Posts

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, especially, the moments leading up to your monologue. A character doesn’t usually know what they’re going to say, they discover it in the moment, and every nuance is a response defined by a (fictional) lifetime of three-dimensional backstory.

Connection (Who are you speaking to?)

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. Know who you’re speaking to and why. This doesn’t change if you’re addressing the 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 are 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 to 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

 

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

A Guide to Being an Actor Outside of London by Katie Burchett

There’s a general consensus that London isn’t just the capital of the UK, but that it’s also the capital of business, fashion and (hold your horses because this is where it becomes relevant) the arts. One of the biggest questions for anyone outside of the city who wants to act is this: Do I need to be in London?

I trained as an actor at the Birmingham School of Acting and moved to London after graduating. I moved out of it in 2016 determined to prove to myself that being there isn’t the be all and end all. Whatever any Southerner tries to tell you, the world still turns beyond the Watford Gap and opportunity can be found if you know where to look. No two people’s paths will be the same, but I’ve put together a survival guide for making it work as an actor outside of London.

Competitions and festivals

14/48 Festival

14/48 is ‘the world’s quickest theatre festival’ and quite frankly the most fun I’ve ever had as an actor. Seven writers, seven directors and twenty-five actors put on fourteen plays in 48 hours. The festival is held twice a year in Leicester and Wolverhampton (and Seattle, if your commitment to not being near London is that strong). 14/48 is a wonderful opportunity to network, challenge yourself and marvel at how creativity can thrive on very little sleep! For more information on 14/48, follow: http://1448uk.com/

Monologue Slam

Most people will have heard of Monologue Slam. Run by the TriForce Creative Network, Monologue Slam describes itself as ‘THE industry showcase for actors from all backgrounds and profiles.’ If you’ve never heard of it, http://monologueslamuk.com should tell you all you need to know, but, in a nutshell, actors go head to head with their monologues whilst being judged by industry professionals. Auditions and Slams are held in Manchester, Birmingham, Luton, Leeds and Leicester and are completely free. They also hold occasional masterclasses which aren’t free to attend but do offer an excellent opportunity to work with some top coaches.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Arguably the most famous arts festival of the year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs for three weeks every August and quite literally has something for everyone. The Fringe is an open access performing arts festival, which means that anyone can apply to perform, and the festival has been the springboard for some of the biggest names in the industry today. If you can get the sufficient funding, (and various other requirements, all of which are detailed here: https://www.edfringe.com/take-part), the Edinburgh Fringe is the perfect opportunity to showcase your work to a humble crowd of 2.3 million (based on tickets sold in 2015 for the festival in its entirety).

Theatres

Email. Email until you’re sick of the sight of your own name and you know your spotlight pin better than you know your mobile number. There are so very many fantastic theatres and theatre companies outside of London. To name a few in no particular order:

  • Royal and Derngate, Northampton
  • The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
  • The Worcester Rep, Worcester
  • Birmingham Rep, Birmingham
  • Curve Theatre, Leicester
  • Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
  • Tread the Boards Theatre Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
  • Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
  • The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
  • Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
  • The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Hull Truck Theatre, Hull

Some will cast primarily through Spotlight, others have in-house casting directors, some have their own acting company and some even post casting breakdowns on their websites. If a particular venue doesn’t specify their casting process, find a contact and get in touch anyway.

TV

It’s refreshing to know that some of the biggest television and radio companies have studios situated outside of London, or are at least based in London but commission to multiple UK regions. Channel 4 film Hollyoaks in Liverpool, Emmerdale is made in Yorkshire, the BBC’s Doctors films in Birmingham and Manchester is home to ITV’s Coronation Street and, if it’s tenuous domestic advice you’re seeking, The Jeremy Kyle Show. BBC radio can also be found in the centre of Birmingham and ITV has a production office in Leeds. It’s nice to think that if you got a job at one of these places you’d be the one popping down the road to work while the Londoners make the commute for a change.

Training

Classes and workshops

With the Actors’ Centre and Spotlight being primarily based in London, keeping up your skills if you’ve moved away might seem difficult. The Actors’ Lab is based in Manchester and runs a variety of workshops, focussing on elements including screen acting, TV casting, accents, voice and classical text. Their tutors are made up of TV and theatre directors, actors and casting directors and as well as running classes in Liverpool, Manchester and Chester, the Actors’ Lab also offers qualification courses.

