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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 cut it 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. Often I hear, ‘I don’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? Connect with the text and let it inspire a passionate performance. The panel will commend you for throwing yourself in. 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 – seek it out, 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

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Audition Panel

In April and May of 2018 I joined the panel at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire during the initial and recall auditions, and in January 2019 I became an official member of the panel.

It’s extremely rewarding being present at the start of an actor’s journey when they have bags of potential and their whole career ahead of them. But for the actors, auditioning for drama school can be a scary experience. Nerves are natural, they exist because we’re invested, passionate and hungry to do what we love. Let them energise your performance. You have (hopefully) done the hard work, now you just need to trust in yourself. Even after training and working in the industry I still get terribly nervous in a variety of situations. One thing to remember if you’re auditioning for drama school is that the panel needn’t be intimidating; we’re genuinely willing you to do well. What’s more, auditioning for drama school is expensive! Don’t forget to enjoy it.

You can check out my guide to auditioning for drama school here.

A Guide to Being an Actor Outside of London

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

 

What Are Drama Schools Looking For? With Lise Olson.

There’s no denying that getting into drama school can be an arduous affair. I often tell my students that there are a myriad of reasons why a school could ultimately decide not to offer them a place and many of those reasons may have absolutely nothing to do with ability. As true as this is, it still doesn’t quite numb the sting of getting rejected from somewhere you had your heart set on.

So what is it that a drama school is really looking for?

You don’t have to look very far to become overwhelmed by the plethora of contradictory information in circulation, which makes it very difficult to know who and what to listen to. I come across simple misconceptions and bad advice all the time and it never fails to surprise me. In an attempt to try and find some clarity, I reached out to acting coach and director Lise Olson.

Lise has been auditioning people internationally for UK drama schools for 17 years and currently leads the MA in Acting at the Birmingham School of Acting. She is the recipient of directing awards in both the US and UK, and her West End credits include The Witches of Eastwick, Coyote on a Fence and A View From The Bridge. Last year she directed the European Premiere of The Sins of Sor Juana for BSA.

I was very eager to get her opinion on some of the most common questions I receive.

Lise Olson

Lise Olson

What are you looking for in someone auditioning for drama school?

I would say that we are looking for someone with potential for training. This includes being available to new ideas and generosity to others (if there is any group work). Someone with an understanding of what they are saying in their speeches, not just reciting lines.

What are some common mistakes you see people make in auditions?

Trying too hard to ‘stand out’, making the audition about themselves rather than about the work they are doing, not trying hard enough to push themselves in something that they find difficult. Women not tying hair back for movement work or candidates not wearing appropriate clothing (if you have been told not to wear jeans, don’t wear jeans!). Choosing inappropriate audition material – if you are 18, don’t do King Lear. Don’t act to the side wall. Don’t hide – put your imaginary scene partner downstage. I personally don’t like people staring into my eyes when they are doing auditions. I need to be able to break away and take notes. I am not your scene partner! People on the panel have a job to do and you will be seen and assessed more clearly if you don’t ‘use’ us. Of course, this is a personal quibble. Some people don’t mind it.

What are you looking for in my monologue choices?

In the classical piece I am looking for understanding and making sense of the verse. Many classical monologues are written about the big moments and decisions in that character’s life. Let us know what the stakes are. Don’t just recite lines. Discover what that person wants and needs and use the monologue to share that with us. Figure out the problem. Contemporary monologues these days tend to be very televisual. That’s not a problem, as long as it’s not just showing us behaviour. I also (again, this is personal) don’t like speeches that use excessive bad language (learn the difference between some and excessive) or are about child abuse/rape victim trauma (male or female). You can show the same range with a piece about a close personal friend or family.

How important is being able to take direction?

Important. If you don’t open yourself up to new ideas, we will think that you’re inflexible and can only do one thing. I look for actors who are curious about exploration.

The Sins of Sor Juana

The Sins of Sor Juana – Directed by Lise Olson


What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone hoping to get in to drama school?

BE YOURSELF!!! We need to see who you are as a person. Are you going to fit in with others? Remember, you’re auditioning the school as much as you’re auditioning for a place. If you don’t like a vibe, it’s probably not the place for you. Don’t be seduced by shiny studios; you can train in lousy facilities and get great training. Talk to current students, they will be the best people to tell you about the school. You are giving up three years (or one in the case of a postgrad) to work on yourself. It’s a luxury few people get. Embrace it. Make the choice that is right for you. If you are all about me, me, me you won’t be happy in a place that fosters ensemble. Every school is different. Do your research, don’t just stress about ‘getting into drama school’.

What should I do if I don’t get in?

If you don’t get in, use your year well. Audition for anything and everything to get more experience, take a foundation course, take part-time classes to up your skills. Sign up for an extras agency and work as an extra on films to see how the industry works. See as much theatre as possible. If this is what you were meant to do, a rejection from drama school won’t stop you. There are many ways into the industry but those who have trained have a solid foundation to begin their work. Try again (choose different pieces!), and then again. If you haven’t got a place after three years of attempts, the universe is perhaps telling you that drama school may not be for you. BUT that doesn’t mean you need to stop acting. Find a home and a place where you can perform if that is your goal. Perfect your craft. Keep the joy!