This is a nerve-wracking process and can last over a period of months during which time nails will be bitten, sleepless nights will be plentiful, and emails anxiously scanned for news – good or not so good! However, the process can be an enjoyable and creative one if you go for it with good will, generosity, good humour and some hard work.
Here are a few pointers to help you – one assumes that nothing can dissuade you from doing this insane thing at this moment!
1) DO YOUR RESEARCH
Think about precisely what you want from an acting training, the kind of course you’ll need if you wish to pursue a particular specialism - e.g. Musical Theatre, Actor/Musician, Screen Acting, Classical Acting, - maybe you are interested in a career that makes devised theatre events from scratch, or in working in non-conventional structures and forms - or do you seek an all-round actor-training that might include some of these but equips you broadly speaking for all aspects of the profession.
Do you want a 3 year BA Acting course (all reputable drama school 3 year courses are validated by a Higher Education institution and are deemed degree worthy and quite right too)or are you looking for something more fast-track if you already have a degree or are older, like an MA course, which generally lasts one year – one or two MAs are two years in length. Look at the on-line information about the schools you are interested in, particularly the prospectus – some schools will send you a hard copy if asked but generally information is available digitally from the schools’ websites.
With the demise of Drama UK it is even more important to be as informed as possible. If you live within reach of some schools then try and see some final year shows. Find out about alumni – not just those who are well-known, but what other work are alumni doing? Are there particular actors whose work you admire – whose career you would like to steal? What are your ambitions?
If you are successful in getting to a final recall then please talk to the students who are your guides for the day – you will learn a lot from them! You might get the chance to do this in earlier rounds, depending on how they are structured. Finally please understand that a full-on drama school training whether it is a BA or MA Course is a very different animal to a university course in Theatre Studies or Performance Studies. Know what you are signing up for!
2) KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT AN AUDITION
Generally auditions have a series of stages – which culminate in a final stage, which takes the form of a recall day at the school. The first round can be daunting - there may be quite a lot of you there. So – how to make an impression? You choice of material is crucial (This is where the Mono Box is so brilliantly helpful and encouraging!) You will be asked for two pieces – generally one “classical” which tends to be Shakespeare or Jacobean and a contemporary speech. 2 minutes maximum - and less than that is not a bad idea for each speech. Please don’t choose material out of duty. Choose material that you are passionate about, that you think says something about you and your uniqueness; that you can really connect to. Make sure that the speeches are well contrasted and that show some range. Don’t offer material that is far too old for you and keep to your own gender! This may seem a rather dull note to give as there is so much gender-bending happening, particularly in the classical repertoire at the moment, but in a first round the audition panel is interested in seeing who you are. Make sure that you have read the play so you know the context in which the speech happens.
3. GET TO WORK
It’s important to recognise that getting the material to sit inside you, in your bloodstream, so that you can offer it confidently and with relaxed concentration, takes time. It’s not advisable to go in there and blag it, having learnt it the night before! You’ll just be extra-anxious and probably all the panel will see is you trying to remember the words. You have read the play, so ask yourself the following questions: Who am I? (and that includes what am I? ) Where is this taking place? When is it taking place? What has just happened to give me the need to speak? WHAT DO I WANT? Why do I want it? Who am I talking to and how do I want to change them? How do I get what I want (what varied tactics am I using?) What is my relationship in this scene to the other person (or the audience, if it’s direct address.) Make sure you know what it means and that you have researched any references if there are any. See how the speech begins, and how it ends. What has changed? Your first and last lines are crucial. The first line hooks us in and the last puts the “button” on the speech – the curtain line, if you like, and should leave us wanting more. Look and see where things change in the speech so that you can work with variation. Think of the speech as a dialogue in which the other person chooses not to speak. An interesting audition is one where the other person in created in our imaginations.
4. UNDERSTAND THE WORLD OF YOUR CLASSICAL SPEECH
Make sure that you know what it all means! Look up any obscure or tricky words – most editions of Shakespeare or Jacobean plays will have very useful footnotes and glossaries. Put the speech in your own words – this can be very helpful. All the questions above absolutely apply but now you are working with poetic, heightened text, so don’t be afraid to explore the images and the sensuous muscularity of the language. It helps to think that this is the way these people speak rather than thinking of it as something obscure and old-fashioned. The stories are wonderful and the actions huge so don’t be afraid to embrace them. What is the impulse to speak?
5. FIND CONFIDENCE WORKING ALONE
The audition panel want to see your work – not that of your drama teacher, or your director friend. A bit of help and support might be useful but try to take ownership of the material you have chosen. Don’t be afraid to try out different things till you start to feel secure and confident in your decisions.
6. DRESS THE PART
Come looking like you mean business. Clothes you can move in and shoes that you are comfortable in. Casual but not scruffy. Ladies – if you must wear makeup then just enough to make you feel ok about yourself. Gentlemen – ditto! No mad jewellery, nor t- shirts with look how funky I am slogans. You want the panel to remember you, not your earrings nor your I hate Donald Trump t-shirt (though of course, we do.)
7. BE PLEASED TO BE THERE
The audition panel want you to be good – they are not the firing squad –they are on your side. If they offer a handshake then give them a nice firm handshake. Get a sense of the space – often 1st rounds take place in quite small rooms. If you are doing this solo – just you and the panel then there might be a tiny bit of chat and then you’ll be asked what you’d like to do first. Know the order that you think will be most effective. If the speech is direct address then ask the panel if they would like you to use them, or if they would like you to imagine the “audience” just above their heads. Some people love to be included, some don’t. If the speech is to an imagined stage partner then it is not direct address and you should place them on a diagonal in the space but not in profile. If one of your choices is sitting then it would be helpful to make sure that your other speech is standing and moving in the space.
8. TAKE YOUR TIME
Practice going from one speech to another. How much time do you need to wipe the first one out and get into the mood for the second. Breathe! You should not take too long - find a way of turning out one light and switching on the other economically. Make sure that you are pitching it vocally for the space and make sure the panel can see you – which means not coming too close!
9. EXPECT TO WORK WITH OTHERS
It might be that you offer your speeches in a group, in front of other applicants. This is by no means a bad thing – sometimes there is safety in numbers and you can inspire one another. You might be able to use one of them as your stage partner.
10. EXPECT AN INTERVIEW
In first rounds there is not much time for chat but you might have a quick interview – this generally happens at the next stage or third stage, so be prepared to talk a little about yourself, about what has inspired you to pursue acting, why your material speaks to you and what you think you need from a drama school training. One school (no names) has been known to ask the auditionee to identify their particular strength and then to identify their weakness. This is not a bad thing to think about!
11. BE FLEXIBLE
If you get through to the next round then the chances are that there will be some re-direction of your pieces, so be prepared to take on new ideas and thoughts about them.
12. DON’T FIGHT FOR IT
Try to think about the audition as sharing some work with interested people, rather than competing or “auditioning” - it’s not the X Factor. This mind set is really helpful throughout one’s artistic life!
Good luck and hope to see you at my recall Audition Package workshops!
Annie Tyson is Acting Tutor at RADA and Drama Centre and runs regular audition workshops at The Mono Box