Avoiding Conservatism in Acting

CRW_4932Sean Holmes, Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, was interviewed in The Stage and spoke about his attempt to radicalise and disquiet the traditional model of British theatre through Secret Theatre. It was based on a speech he made in 2013 when he stated that “maybe the existing structures of theatre in this country, while not corrupt, are corrupting.”

Secret Theatre was about “forming an in-house ensemble of actors and creatives, deploying gender- and colour-blind casting as default, keeping show titles secret – almost to prove to British theatre as a whole that there are other ways of doing things.”

Holmes elaborated: “All of Secret Theatre was about one thing and one thing only, though I didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t about being German and it wasn’t about new approaches to new writing. It wasn’t really about directing. It was about acting. It was about empowering the actors individually and collectively to reach their potential. Because the biggest thing that no one talks about is the deep conservatism in the choices British actors make, and the reasons – before they all come and kill me – are structural. It’s not their fault. It’s to do with economics…It’s really hard to earn a living in theatre, even if you work a lot. If you want a relatively nice life, you’re going to do TV and film meaning you’ll do your one play a year. That leads to different choices…You can’t affect the structures…[but] you can’t moan because the answer is “Well, do something!”

Audition Doctor has become the answer to many professional actors who want to be pragmatic. Like Secret Theatre, Audition Doctor is a space where the actor is truly allowed to play and where the actor is put first and foremost. At Audition Doctor, the actor is encouraged to shake off any preconceived notions of how Shakespeare should be approached or how a part should be played, and instead explore different routes that require imagination and lead to a genuinely original performance.

Audition Doctor has proven to be crucial for actors who want a quick brush-up before an audition but also actors who want to delve deeper into how they engage with acting as an art form.

Speaking recently in The Stage, Anthony Sher was asked whether he had pinned down what he considered to be good acting and he replied: “No, other than that you can smell it. You can see it, and feel it, instantly. I don’t believe there’s one way of doing it, and I find myself changing from show to show. I like that.”

The actors that come to Audition Doctor long-term are those that use the sessions to change and experiment. Speaking during his third week of rehearsals for the upcoming production of Death of a Salesman at the RSC, Sher went on to say “It’s ridiculous in this country. Six weeks of rehearsals is not nearly enough for these great plays. In Europe or in Russia they rehearse for months.”

The actors who have had the time to come to Audition Doctor regularly before auditions are generally those who have the time to eschew the obvious and conservative artistic choices that Holmes laments – not only within the work itself but also in terms of the type of work that they are offered. This is because Audition Doctor encourages every student to be  an artist – something that Stanley Tucci described as “[taking] whatever is in front of you and [making] it into something else.”