A Modern Guide to Auditioning for Drama School

When I auditioned for drama school I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Retrospectively, I can identify the choices I made that led to me being accepted, however, I can’t quite remember which of those choices were intentional, instinctual, or just good luck. Since then I’ve spent many years working as an actor, director and coach, and now have experience on both sides of the panel. What I’ve realised is that there are many variables when considering an applicant for drama school (some of them you can control and others you can’t), but there are far fewer reasons for rejection. Here are some of what I consider to be the most important aspects of an audition that the panel are looking for.

Differentiation

Most applicants are aware that it’s important to choose two contrasting pieces when selecting a classical and contemporary monologue for auditions, but what does that actually mean? Selecting two different genres – a tragic Shakespeare and comedic contemporary for example – doesn’t quite cut the mustard if you then play yourself in both roles. Your pieces need to demonstrate two very different characters, offering the panel two sides to you as an actor. Whether it’s a shift in power, status, temperament, energy, physicality or all of the above, the difference between your characters should go beyond the genres of the pieces and be clearly discernible. Often I see actors presenting two similar versions of themselves, regardless of what the roles demand. To quote Andrew Potter (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire acting tutor and director): ‘It’s your job to move you to the character. Don’t pull the character to you.’

Given Circumstances

In order to fully understand the context surrounding your pieces you need to question everything. Why are you saying these words? Where have you come from? What’s just happened? Who’s in the room? What’s your relationship to the other person? Where are you? Every detail that there is to unpick, unpick it. Read the whole play and understand everything you can about what led your character to this moment. A character doesn’t usually know what they’re going to say, they discover it in the moment, and each new decision is the result of a (fictional) lifetime of three-dimensional backstory clashing with current events. Thoroughly understanding the given circumstances will allow you to make informed choices about your delivery.

Connection

A monologue is still a dialogue. Acting isn’t often about you, it’s usually about the person opposite you, and that shouldn’t change just because that person happens to be imaginary. In some ways it gives you more freedom; being able to control their reactions within your imagination and respond as you will. Connecting with the other character in the scene is vital. Every line you deliver should affect them and prompt (imagined) responses, which you, in turn, must respond to. Not only does this give your performance life and purpose, but it also demonstrates the power of your imagination – one of the actor’s greatest and most necessary tools. This doesn’t change if you’re adressing a Shakespearean audience, the same principle applies.

Stakes

The panel wants to be excited. I frequently work with actors who play it safe and undermine the true stakes of the piece. One of the most common excuses I hear is ‘I didn’t want to overact’. Most of the time, in my experience, an actor that is afraid of overacting is probably not acting at all, but simply reciting lines. Ask yourself, what has this character got to lose? The panel will commend you for throwing yourself into a performance, they want to see your passion. One caveat to this is to make sure you don’t wash out the detail from your speech. They want to see that your heart’s in it but playing anger from start to finish or crying through every line won’t get you very far. The specificity and variety in your performance is just as important – find it, consider the stakes and commit to your choices wholeheartedly.

Personality

Last but not least…How you come across in an audition does have an effect on the panel’s decision. They want to know if you’re suited to the programme, whether you’ll fit in with the other students and if you have a natural spark about you. The best advice I can give is be yourself. Don’t try and show them what you think they’re looking for…you don’t know what they’re looking for. Despite nerves, take a deep breath and just be you.

By Kieran Vyas

 

Acting Notes from Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster

As well as being the artistic director of Leicester’s Curve, Nikolai Foster has directed countless acclaimed productions at leading theatres all over the UK. Born in Copenhagen and raised in North Yorkshire, he went on to train at Drama Centre, London and the Crucible in Sheffield. It was in 2015 that Nikolai took on his current position at Curve Theatre where he’s directed productions such as ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Grease’.

With Leicester being my hometown, I was eager to chat with the man behind the curtain of so many powerhouse productions. I asked Nikolai whether he’d share a few notes from the rehearsal room and give me an insight into his work. He kindly agreed to answer my questions. Here’s what he said:

 

What is the most common note you give to actors?

Increasingly, the note that I am finding myself giving more and more to actors is about diction and volume. I think often people confuse being real, trying to achieve a contemporary feel or being cool with being inaudible. As a theatre which celebrates the English language and produces plays written in that language (whether it’s Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde or Joe Orton) and even though sometimes these plays require actors to be intimate or to be very detailed and finite, we also need to hear everything that the actor is saying. This is regardless of whether they are performing in our 900 seat theatre, 300 seat studio or our rehearsal rooms. If you can’t hear every single word then the actor is not able to communicate action, emotion or what they’re objectively playing. Although you can still be detailed and real, it is important for the actors to be heard and to feel empowered through language.

 

What makes an actor good to work with?

