One of the many reasons why professional actors and drama school applicants come to Audition Doctor is Shakespeare. Harry Mount wrote in the Telegraph of the ofttimes default tendency to “treat Shakespeare with too much reverence, as an English literature exam question…” Shakespeare’s plays have become more associated with monotonous readings in English lessons at school than where he intended them to be – acted out on stage.
Mount went onto explain that Shakespeare’s unquestionable place in British culture has meant that “he has rightly become a mainstay of the academic world. [However,] that shouldn’t mean he should be confined to the classroom and the lecture hall. Shakespeare didn’t write for academics – or for the well-heeled, early 21st century theatre-going middle classes. He wrote for the rough and ready rank and file of Elizabethan London.”
Audition Doctor sessions don’t encourage the untouchable and venerational approach to Shakespeare. Instead, the Elizabethan language is tackled just as a contemporary speech would be.
This means that students at Audition Doctor avoid what Nick Hytner called “over-colouring”. He explained in the Guardian of the “overt musical poeticise which was very much what people wanted 30 or 40 years ago” going out of fashion.
“I believe that that poetic grace can come through and should come through, and we work on it, but it relies most importantly on people speaking it as if its how they think. If that happens, it’s comprehensible.”
Mount even cited Richard E. Grant’s Hamlet soliloquy in Withnail and I as an example of how Shakespeare’s language can be seamlessly and comprehensibly woven into modern day speech.
“The insertion of a Tudor speech into a film about late Sixties London seems entirely unstagey because Grant acts it so convincingly. He understands what the words mean, and communicates that understanding so expertly that the audience doesn’t have to strain to understand it.”
Hytner has admitted of Shakespeare productions that “The first five minutes is always tricky. But I think by 15 minutes in, most people have tuned in.” Audition Doctor’s indispensability to actors lies in the fact that students end up commanding the language so fully and using the writing to their utmost advantage that the audience is immediately drawn in. Initial auditions, especially for drama schools, are rarely longer than 15 minutes. There simply isn’t the luxury of time to allow the panel to ease into your performance.
The volume of drama school auditions mean that each candidate is given a very limited time slot. Audition Doctor sessions have given students the assurance that this isn’t wasted. The few minutes that you are given to impress your prospective future teachers can seem hugely intimidating.
Gemma Arterton recently spoke of how important her experience at drama school was in terms of launching her career.
“I didn’t come from a background where I knew anyone in the industry so I went to drama school and luckily here in the UK we have that opportunity that anyone from any background can apply to drama school. We have government funding to support students there so I auditioned…and then I got into RADA…I suppose it gives you a platform which is taken very seriously…and a lot of people come and see you when you’re there…I got an agent…but it was all thanks to drama school.”
Audition Doctor immeasurably improves your chances of reaching this platform and consequently, of forging a sustained career in the industry.
Speaking of the rehearsal process and the nature of being part of a company, Simon Russell Beale commented: “I personally would be unable to develop a part by myself at home…I need the stimulation of other people.”
One of the reasons for Audition Doctor’s popularity is the need for professional actors and drama school applicants to have a professional sounding board when creating a character. Especially as the drama school audition process is protracted one, rehearsing monologues countless times at home is unsurprisingly not conducive to preserving the vitality and originality that perhaps you had at the beginning.
In an interview on The National Theatre’s website, Nick Hytner said: “Good actors can’t learn their lines unless they know why they’re saying them and you can take an infinite amount of time finding out why you have to say the lines that are written for you. The best acting gives the impression of being spontaneous. In order to be spontaneous every night, you have to feel like the words you say are the only response to the situation you find yourself in…Rehearsals are the process of discovering those reasons.”
Audition Doctor sessions are the closest thing drama school applicants will have to rehearsals and the final recalls that students achieve are testament to the uninhibited freedom of expression that Tilly instils each of her students with. This quality is also why Audition Doctor is increasingly regarded as a necessity for professional actors preparing for jobs.
Judi Dench spoke out this week against the financial constraints placed on actors without significant private funding to pay for conservatoire training. She mentioned: “Anyone who’s in the theatre gets letters countless times a week asking for help to get through drama school. You can do so much, but you can’t do an endless thing. It is very expensive.”
