Shakespeare at Auditions

The announcement of Rufus Norris as new Artistic Director of the National Theatre coincided with another disclosure. Although it was admittedly not as newsworthy as said appointment, it was no less important for students who are eager to go to drama school.

It was the Telegraph’s article which proclaimed “Shakespeare frightens us, admits Britain’s top actors” and gleefully proceeded to reel off a roster of names that included Michael Gambon, Mark Rylance, Zoe Wannamaker, Christopher Eccleston and Ralph Fiennes.

Many confessed to have no understanding of iambic pentameter, frequently found Shakespearean language “incomprehensible”, “frightening” and having that “familiar feeling on giving up at a Shakespeare play.”

If you want to be a trained actor in this country, there is no escaping Shakespeare or his contemporaries. Every single accredited drama school will require you to perform a monologue from the Elizabethan period as part of your audition. Many candidates hate Shakespeare, however, his work doesn’t appear to be declining in popularity so it’s best that you ensure you aren’t daunted by his work by the time you come to audition.

Many students’ first foray into Shakespearean territory will probably be in an English lesson at school. The teacher probably assigned everyone a part and everyone monotonously intoned the unintelligible text and died a little inside. This is why to become better at speaking Shakespearean verse, you have to go and see it performed precisely by the actors listed above. They often find it baffling and incomprehensible. However, they have all trained and subsequently used the skills learnt at drama school to intelligently unpick the text and transform the unwieldy ye olde language of it all into a reality that an audience recognises and believes.

This week, Ben Kingsley spoke to the Evening Standard about the importance of good actors in bringing the works of the Bard to life: “After leaving the RSC and before I did Gandhi [in 1982], I had the privilege of visiting schools in America with a group of Shakespearean actors. And instead of bashing their way through the text, we walked into the classroom and we performed scenes in the classroom for them. The pupils were slapping their hands on their foreheads and saying, ‘Wow — that’s what he meant!’ A good actor, a focused actor, can unlock a 400 to 500-year-old text and make it hit you as you’ve never heard it before”

This is what Audition Doctor can help with. Having performed Shakespeare professionally, Tilly is aware of the necessity of truly understanding the text. Frequently, she can hear if you, the actor, are saying a line without knowing what it means as the intentions behind what you say become unclear. An audience can hear when actors speak without knowing why. This is the luxury that Audition Doctor affords – the time to sift through all the obsolete language and to find modern equivalents which render your speech coherent. If anything, you at least want the audition panel to understand what you’re saying.

But Audition Doctor lessons give you much more than that. They are the reason why you can go into an audition and know that the panel will listen to you – because you are going to be one of the very few candidates that hasn’t capitulated in the face of the difficult language and truly understands not only what you are saying, but why you are speaking in the first place.