. And you can reference behaviours and family members to get there but, ultimately, it’s got to be your own.”

Making a Shakespeare part your own is what Audition Doctor pushes each student to do. Tilly also makes certain that they enter every audition with confidence – both from knowing that they have an original take on a role and also from being ready to make bold choices and not being too precious. The readiness to abandon their performance altogether in favour of trying something new if the panel asks is a quality that Audition Doctor students possess.

Fisayo Akinade, who recently appeared in Russell T. Davies’ Cucumber, commented: “In a weird way, you don’t act the same way in an audition as you do when you get to set. It’s a slightly alien environment. A lot of the technique to an audition is understanding that it’s a very different thing to a performance.”

Audition Doctor gives students this understanding and Akinade also stated that in auditions, “you’ve got to be the better you”, which is absolutely what Audition Doctor enables each one of her students to be.

Vulnerability at Audition Doctor

Vulnerability at Audition Doctor

acting coaching londonVulnerability is a quality highly prized by actors. Playing a role truthfully requires the ability to empathise and a willingness to unselfconsciously open yourself up, which inevitably exposes you to judgement. This can be daunting, especially for those who are applying to drama school and have had little experience of doing so.

In The Stage, Mark Rylance said: “In my experience, in rehearsal rooms and looking at plays, this is the point of the mask of theatre, as Joan Littlewood once said. It enables you to share something really vulnerable. If you’re not using the mask of pretending to be someone else to share something vulnerable, what’s the point of the mask? This is where we can look at things that might really overwhelm us in life.”

Audition Doctor sessions are in demand because students are encouraged to be vulnerable and it’s rare to find an environment where you feel at ease enough to overstep your own limits.

Rylance spoke about his tenure at the Globe and about why some shows worked some nights and others not: “I realised it was something to do with being honest. You’ve got to delve for something honest and real that at least seems spontaneous, and hopefully is spontaneous, to capture them.”

Students who come to Audition Doctor sessions can attest that honesty and spontaneity are the two qualities – alongside vulnerability – that are fostered.

Aside from drama school students, professional actors make up a substantial proportion of Audition Doctor’s students. Of these, many are actors who have done a lot of film and TV work and who want to re-engage with theatre.

Rylance said: “[In film], the actor is not the storyteller; you just need to be as real and there as the chairs, and they’ll edit it. I’m going to be doing a lot of fronting for the Spielberg film soon – hours and hours of selling it, and I can talk about the process of enjoying playing it, but I’ve not even seen it yet. And when I do see it, it is no more mine than [it is] the camera operators or the grips.” In the theatre, by contrast, it is up to the actor to claim ownership.”

In a profession which is famed for its instability, attending sessions such as Audition Doctor is also an act of taking control of your career.

Rylance went onto talk about the difficulties of keeping lines you’ve said countless times before as original and fresh as the first time you spoke them: “Repetition is a big problem in the theatre – in my time, there was no training for it, and it is hard to give you the experience of doing more than five shows in a row at drama school. But there are things you can do to keep refreshing yourself, just simple things like coming out of your head and into your senses. If you’re onstage and stuck, come out of your mind that is causing you difficulties and think about what it smells like, looks like and sounds like, and get into the present moment.”

Getting out of your head is what Audition Doctor excels at and with playwrights such as Shakespeare, it’s easy to get caught up on the difficulties of the language rather than playing the emotion that the language is seeking to convey. Audition Doctor refreshes how you approach a text and liberates you from any obstacles that are preventing you from being vulnerable and genuine in your performance.

Repetition and Exploration at Audition Doctor

Repetition and Exploration at Audition Doctor

tilly-blackwood-18One of the main reasons why Audition Doctor gets so busy in the autumn is down to the fact that many drama school applicants feel that they need help with the demands of Shakespeare.

In an interview for The Telegraph to promote his and Claire van Kempen’s upcoming production of Farinelli and the King, Mark Rylance spoke of how Shakespeare has become synonymous with academia, classrooms and reading as opposed to live performance.

“Reverence for Shakespeare is very unhelpful,” he continues, “and he wouldn’t have desired that. It’s something that is drummed into you at school. We must not force the theatre into a literary place – in the same way that the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter shouldn’t be studied in a classroom. It’s a song designed to thrill a huge crowd of people.”