The Guardian commented: “She accepts that talented aspiring actors can make it without going to drama school. “But it’s a hard and rocky road,” she added.”
The collapse of the repertory system – which Dench describes as “where you went to learn and make your mistakes and watch people who knew how to do it” – has meant that drama schools have become increasingly important for actors learning their craft.
Despite the increase in fees, the competition is no less fierce. The National Theatre website states: “Acting requires a wide range of skills, vocal, physical, imaginative, expressive, intellectual, intuitive, and work can demand different dialects, languages, accents, vocal control or body language, improvisation, observation and emulation, mime and often dancing or stage combat. A stage actor will often be required to research around a character or a period of history. In an ever changing world it is a continually evolving profession”. Students understand that the industry is a demanding one and that the skills taught at drama school are essential to survival and longevity as an artist.
Speaking of her imminent return to the London stage, Emma Thompson said that she was suffering from nerves and nausea but that she was adhering to the advice of the late choreographer Agnes de Mille: “You have to keep flinging yourself, leaping into the dark.” Whether you are preparing for a professional role or a drama school audition, Audition Doctor prepares you for that leap and makes it far less terrifying.
The fanfare surrounding Shakespeare’s 450th birthday has proven Johnathan Bates’ assertion that “Shakespeare has never fallen out of fashion but in the past 25 years or so his reputation has become truly stratospheric.”
There are articles delineating how phrases Shakespeare coined centuries ago are still in common usage and the fact that his birthday celebrations are being put ahead of festivities for St George’s day. There is no doubt that there is still an appetite for his plays to be performed.
However, Dominic Cavendish – the Telegraph’s theatre critic – conceded: Is this week not as good as any to admit just how intellectually challenging much that lies in the complete works can be and how borderline incomprehensible his language can get, both in terms of the now archaic and obscure nature of his references and the complexity of his poetic expression?”
Amongst all the interactive Bard games and video uploads of people reciting their favourite Shakespeare quotations, there have also been admissions from leading figures in theatre over the inaccessibility of the language. Cavendish’s article was entitled “Admit it – most of us don’t understand Shakespeare”.
Nick Hytner’s confession last autumn has also been reprinted: “I cannot be alone in finding that almost invariably in performance there are passages that fly straight over my head. In fact, I’ll admit that I hardly ever go to a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays without experiencing blind panic during the first five minutes. I sit there thinking: I’m the director of the National Theatre, and I have no idea what these people are talking about.”
Even actor Ethan Hawke, who was in The Winter’s Tale at the Old Vic, said: “I can’t even read the plays, I know some people can but I literally have a tape of the production of the play and read it while I [watch] it.”
There has been a renewed determination to make Shakespeare productions even more accessible. There is a push to ensure productions communicate energy, emotion, the vital essence of the work, and do its utmost to be as lucid as possible for the modern ear.” This, of course, is down to the actor.
As Audition Doctor stresses, if you don’t understand the language, the audience won’t either. Hawke’s admission is reassuring as that it doesn’t make you less of an actor not fully understanding the language and having to discover the language. It’s in sessions such as at Audition Doctor that the text can be unpicked and pored over.
As Hawke said: “I love breaking down the text and figuring out what the words mean.There’s a great joy that comes from at one point not knowing what a series of sentences mean and then later being able to get a laugh on it. Not only do you know what it means but you can actually translate it to a thousand people…That comes from building the character and inhabiting the circumstances with such commitment and force.”
Audition Doctor is about the exploring as well as the resultant performance. The satisfaction that comes at the end of every lesson is why students return time and time again.
Ethan Hawke went onto admit that while writing was the most peaceful part of making theatre, “there is a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress that comes along with performing…I feel like I’ve spent a great bulk of my life at war with my nervous system.”
Audition Doctor sessions are all about preparation which greatly reduces the stress that comes hand in hand with an audition. As Hawke said: “Shakespeare becomes so alive in the doing.” The “doing” at Audition Doctor ensures that you “live” the character honestly, thereby giving a truthful performance.
