In an interview for The Stage, Samuel Barnett spoke of his experience playing Posner in The History Boys at the National: “…it was in that role I started to really learn my craft. Drama school is amazing, it teaches you so much about how the industry works, but it’s the work itself which teaches you your craft: timing and delivery and subtlety.”
Aside from drama school applicants, a large number of Audition Doctor’s students are professional actors who want to continuously better their craft between as well as on jobs. The appetite for improvement and readiness to be challenged is what characterises all Audition Doctor students. However, many find that the sessions are about acting less and refraining from doing more than is necessary.
Robert De Niro said in an interview: “It’s simpler than you think. It’s very hard for many actors and I get caught up in it myself, where you think you have to do more, do something, you don’t have to do anything, nothing and you’re better off and it’ll work.
[It’s like] the way people are in life, they don’t do anything. You know, I’m talking to you and I’m looking at your expression and you could’ve been told that something terrible happened to your family and you’re still going to have the same look on your face. That allows the audience to read into it rather than telling them what they should feel…Sometimes you don’t have to spin it or interpret it, you just have to do it and it’ll take care of itself.”
Audition Doctor sessions are useful in paring down whatever you’re working on to the simple truth without ridding the performance itself of nuance and complexity.
Barnett went onto say how different spaces have affected his performances. “[The National] can be a tricky space in terms of making contact with the audience.” He feels as if he’s done his best work in spaces such as the old Bush Theatre. “I adore those small intimate spaces where you really do feel like you can look people in the eye. It is a different kind of technique, I think. You can give what is a very televisual performance, people can see every flick of your eyes. In the Olivier, it’s not that you need to be bigger in your performance, but perhaps more driven and more intense – though I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules.”
The advantage of Audition Doctor is that the interpretation you come to perform can be modulated to any space. Furthermore, having a professional who can make you aware of how you can inhabit and command a space puts you at a distinct advantage at auditions.
The work done at Audition Doctor pushes students to make more daring choices and to challenge themselves to tackle characters that don’t fall into their safe zone. However, the advantage that Audition Doctor’s students have is that Tilly encourages them to enhance their own particular qualities and singularities in such roles. This echoes Meryl Streep’s response to people asking why she chose to play characters seemingly so different from her:
“Well, why did God invent imagination? Should I have played women from central New Jersey all my life? The people I have played in movies and in the theatre have all felt like me to me.”
Prominent actors such as Julie Walters and Mark Strong have publicly protested the inaccessibility of drama school for those from under-privileged backgrounds. They frequently cite the £9,000 yearly fee as being a prohibitive barrier to pursuing an acting career. The Stage wrote a rebuttal that said “It shows concern, which is welcome, but actually comments like this are not very helpful.”
The increase in tuition fees was not particular to drama schools and while there is a lack of actors from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, The Stage argues that the problem isn’t funding.
“The difficulty seems to be that the training industry is struggling to find ways of getting the message to socio-economically deprived young people that yes, they can train vocationally if they have the talent and potential to benefit. They may belong to families for whom the idea of drama school seems derisively effete. No one locally knows much about professional performing arts training. The press continuously reports well-known actors inaccurately bemoaning the financial impossibility of it. And everyone focuses on actor unemployment. The messages are all negative.”
There is an assumption, especially during our “age of austerity”, that the arts are (to quote Sam West) “an add on” as evidenced by “the double squeeze of Arts Council cuts and local authority cuts.” Consequently, disadvantaged young people shy away from drama school training because they see themselves as acquiring loans and subsequent debt for an industry that is fast shrinking.
Many of Audition Doctor’s students have been successful drama school applicants and are able to fund their training through the audition waivers, free lunches, DaDA grants and bursaries that The Stage writes about. Drama schools understand the obstacles that their students face and have made concerted efforts to ease the financial strain on their students.
The other main contingent of Audition Doctor students are professional actors, many of whom have varied stories about how they entered the profession. Regardless of whether or not they went to/are going to drama school, all of Audition Doctor students approach their work with passion and a determination to unceasingly push their training to the next level. Those that come to Audition Doctor regularly as well as work on their speeches find that they do better at auditions and consequently decrease their chances of unemployment.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that even the best actors have had their doubts when it comes to the validity of their profession. When interviewed by James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio, Meryl Streep said: “When I was applying to law school and thinking that acting was a stupid way to make a living because it doesn’t do anything in the world, but I think it does, I think there’s a great worth in it. The worth is listening to people who maybe don’t even exist or who are voices in your past and through you, through the work you give them to other people. I think giving voice to characters that have no voice is the great worth of what we do because so much of acting is vanity. I mean, this feels so great to come out here and sit here and have everybody clap but the real thing that makes me feel so good is when I know I’ve said something for a soul, when I’ve presented a soul.”