The principal quality that makes an actor good to work with is an active imagination. I think that is always the thing I am interested in when an actor comes into an audition or comes to a meeting to discuss a play: having an imaginative response to the world of the play, the period in which it is written in, the character and how they exist in that world is vital. You may have all of the acting tricks and vocal acrobatics in the world but if you can’t imaginatively inhabit that world then it’s not going to be stimulating or engaging for the audience. Having imagination, being collaborative and hard-working in the space; and being somebody who has an open, can-do attitude is so important.  I think some actors’ default setting is to think the Director is trying to wrong-foot them or steer them in a way that is intuitively against where they want to go. Whenever I am working with people, I always want to get the best out of them so if I am suggesting something that is too complex for them or that they don’t feel is right, that’s fine, because collaboration is key.

 

Do you have any rehearsal room rules?

I think any Director or creative person (whether a Producer, Designer or Director) who says “these are my rules” is misunderstanding their role in the arts ecology. Our job is to break down boundaries and ensure that thought and imagination can flow. Of course we need a stable working environment where we feel secure and where we can play, take risks and be vulnerable but I don’t think rules or boundaries are very helpful. Of course there are the unspoken rules such as turn your phone off and don’t talk when someone else is speaking but these aren’t rules specific to theatre, these are rules specific to life, good grace and politeness.

 

What holds an actor back?

I think fear is often the thing that holds all of us back. There are a lot of things that actors do intuitively and with ease; sometimes when they’re asked by a Playwright or Director to push beyond what comes naturally and easily to them, it can be a scary point. When you push beyond that, you can often find great things which are really beautiful and electrifying; and that you never knew you could do. You have to push beyond that fear and put yourself in a very vulnerable place before you come out the other end and feel secure with something new that you had never realised you had the capacity to do.

 

Some of your previous shows such as ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Grease’ have featured colour-blind casting. For me, this is refreshing and inspiring to see. What motivates you to transcend the traditional casting of productions such as these?

I wouldn’t want us to be known for colour-blind casting. Without being glib, I have always had the belief that theatre should reflect the world around us, the society or the communities we are making that theatre for and therefore it is just natural. It’s something we don’t really think about here, we just cast the best actors and ensure those coming into the audition room are reflective of the world we live in. Therefore, if you are having a casting process which has a broad range of actors from different cultural backgrounds then you are going to have actors in leading roles that are not considered the traditional casting and that is just what we do. It’s not really a choice; it’s just being alive and being in the contemporary world.

 

Headshot Hunter’s Guide to Headshots by Philip Duguid-McQuillan (founder of Headshot Hunters)

As an actor and agent, I know how essential it is to have a good headshot. When I started my search as a young aspiring actor to get my own headshots done, it was a big financial investment I was anxious to get right. I knew good headshots would be vital to get auditions and, ultimately, paid work.

It was difficult to choose a photographer who would suit me and give me the best results from the sea of professional photographers out there. It was extremely time-consuming trawling through photographer listings, then visiting their individual websites to find out what they offered. Photographers emphasised different aspects of their services so comparison was really tricky. All my drama school peers were experiencing the same problems.

My ideal would have been to have the details of all photographers on one website, but that didn’t exist, so I decided to develop a website service myself, and Headshot Hunter is the result!

 

Headshot Hunter

Headshot Hunter is a photographer search, comparison and review website that holds the details of around 70 headshot photographers from all over the UK. The website allows you to search for and compare photographers’ packages. You can refine your search and Headshot Hunter will identify photographers that fit your requirements in areas such as budget, location, style and turnaround time. You can also browse headshots for photographs that you like or feel would match your own style and create a shortlist, identifying suitable photographers.

There is plenty of advice on the website about what makes a good headshot and the factors you need to consider when deciding which photographer best suits your needs. Here is my guide to help you get started.

 

What style of photograph do you want?

Style is the most important aspect – if you like the photographer’s style of headshot, you are more likely to be happy with the end result from that photographer. Remember, you may have to live with it for several years.  The style needs to reflect the sort of castings you are looking for, eg classical theatre, aspirational commercial, urban, gritty TV etc.

Studio or natural lighting? Indoor or outdoor?

It really depends on your preferred style, there is no rule. I would say outside and the use of natural light can be more urban or natural, and studio is generally more dramatic or theatrical.

How much time do I need?

Frankly, the more time the better, especially if it’s your first time. You need at least one hour, but if you’re after a range of looks, you should be looking at at least one to two hours. If you’re comfortable with the photographer already or are only looking for one particular shot then less time is obviously fine.

What do professional headshots cost?

Prices range from £50 to £580. £150 is about standard price, for anything over £300 you are usually paying for the photographer’s reputation, which can be a good thing. Price does not necessarily mean quality or results, but if you find a photographer that you think can give you the results you need, then it may well be worth the money in the long run.

How should I prepare for a session?

Firstly, decide how you want your headshots to represent you – remember they are a marketing tool. Try to arrive with an idea of what you want from the session: what roles do you usually go up for? What roles do you want to go up for? If you already have headshots, do they need completely updating or do you just need a few new looks?  The more preparation you do the easier it will be.