There has been much debate recently over the usefulness of drama schools. Derek Jacobi averred: “It can teach you movement, it can teach you voice, it can teach you deportment, it can teach you fencing skills, all sorts of things. But I firmly believe that it cannot turn someone who walks into a drama school as a non-actor into an actor.”
Furthermore, Paul Roseby stated: “Drama schools are incredibly expensive and the majority of actors don’t need three years’ training. They need various modular courses every so often to go to. But they don’t need three years. You don’t need to learn how to act, you need to learn how to sell yourself. You can either act or you can’t.”
Drama school is expensive, but it costs no more than a normal degree. While drama school is by no means the only form of training, it is one that is professionally recognised. Additionally, alternative models that allowed Jacobi time and opportunities to hone his craft, such as repertory, no longer exist. Drama schools are still places where those who do have, what Jacobi calls, the “seed, the desire, the will and the talent” to become a professional actor can learn their craft. Although some actors do manage to build successful careers without training, the majority of actors on stage or on television will have had some form of professional training.
Furthermore, Nick Hytner this week confessed that even he found Shakespeare’s plays confusing. Drama school is a place where there are tutors who have extensive experience to unpick language and explore the possibilities of what you, as an actor, are capable of.
Edward Kemp, – Artistic Director of RADA- hit back at Roseby by saying: “These days RADA graduates such as Jessie Buckley can find themselves playing leading roles in major theatres almost upon graduation.” He added that training can give confidence and bring an improved sense of self-image that one could argue were requisite in marketing yourself to the industry.
This is precisely what Audition Doctor affords every one of her students. The way you perform you speeches is absolutely linked to confidence and self-image. Even if you have the will and the talent, a speech cannot be performed at its best if you are self-conscious in anyway. As mercenary as it sounds, an audition is also an opportunity to market yourself to the panel as a student worthy of a place. Audition Doctor sessions strip all the extraneous “acting” and self-conscious ticks which leave you knowing that you will be your greatest asset as opposed to your own obstacle at your audition.
No one in the arts world would deny the advantages of having a commercial success. Money is always short and the profits from lucrative shows often fund less economically viable, yet artistically daring productions. However, England is currently saddled with a Culture Minister who recently asserted that arts funding should be regarded as “venture capital”. Maria Miller’s expectation that art should yield fat fiscal returns is a clear indicator of how there is less patience, time and money for any kind of creativity, let alone any risk-taking, which so often the most compelling art involves.
Drama schools offer fewer bursaries while having no choice but to increase their fees. However, drama school has always been only one (albeit successful) way of entering the Industry. This month, The Stage wrote about how training companies such as Fourth Monkey and Bridge Training Company are on the increase. The launch of the National Youth Theatre’s rep company this year is a sign that industry practitioners are eager to offer students without the financial means an alternative to drama school. NYT’s rep company comprises of 15 NYT members who are given the opportunity to work for nine solid months on productions, as well as given voice and movement lessons. Students also receive bursaries from the Kevin Spacey Foundation, are taught by the likes of Nick Hytner and Michael Grandage and perform their shows in The Ambassadors Theatre in the heart of the West End. It seems that repertory companies might look as if they will return as a reasonable substitute for drama schools.
Training companies such as these are garnering more publicity as they are seen as“effectively an alternative to the third year in drama school”. That, along with “each one [having] a personal mentor from the top reaches of professional theatre” which allows for “masses of networking opportunities” means that aspiring actors will increasingly look to training companies such as these to hone their craft. That and not being £27,000 in debt makes it undoubtedly a more attractive option.
While the competition is not currently as stiff as entry into drama schools, this is set to change. Audition Doctor has noticed an increase in the number of students applying for acting schemes such as these which are advertised on Ideastap. Because the opportunities are usually so unique, competition is fierce, which means more students are coming to Audition Doctor for help. While it seems crude to view yourself as a marketable commodity, you are trying to make it as an actor at a time when the Westminster agenda is at odds with your chosen profession. This means you must make the most of what the Industry is fighting to offer you for free. Audition Doctor sessions mean that you present the best you – the you that is worthy of investment.