Many students have credited Audition Doctor with removing the idea of Shakespeare as being rigid, unintelligible and merely something to “get right and out of the way” so the panel put you through to the next round of auditions.

Mark Rylance went onto say:“You have to tell the story that Shakespeare has written. And you have to tell it as vivaciously as you can in order to win over the audience, otherwise it’s a flat and confusing experience.”

This is why students at Audition Doctor keep up consistent weekly or bimonthly lessons – especially if they are in the run up to drama school auditions. The vivacity that Rylance believes actors should bring to the stage is difficult to achieve without committed practice.

As Michael Fassbender said: “Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods because he practised that fucking swing 100 times a day. Why should acting be any different? It’s just boring repetition, and through that, I find things start to break down, and you start to find the nuances, all the interesting little details.”

To differentiate yourself from the thousands of others, the nuances and interesting little details that emerge through painstaking rehearsal are key. This is what Audition Doctor arms every actor with.

With drama school auditions, the panel want to see your strengths and a taste of the kind of actor you have the potential to become.

Danny Boyle said: “When you start off your career you think there’s only one way of achieving anything, but when you get to work with really experienced actors, they’ll give you alternatives, and emotional differences between scenes. Hot, then cooler so that you’ve got choices in the editing for how the storytelling is emerging. That’s what you get with an actor like Fassbender – he finds variation on multiple takes, rather than just doing the same thing again and again. It is incredible to witness.”

What Audition Doctor gives every student is choice; usually a range of bold options that show the panel that you are capable of experimentation and a gamut of emotional colour.

Aside from drama school applicants, professional actors come to Audition Doctor because the returns are career-enhancing. They recognise that the repetitive and relentless exploration in the sessions is the reason why they get more work.

As Fassbender once remarked: “I’m flavour of the month at the moment, but somebody else is going to roll around the corner in three months’ time. I just want to keep working.”

Those who come to Audition Doctor usually do.

Making Shakespeare Real at Audition Doctor

Making Shakespeare Real at Audition Doctor

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 09.38.50Last Sunday Mark Rylance spoke on Desert Island Discs about how “acting is a mixture of reaching out to people, which I would call a kind of electric thing, you have to stir and engage their imagination at times and at other times you have to be more like a magnet and draw them towards you. It’s really about hiding and revealing.”

Professional as well as aspiring actors have found Audition Doctor to be vital in the quest for achieving an equilibrium between these two seemingly contradictory principles. Although difficult to achieve, its purpose is simple – as Shane Zaza (currently in Behind the Beautiful Forevers at the National) put it recently – to “say the words and make it seem real. Make it sound like it’s not part of the script and that what you are doing is the truth.” In other words, clarity of emotion and thought.

Many students come to Audition Doctor because of their fear of Shakespeare – initially speeches are seemingly opaque and incommunicable. Even Olivia Colman admitted a “sense of inadequacy” when it came to Shakespeare: “I find Shakespeare terrifying. When Simon Russell Beale does a speech I understand every word of it, but if I did the same speech people would be going ‘Huh? What?’”

It’s therefore gratifying to discover that Simon Russell Beale puts comprehensibility above all else. In an article in the Guardian this week, he said: “You can do what you like with [the text] –  as long as you make coherent, emotional sense…I see absolutely no problem in throwing Shakespeare around”. The purpose of any play is to affect an audience, the reason why Shakespeare is still routinely performed is because the trials and experiences that the characters face are still recognisable to audiences today. Audition Doctor sessions make you realise that Shakespearean language is actually the actor’s greatest tool in “[making] these great literary dramas real and contemporary”.

In Audition Doctor sessions, nothing is immutable. Students realise session by session that Shakespeare speeches that initially started off being performed stiltedly and dispassionately cease being these untouchable museum pieces. Instead they breathe and come alive and fulfil their original intention of eliciting a real and true response from their audience.

The freedom to experiment that characterises Audition Doctor’s method of working reflects the attitudes of many established theatre practitioners. Deborah Warner encouraged actors and directors to “Do whatever you want … with the texts … You must cut to create new work.”