Secondly, make sure you are physically and mentally ready for the shoot. Drink plenty of water the week prior to the shoot and don’t go out drinking the night before or this will show in your photos! It is helpful for the photographer to see any of your previous headshots. If you have any general headshots that you like, they can also be a good reference for the photographer. Go in prepared then just relax and enjoy the session. Any little blemishes on the day can be edited out so no need to panic!

What should I wear?

There are no set rules, but remember to wear something you feel good in and relaxed in. Being comfortable will show through in your photos. However, if you stuff your shirts in a bag they will look like they were stuffed in a bag for the shoot! Take a few tops. Generally, darker, solid colours tend to work best. Avoid bold patterns and logos as they are distracting. Bring a few options, with varied necklines, but not too wide or low, allowing the top to frame your face. If you wear glasses, bring them, although sometimes they can distract away from your eyes, so take contact lenses as well if you have them. Try to avoid accessories such as necklaces and earrings, they will take the focus away from your face.

What about hair and makeup?

Less is more. It’s always easier for people to imagine you with more makeup on, not so easy to imagine you with less. Unique features are what make you stand out and make others sit up and take notice so don’t hide those freckles or scars!

Wear your hair how you normally would, but do experiment with a few different styles before your shoot. For women, it’s always worth trying a few looks with your hair up, as it can affect your age range and can look very ‘period’ or ‘classical’. Don’t cut your hair the day before your shoot! Give your hair a few days to relax after a cut. Think about what your hairstyle says about you, your image and, ultimately, your casting. You want to look like you will when you turn up to the audition!

Black and white or colour?

Most agents and casting directors will want to see colour headshots as close to what you look like as possible. Very rarely, a black & white headshot may work for a very particular casting but colour headshots are now the norm and to not have them will go against you. If the photographer is shooting using a digital camera, then you should be able to have both at no extra cost, as turning an image to black and white is literally a click of a button. Saying this, if you do require black and white shots, many photographers can spend a lot of time converting images into black & white to give them the same quality of shooting with film.  Check this with the photographer first, it does make a difference.

How many headshots do I need?

You need one ‘main shot’: this is your best shot that should be engaging and says a bit of everything. However, it is worth having a couple of others to show your acting range. On your online actor profile, such as Spotlight, you can have around five or six different shots. Any more than this is too many.

Do I need prints?

Prints are very rarely used as part of the casting process anymore, so you don’t need them to be included in the package. A photographer is likely to set a higher fee if they are included. You can get prints as and when you need them from reproduction companies.

How should I put my portfolio together?

Whether looking at your contact sheet (often up to 200 shots) or looking at a selection of final touched images, don’t be afraid to ask for people’s opinions. They will help you get perspective as it is difficult to view your own shots objectively. Saying this, they are your headshots, you have

to live with them, so make sure you pick the shots that you are happy with. Unless, of course, your agent picks them for you, in which case, as long as you are happy with your agent, your work is done until the next time they need updating.

Choosing shots

You probably only need six or so photos to cover your range. More than that and they may be too similar. Two or three different shots are fine. Remember, a range is a subtle difference in look, not the same look in different tops. A mid-shot (ie from the waist up) is often a useful addition. One or two production stills, if they are good and interesting, can add to the mix nicely. In America it’s standard to have a full body shot which makes sense but that hasn’t kicked off here yet.

There is no exact science in choosing a headshot photographer, nor is there a formula for creating a killer headshot. It is an incredibly subjective process. Different photographers work in different ways and process different styles; what will work for some will not work for others. You can argue about what is in fashion, but a great headshot should always look like you when you walk through the audition room door and show you in your best light. You on a good day. Honest & Engaging. My hope is that www.headshothunter.co.uk will help all performers simplify the process of finding the right photographer for them and achieving great headshots.

 

Headshot Hunter User guide 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEqCi6XOkB0

Headshot Hunter

Acting Classes in Leicester for 16-21s

WHEN: WEDNESDAYS, 7-9pm

WHERE: QUAD STUDIOS, 

78 FRIDAY STREET, LEICESTER, LE1 3BW

AGE: 16-21

PRICE: £40 p/m

APPLY: kieran@urbanyoungactors.com

WEEKLY ACTING WORKSHOPS

Urban Young actors are opening a brand new class in Leicester for 16-21s. These weekly acting workshops will be led by me and focus on acting technique. Over the year we will work on multiple projects; previously Urban have worked on plays, films, devised theatre, variety performances and many other productions.

WHO ARE URBAN YOUNG ACTORS?

Urban Young Actors is a leading specialist drama group in Leicester. We have been running workshops for over 9 years, catering for young actors aged 8-21. Many of our members have enjoyed success in various projects including feature films, award winning short films, plays, TV shows and voice-overs, as well as going on to being accepted at some of the top drama schools in the UK.

Urban also operates as a casting agency and puts its members forward for any casting opportunities that arise.

http://www.urbanyoungactors.com/

Wednesday Acting Workshops

Wednesday Acting Workshops