Drama school

If you’re reading this as someone who’s considering acting training, don’t limit yourself by just looking at places in London, as you’re spoilt for choice in terms of drama schools elsewhere too.  As someone that trained at the Birmingham School of Acting, I can safely say that I never once felt that my acting training was anything less than of an extremely high calibre. Amongst others, BSA (or the Birmingham Conservatoire as it’s now known), Bristol Old Vic, LIPA, Royal Welsh and the Scottish Conservatoire all rank highly in the drama school league tables. One of the most beneficial things about training outside of London was having two third year showcases, one in Birmingham and one in London, allowing double the opportunity to be seen by agents and casting directors. Royal Welsh and Bristol Old Vic are also schools that give their students two showcases.

Social Media

Disclaimer: This section doesn’t include Snapchat or Tinder. For all its flaws, social media really and truly is a valuable tool. There are groups on Facebook dedicated solely to actors and performers in certain parts of the country. Groups like ‘Midlands Actors and Extras’ and ‘The Actors’ Guild, North West’ amongst others are a mixture of casting calls, contacts and opportunities, as well as being great platforms to promote your own work. Of course, not every post is going to be useful for you, but I know plenty of people who’ve obtained showreel material from short films they’ve applied for through one of these groups.

Final thoughts

Having said all of that, don’t close your mind to London. Some of the regional theatres I’ve mentioned, despite their location, hold their auditions in London, so your career will invariably take you there from time to time. London is the hub of the industry and, undeniably, is where a lot of the action happens. However, for those looking to enjoy the rest of the country whilst following their acting ambitions (and let’s face it, save some money!), I hope that this guide has given you a bit more confidence to do it. Being an actor outside of London is more than possible.

By Katie Burchett

 

MA Acting at the Birmingham School of Acting Training Outside of London

At the beginning of March I interviewed acting coach and director Lise Olson for my article ‘What are Drama Schools Looking For?’ (If you haven’t read it yet you can find it here!)

I received some wonderful feedback from people currently auditioning for drama school and several were interested to find out more about the MA course at the Birmingham School of Acting, of which Lise is the course director.

For anyone considering an MA in Acting, I cannot recommend the Birmingham School of Acting highly enough. Having completed the BA Acting course at BSA, people often ask me ‘What was the training like?’ Well, as far as I can tell it’s like the training at all the other leading drama schools. Most actors I meet seem to have undergone something very similar to me. Yet amongst aspiring performers, the old-fashioned idea that London is the only place to become an actor continues to persevere. When interviewing Andrei Costin (BSA alumni, The Kite Runner, West End) for another article, he told me he didn’t know what the training at other drama schools was like but the lifestyle in London is certainly more expensive.

There are several great schools outside of London and BSA is one of them. The teachers that work there are amongst some of the best and most brilliant people I’ve met in the industry so far. My advice: you won’t know if somewhere is right for you until you go there. When it comes to picking where to audition, don’t limit yourself;  getting into drama school is difficult enough already.

MA Acting at BSA

BSA is currently accepting applications for its MA Acting course starting September 2017. If you want to find out any more information visit their website here: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/acting

Next month I have tickets to see Henry V at the Attic Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, and its cast includes Joanne Amaral and Dru Stephenson – BSA alumni from the MA course. I reached out to both to get their opinion on the training they received.

“Training at BSA was a thrilling and rewarding experience. The course is very complete and industry focused so you know exactly what to do when you complete your training. As a foreign actress, I was accepted in other Drama UK accredited schools but all of them wanted to label me as an ‘outsider’, suggesting me to their MA International courses or trying to persuade me to do a longer MA degree. At BSA I felt none of that. I was welcomed and respected and taught to play my strengths and particularities. Definitely a great place to grow as an artist and as a human being.”

Joanne AmaralBSA Alumni, MA Acting

“The BSA MA course was one of the most challenging and exhausting years of my life. But it taught me so much, mainly about myself, and it gave me the confidence to pursue acting with renewed self-belief and a whole heap of resources to draw upon.”

Dru StephensonBSA Alumni, MA Acting
The Marriage of Bette and Boo - BSA MA Acting

The Marriage of Bette and Boo – BSA MA Acting