Rylance mentioned that “You must act exactly the same on stage as in front of the camera in terms of whether your emotions are truly felt, whether you are thinking things through and discovering things.” While there are variable technicalities that have to be obeyed when acting in different mediums, the authenticity of intention and feeling behind each line is a constant.

Mastering this takes an inordinate amount of learning and practice. There are places other than drama school, such as Audition Doctor, where this is achievable. However, many of Audition Doctor’s students are professional actors who have been to drama school and use Audition Doctor to continue to expand their abilities. Training at an accredited drama school is still viewed by those in the industry as the safest option.

In yesterday’s Guardian, Rebecca Atkinson-Lorde wrote: “The industry is competitive and, because of the cultural devaluation of vocational training for the majority of kids who want to work in theatre, the best way to build the skills and contacts you need is by training at a good drama school…” which is why Audition Doctor continues to be increasingly needed by drama school applicants and professionals alike.

Being Disciplined and Free at Audition Doctor

Being Disciplined and Free at Audition Doctor

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 09.43.05In today’s Guardian, Alan Rickman spoke of how his desire to act in Shakespeare plays had always been present: “You test yourself against great writing…What one’s aiming at is suitably impossible with great writing, which is to be absolutely disciplined and absolutely free at the same time. The two things have to work together.”

Both professional actors and drama school applicants have found that Audition Doctor has been critical in the process of striving for this quasi-impossible balancing act. Students come to Audition Doctor at different stages in their preparation. However, those who come well in advance unfailingly have the upper hand; picking speeches that will test an actor’s mettle and simultaneously exhibit intelligence and dexterity is perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of the process. Inevitably, it is best to workshop different speeches with Tilly’s help as potential pitfalls and misunderstandings (especially with Shakespearean texts) can then be explained and evaluated.

Michael Grandage, who directed Felicity Jones in the past, said that she only ever accepted a part “because she has an innate understanding of the role – she never comes to the process not knowing what she’s got to do”. What follows, during the rehearsals, is a layering process, he says. “With each day that goes by, she finds more of the character and takes away what she doesn’t like. She is somebody who excavates a role very deeply and builds from inside out. It’s a fantastic thing to watch because you see, in front of your eyes, a character grow and grow.”

The layering process that Grandage speaks of is similar to what happens at Audition Doctor. With each session, the sculpting of the character becomes more defined so the human being that you have created is never a cursory sketch but a detailed portrait. The thorough work that is done on the internal and external emotional landscape of the character means that Audition Doctor students are always original and are never accused of being “too general” in their work.

Mark Rylance spoke in the Radio Times of how he prepared for his role of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall: “I’ve watched lots of films preparing for this, and I was particularly struck by one of my favourite actors, Robert Mitchum, how his performances haven’t dated in the way that even perhaps more versatile actors, Brando and Dean and people of that era, have. I noticed how well he listens, how still he is, how present he seems. You’re drawn towards the screen – wondering what’s he thinking, what’s he going to do next. That’s always the best way to tell a story.”

Audition Doctor students value the sessions because they come to realise that they don’t have to “act” or “perform” to be truthful and have an effect. More often than not, the moments of authenticity and artistic ingenuity are achieved by simply being present – “simply” perhaps being an oxymoronic choice of word.

Students find Audition Doctor sessions indispensable yet challenging, but that’s as it should be. As Alan Rickman concluded: “I always think [of] the last image of The Tempest – when Caliban is held tight at the same moment that Ariel is let go and it seems to me that was Shakespeare writing about what it’s like to be a creative person –  you have this impossible aim and whatever your horizon is you keep moving towards it and it relentlessly moves away from you.”

Why Do You Want to Be an Actor?

When asked what advice she would give to an actor starting out today, Gina McKee said “Ask yourself why you want to be an actor…At every step of the way keep answering the question “Why do I want to be an actor?”

This is a question that is routinely asked asked at drama school interviews and many understandably spend time crafting the “perfect” answer to impress the panel. However, it is perhaps the private and unpolished response that will clarify the kind of actor you want to be.

Mark Rylance mentioned that the thing that sustained him as an artist was secrets – “things that are forbidden to be said. Maybe people are frightened of something, maybe they don’t have the words to express it, but those are the things that need to be said by theatre. That’s what it’s here for. Look for those secrets in society and inside yourself and give them a voice. That’s the role of an artist in our society.”

