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.

Unpicking Text and Unpacking Character at Audition Doctor

CRW_4932Drama schools have long been been accused by critics of being middle-class enclaves. This is perhaps understandable with actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, who yesterday won the Evening Standard’s Best Actor award, and Damian Lewis recently dominating the Culture section of the papers. Actors such as Judi Dench and Julie Walters, themselves drama school graduates, have also been voicing concerns over how tuition fees at conservatoires are preventing those with talent from entering the industry.

It is therefore reassuring to know that The Stage has published findings that show that 80% of students at drama schools are state-educated. Furthermore, despite the fact that drama school and indeed all higher education is expensive, drama schools such as LAMDA have “strong scholarship and bursaries programmes”.

Despite the criticism levelled at drama schools, however, they are just as oversubscribed as ever because students know the value of investing in practical conservatoire training.

Simon Russell Beale stated in the Guardian: “The actor’s primary responsibility is to make the text understandable at first hearing. That’s quite a big thing, and quite difficult, especially if it’s a fairly complicated text. Know the rules about verse-speaking. After that, I don’t care whether you break those rules – just make me understand what you’re saying, the first time you say it.”

The reason why drama schools, like Audition Doctor, are popular is because they are one of the few places where you are given sufficient time and guidance to push yourself emotionally and intellectually. A sizeable number of Audition Doctor’s students are professional actors who have had professional training. In spite of this, they understand that in order to achieve longevity in the profession, their training requires upkeep and continual progression.

Simon Callow spoke of the crucial process that students go through at drama school, which is not at all dissimilar to a regular student at Audition Doctor: “The important thing about training is that it buys you space – three years, ideally – in which to make an absolute and total berk of yourself, in front of your fellow actors, who are going through the same thing. It’s a controlled environment in which you can slowly unpack your own neuroses, your inhibitions, your resistances. And if it’s a well-devised course, you can slowly – having, as it were, disassembled yourself – reach back towards the light.”

Training, whether you do it at drama school or at Audition Doctor, will cost you – both financially and emotionally. However, actors who are lucky enough to have experienced these unique and demanding environments usually have the knowledge of what is required to take the audience by the hand and lead them into another world. This is why actors who come to Audition Doctor know that their success lies not only in the solidity of their training, but also in the work they do with Tilly.

Achieve Spontaneity at Auditions with Audition Doctor

CRW_4961Speaking 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.

Acting the Detective

When asked about some of his earliest auditions, Simon Russell Beale described them as “terrible. I knew nothing…[and] did odd things like I did a speech of Cardinal Wolesey from Henry VIII…it was odd to have a man of 22 playing a man of 60.They were odd and I made bad mistakes and I talked too much.

The reason why Audition Doctor continues to be in such demand is because the sessions are not merely about performing monologues themselves, but also about avoiding making the bad presentational mistakes that Russell Beale mentions.

Kevin Spacey recently commented on the need for actors to shift their perspective of the audition from something to be conquered to “an opportunity to introduce [themselves] to a group of people. It may not pay off today …but if you have enough confidence and you walk in trusting the material and trusting yourself and not spending time trusting the things that you can’t trust like “Are they going to like me?”, “Are they going to think I’m talented?”, “Do they think I’m handsome?” but controlling the things that you can. [Such as], I’m going to meet you on this day and be the person I am rather than the nervous crazy person who wants the job so badly.”

Trusting the material is something that many auditionees find difficult – especially when it’s Shakespeare. What Audition Doctor sessions do is simple – they demystify the language.As Spacey says: “It’s not difficult. Take the thing that makes Shakespeare scary – the language – but it’s not so difficult. When you approach the plays from a perspective of how people deal with each other, people dig that. It’s just like family. I’ve watched kids of 14 – 15 getting really excited about how relevant the plays can be to their own lives. Don’t put him on a big pedestal – he’s just a playwright – attack him with an excitement about what his plays are about. Don’t dust him off like an antique.”

Audition Doctor sessions focus on the language because the words are the fundamental tools with which to build your character. Spacey opines: “Being an actor is not unlike being a detective, we are given a set of clues; some of them are real, some of them are what other characters say about us, some of them are factual, some of them are red herrings and we have to determine how we play this role based on the clues that we are given, so I spend a lot of time on language.”

Spacey ends his interview with saying “I avoid any judgements about the people I play. It’s my job just to play them.” One of the difficult things about approaching a character is confusing the act of making bold artistic decisions with making unreasonable personal judgements on the character. Audition Doctor ensures that you never do this, but approach both characters and auditions with honesty and confidence.