Why Theatre is Not Elitist

Last week, Denis Kelly declared that nothing annoyed him more than the lazy and commonplace assumption that theatre was elitist. “I’m the son of a bus conductor and a cleaner, I grew up in a council house and left school at 16 with no qualifications, but I found a home in theatre…I got involved in theatre young and it kept my mind alive, through brain-numbing jobs that meant nothing to me.” He went onto say that the number of people currently seeing theatre in this country was comparable to attendances at Britain’s other populist event – football matches.

Drama schools such as LAMDA are also working hard to change the false perception that the industry is an exclusive club open only to the moneyed. Having recently appointed Rhiannon Fisher as its first Access and Widening Participation Officer, the drama school has set up new initiatives to give school students more information on vocational drama training.

Speaking to The Stage, Fisher commented: “The idea was to use our [final year students’] first public production as a way of introducing secondary school students to Shakespeare. The students were split into two companies, one of which did Macbeth and one Twelfth Night so they covered four schools each,” says Fisher, adding that each performance runs for 90 minutes followed by a question and answer session with the cast.

Fisher acknowledges that the “Q/A is vital. It allows audience members not only to ask questions about the play and acting those roles but also about vocational drama training in general and LAMDA in particular – the very information which so often fails to get into schools because, on the whole, it is outside the experience of teachers and careers advisers.”

There are further plans afoot to run workshops in 2015 for underprivileged young people in five major cities around the country. Furthermore, the audition fees, which have been cited as eye-wateringly expensive, may be wavered for those who have attended the workshops.

If you don’t qualify for workshops such as at LAMDA, or simply can’t make events such as the Surviving Actors Careers Fair, where Susan Elkin noted: “there was a programme of seminars, workshops and one-to-one sessions” by industry professionals, Audition Doctor offers something similar. However, inevitably, due to the one-to-one nature of the session, it is far more tailored to the individual.

Elkin said in her column for The Stage: “Predictably, what interested me most in all this were the top-up training opportunities for actors [at the fair] and I was pleased to see The Actors Centre, The Actors’ Guild, The Actors’ Cafe, Actors’ Studio and Actors’ Training Centre among others, all busy talking to dozens of actors keen to learn, develop and hone skills.”

As well as being a private acting coach, Audition Doctor also offers sessions at The Actors Centre. This gives her students the added bonus of understanding how drama school students continue to top-up their training even after having graduated, as well as what institutions such as these offer.

Recently in The Guardian, Kristin Scott Thomas spoke about her rediscovery of theatre after years of doing purely film: “I suddenly felt independent. You could walk on stage and you could stand on your head if you really wanted to. No one’s going to say stop, don’t do that, that’s a ridiculous idea. There’s this feeling of independence and trust – I could give myself permission to play things in a certain way and see if they worked or they didn’t. I could trust myself.”

That encapsulates why Audition Doctor is in demand by both professional actors and drama school applicants alike, as the overriding feeling that students take away from sessions is a confidence and trust in their own artistic judgement.

The progress that Audition Doctor’s students achieve can rarely be attained by going to a Q&A or a seminar; the experimentation and discovery lies in actively doing, as opposed to passively listening. This is why Audition Doctor is considered to be so significant in her students’ development.

Acting Corporate

What’s been clear this week is that while drama school isn’t a panacea to all the insecurities of the profession, actors who haven’t gone accede that the work done there appears to be an indispensable infrastructure upon which to build a solid career.

In a Q and A for “The Cripple of Inishmaan”, Daniel Radcliffe mentioned: “Obviously, drama school isn’t the only option for acting training, but even when you’re one of the most famous actors in the world, lack of it can still make you feel like you’re playing catch up.”

In Time Out, Hayley Atwell spoke of how, despite going to the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama, she was uncertain of how she would fit into the industry: “I came out of drama school wondering whether I could really make a living out of being an actor.” While drama school doesn’t appear to have done Atwell any harm, it is worth noting that although the training there was indisputably helpful , she acknowledged: “It’s not until quite recently that I realised how unformed I was. I felt like a baby, I just wanted to please.”

Radcliffe also spoke of how he compensated not going to drama school with extensive work with acting coaches. Both are examples of how in some instances, the fact of whether or not you went to drama school, is irrelevant. Your personal development as an actor is down to you. Drama school cannot and does not teach you everything. If you feel technically deficient or artistically immature, it is down to you to seek someone such as Audition Doctor to give you a chance of survival in this profession.

Aside from the creative aspect of being an actor, Audition Doctor is getting more students who are earning a crust in the corporate sector. Chair of the Board of the Actors Centre, Paul Clayton, has just published a book entitled “So You Want To Be A Corporate Actor” and gives the example of how corporate acting training is something that should be taught at drama schools but isn’t. Jobs in the business sector can be lucrative and Clayton’s research showed that only 14% learned anything about the corporate sector at drama school, while 63% ended up finding useful work in the sector. Interviewing actors, he found that many felt inexperienced and unschooled when it came to this side of the profession.

This is what makes Audition Doctor unique as Tilly has had experience working both in the creative and business sphere. Whether you are an actor about to do a corporate job or someone working in business whose job involves public speaking, Audition Doctor will prove to be undoubtedly useful. You will soon realise that the more sessions you do with Audition Doctor, the less you feel like you’re playing catchup.

Meetup Sessions with Audition Doctor

While audition masterclasses at the Actors Centre are open only to members, Tilly also holds group Audition Doctor sessions which are open to all and attended by a range of people; from professional actors, drama school applicants to businessmen and women who are eager to improve their presentation skills and public speaking.  Tilly holds Audition Doctor Meetup sessions in Central London which are perfect for those who want a fun and stress-free atmosphere to work on building confidence and experience performing in front of “an audience” involving like-minded people.

While one-to-one Audition Doctor sessions are preferable if you require undivided and focused attention, sometimes group sessions are a cheaper and less intensive choice if all you want to do is try out your improvisation technique and have an entertaining evening. Groups usually comprise of about 10 people which allows Tilly to give each person an adequate amount of attention and allows students to get to know each other well enough for there to be a non-judgmental and encouraging environment.

At Audition Doctor, there is no pressure to “perform” or have extensive knowledge of Shakespeare. The speeches people choose are varying – from Jacobean tragedy to monologues from contemporary films. This is where being in a group has its advantages. At times, several members won’t even have heard of the play or film. However, others who have will fill them in. Often, discussions will arise about past productions that they’ve seen, whether or not they liked how it was directed and digress so far that you find that you have “wasted” your one fag and loo break heatedly talking about the National’s 2009 production of ‘Mother Courage’.

The group Audition Doctor sessions are fun and stimulating as you get feedback not only from the Audition Doctor herself, but also your fellow classmates. The next Meetup Audition Doctor session is being held this Friday- 19th October at 20 Bedford Street, Covent Garden, WC2. It’s never scary and always a laugh.