He went onto say: “Going to the theatre should be like going on holiday. It should allow you to experience a little piece of someone else’s life for a while. If it’s really good, when it’s over you should be able to look at your own life and see it with fresh eyes for a while.”

Sessions with Audition Doctor are all about unearthing bits of the text and discovering the unspoken. The result is that although there may be 30 other people doing the same Shakespeare speech as you on the day of the audition, your performance will be both unique and adventurous.

Many students come to Audition Doctor to start again. This can be because they aren’t getting any recalls, because they find their speeches are no longer being performed as if for the first time or because their interpretation seems to be formed from a mishmash of other actors’ performances.

It’s reassuring to know that even Simon Russell Beale admitted that the most difficult thing when starting a new play was “getting rid of my preconceptions. Harder than you might imagine. If somehow I can start from scratch, then there have been many occasions when I have discovered things that I never expected to. The second thing is trying to achieve absolutely clarity of thought. Before that’s done the emotional life of any character is a bit of a mystery for me.”

Clarity of thought is something that Audition Doctor emphasises in lessons. This is because an audience (and especially an audition panel at drama school) will be able to hear if you don’t understand the text you are speaking. Inevitably, as soon as this happens, the audience’s suspension of disbelief is dispelled and the illusion is broken. Moreover, you fail to hear what Shelley Winters described as “the sound of a wonderful, deep silence that means you’ve hit them where they live”.



Auditioning for Drama School

If only The Observer’s account of Mark Rylance’s method of auditioning was the norm for all drama school auditions. While they are rarely the “shouty, humiliating exercises, usually of no more than two minutes duration” that the journalist describes, at the initial stages at least, they don’t usually “last up to 30 minutes each”. Furthermore, although most audition panels would argue that, like Rylance, they “are designed to be encouraging rather than demoralising”, everyone will experience the latter at some point throughout the process.

Although Rylance is auditioning professional actors for his upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing, his way of appraisal and observation of each actor is very similar to that of drama school auditions. There is the acting obviously, but also voice work and movement sessions that are also part and parcel of all drama school auditions.

“I try to move them one way or another depending on how much they’re coming out to me, or into themselves,” he says. “Often, their nerves and desire to get the job makes them overly expressive – not bad, but they express more than they need to – so I’ll give them some kind of an obstacle to stop them being so sure-footed. Then I’ll see how they take that note, and I’ll listen to their voice, try to tell whether or not it’s locked in a particular place, and I’ll look at their movement.”

Nerves will inevitably play a huge part in how you perform. If you have only ever done your speeches alone in your living room, auditions in which you have to stand in a vast echoey studio in front of fifteen other candidates as well as the panel, will come as a huge shock. Although all drama schools do send out “What To Expect On Your Audition Day” emails, they don’t specify certain aspects for whatever reason. With extensive experience in drama school auditions, Audition Doctor will be able to tell you what to expect at various stages of the process at specific schools. Some schools require you to perform in front of fellow auditionees, some will be ask that one of your speeches is done to camera. If you are remotely self-conscious or uneasy, there is less likelihood of you inhabiting your character and delivering the performance you want. As Andrew Scott says “an audience can smell authenticity”and you can guarantee that an audition panel will be comprised of human Bloodhounds.

What Audition Doctor ensures is that your nerves are used to your advantage. Each speech is analysed with a fine tooth-comb and Tilly ensures that every intention behind every beat is absolutely understood. As Mark Rylance mentioned: “With Shakespeare, the audience has so many fears and anxieties, so many preconceptions; you have to draw them into the present, to give them an experience rather than a lecture. It should be like a great tennis match: who’s going to win?”

The Shakespeare speech is often the one that scares candidates and what Audition Doctor does so brilliantly is making it “present”, alive, genuine, and almost unbelievably, fun. Rylance cites directors such as Ian Rickson and Tim Caroll who “make their productions to last, and not so brittle that they’ll break. They encourage actors to surprise each other, to keep it fresh, to bring the sense of discovery and fun from the rehearsal room into the performance. You have to move into chaos.”

This is what Audition Doctor encourages students to do during lessons – to be flexible and bold in their choices and to embrace the uncertainty of the process- because often the most radical and exciting performances come out of it.