In today’s Guardian, Maxine Peake recalled how, when at drama school, her heroes were not screen stars but theatre actors such as Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman and Albert Finney. All of them had illustrious careers at the RSC – Finney famously understudying for Olivier in Corialanus and both Stevenson and Rickman starring together in acclaimed productions of Troilus and Cressida and The Tempest.Yet it’s fair to say that it was their work in film and TV that elevated them to a different level of public recognition.
As it is normally film actors who are at the forefront of the public consciousness, there might indeed be some truth in the Terrence Mann quote: “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich. But theatre will make you good.”
However, when people come to Audition Doctor with the sole aim of going on a screen acting course, Tilly always dissuades them from limiting their options – not only in terms of what work you will be offered but also in terms of the quality of teaching. The traditional syllabus offered at drama schools is still stage-based and the reason for this is that theatre training is considered the solid basis for all mediums in the profession.
It’s easy to understand why upcoming actors might not have any interest in the theatre – the concept of a “stage star” being more or less an anachronism and it being notoriously badly paid – the irony being any ticket to productions in the West End costing less than £50 means viewing will be so restricted and so far back that the only advantage of sitting there at all is the knowledge that you will be the first out of the post-theatre rush – a sort of gross perversity of Easyjet’s “Speedy Boarding”. However, it is worth noting that many famous screen actors have come back to the theatre. Perhaps they acknowledge that to call yourself an actor is to understand the nightly challenge of standing up on a stage with no camera to direct the spectator’s gaze or underscoring to manipulate emotion – just yourself.
Like her contemporaries, Peake admitted: “I do wonder how people are going to afford to go to drama school now. I panic about how people can even afford to go to the theatre. The West End is thriving but at £76 a ticket…I’m really concerned we will tip back into the bad old days when only people from a certain class or people with disposable incomes could afford to send their children to drama school.”
It is true that the current crop of “in vogue” actors all seem to be old Etonians but as with all fashions, these things are cyclical. Ultimately, whatever your background, it is your ability to transcend it that will make you an actor of any worth. Ben Whishaw mentioned in last week’s interview for the Guardian, how he likes to think of himself, especially in the theatre, as “a channel for other people to feel – for, in a sense, it isn’t about you”.
Audition Doctor is not about acting in the sense of showing or demonstrating. Sessions at Audition Doctor are so unique in that Tilly encourages you not to “act” at all. It is in these moments that you truly inhabit the life of another. As you have more lessons at Audition Doctor, you realise that it is about stripping away the ticks and preconceptions and revealing the vulnerabilities which make a performance so compelling. When Sara Kestelman was asked about what her teaching at the Central School of Speech and Drama taught her, she said: “I learnt that the text is sacred. I learnt one must be immensely patient.” Tilly always stresses the former and perhaps most uniquely, is always the latter, which is why lessons at Audition Doctor are such an experience.