Much has been written on the fact that too much time at drama schools is devoted to Shakespeare and not enough given to acting for screen, with heads of acting at top drama schools lamenting the fact that they are training pupils for a fast disappearing theatre industry. However, three of Britain’s arguably biggest television actors are performing in various Shakespeare plays to packed houses in the West End – Jude Law in Henry V, David Tennant in Richard II, and Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus. The Telegraph mentioned in an article entitled “Why the stars come out for Shakespeare”: To have three such charismatic leading men starring in three relatively underperformed Shakespeare plays at the same moment is a rare treat.” It appears that Shakespeare is still as culturally relevant as ever – enthralling both actors and audiences.
Shakespeare even plays a surprisingly heavy role in the creation of unlikely characters, such as Tom Hiddleston’s character Loki in Thor. In an interview for The Telegraph, it was noted that “Together, Branagh and Hiddleston created a character who was, in many ways, the film’s centre point. ‘We made Loki out of Shakespearean characters,’ Hiddleston says. ‘We talked about King Lear with its two brothers, Macbeth with his ambition, the way Iago spins every situation for self-interest”.
This is why when potential students query the validity of drama school training, it is worthy to remind them that there is no substitute for three years of being surrounded by professionals who have performed Shakespeare themselves. It was Hiddlestone’s years at RADA which gave him the skills to lead him to win an Olivier for Cymbeline. As the interviewer notes of his early career: “While his film career faltered, his reputation in theatre started to gain momentum….and “It wasn’t until Michael Grandage cast him in Othello at the Donmar in 2007 that Hiddleston’s ascent really began. Watching the dress rehearsal was Kenneth Branagh, who was sufficiently impressed to cast Hiddleston as Christian in a Radio 3 production of Cyrano de Bergerac”.
If debating over whether to devote a large proportion of three years to Shakespeare, it’s worth remembering that the Bard still continues to open doors for many actors.
Like Audition Doctor, drama school gives you the time to experiment with language, physicality and voice. It also gives you the space to explore all the ranges of human emotion that future work will require you to express. Attending Audition Doctor or drama school is an acknowledgement that you want to become a better actor, an actor that contributes something to the general debate.As Tom Hiddleston eloquently puts it: “At its absolute best, a play like [Coriolanus] can unite its audience. They can go into the theatre as strangers and leave as a group, having understood and been through something important together. If I am somehow contributing to that then surely my work is of some consequence.”
The valuable nature of Audition Doctor is the way which Tilly pushes you to discover the different colours of emotions that will occur during one speech which means performing a speech on the same note will never happen.
As Hiddleston remarks: “We have the capacity to experience every aspect of life, don’t we?’ he asks, looking intently down at the imaginary keyboard on the table in front of him.”There’s love, generosity, hope, kindness, laughter and all the good stuff. And then there’s grief, hatred, jealousy and pain. The way I see it, life is about trying to get to a place where you feel happy with the chords that you are playing. I’m lucky because I can experiment with all the different notes, via my work. And when I hit the right notes, I like to think that I’m conveying some sort of truth.”This is what Tilly gives each students at Audition Doctor – the ability to explore the myraid of notes and deliver the truth – which is arguably all drama school audition panels are looking for.
In the dramatically titled Guardian piece – Frank Langella: Legend of the Fall, it transpired that acting and writing autobiographies aside, Langella delivers sobering talks to drama school students. “The desire has to be raging in you, because such is the brutality of the profession, and the horrible indignities you have to suffer, you have to really love what you do.”
Simon Hattenstone’s piece paints an Icarus-like figure whose career is chequered with impressive highs as well as crashing lows. Langella talks of having to come to the realisation that he was no longer leading man material with the loss of his hair and how it “heralded a renaissance” in his acting career which goes to show how essential. However, rebirths are generally only afforded to those who have the the skills to adapt to the profession. This is why Susan Elkin states “debunking attitudes [like not needing to train professionally to become an actor] is probably one of the most important things I do as The Stage’s Education and Training Editor. After all, however great your footballing potential, you wouldn’t expect to walk in off the streets and immediately play for Manchester United. It takes years of training to achieve the right skills. And you never stop learning. Exactly the same principle applies to performing on stage or screen.”
It was recently reported in The Stage that professional actors work 11.3 weeks per year on average and 86% of those have been through formal vocational training which points terrifyingly at the assumption that those who haven’t trained must work even less. The reason that many people cite for not wanting to train is that they have no interest in Shakespeare; they want to be film actors and everyone knows that British drama schools are severely lacking in this aspect of training. While this is a legitimate desire, it is naive to believe you will have that much control over your career. Film actors still emphasise that theatre training, especially through Shakespeare texts, was requisite to their subsequent success on screen. Many drama schools are also currently revising their training programmes to incorporate more lessons on screen acting.As for those who want to seek success in America, shunning Shakespeare would be foolhardy. As Neil Constable, the Globe’s chief executive, told The Independent: “There’s more Shakespeare in Broadway than in London, the audiences lap it up. It’s a joy and a pleasure. They know their theatre and know their Shakespeare.”
Drama schools have always been places where students are allowed to experiment in safety. Repeated trial and error has always been the basis for improvement. Getting to know your weaknesses as well as your strengths is necessary before you launch yourself into the profession. Audition Doctor is the step before drama school – the Foundation Course before the BA. Langella spoke of the fact that he has realised above all is the fact that acting is less about “covering up as much as possible; it’s all in the unpeeling. Each decade of my career I’ve tried to reveal more of myself. I want it to be less of a mask.” This is what Audition Doctor concentrates on above all else – paring the performance down to reach the truth of the text and eschewing any “acting”.
As director Marianne Elliot said: “It’s impossible to feel the creative juices flowing if you’re always worried about the end result. I think really, really good work comes out of people being quite open, not stressed, really exploring, trying to be imaginative, without worrying too much about the end result. And being allowed to fail, really being allowed to fail.” Audition Doctor sessions are all about failing – not in the negative sense – but in the Samuel Beckett sense – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” This is precisely the quality that drama schools are looking for.