We asked senior acting lecturer, Sinead Rushe, to answer some of your most pressing questions. Having taught on the Acting CDT course and been on the audition panel, Sinead has some golden advice for students.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE IN AN ONLINE AUDITION? (i.e slate etc)
Check guidelines carefully as each school will have its own instructions. If in doubt and there are no instructions (unlikely) say: I am (your name) and I am doing Ophelia in Hamlet, Act 3, sc,2. Keep it short and precise.
WHAT TYPE OF PEOPLE ARE YOU LOOKING FOR ON THE COURSE?
On CDT, people who are open to training, open to learning, curious about theatre-making as well as acting and passionate about performance and art and creative collaboration.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR WITH THE CLASSICAL SPEECH?
Understanding of the situation, who you are talking to and what you are saying. Connection to the character. We don’t expect you to be experts in Shakespeare, we do expect you to have done all you can to understand it and the play at large so you can explore it in an audition.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR WHEN AUDITIONING?
On CDT, someone who is open, listening, who has the capacity to immerse in a concentrated task without self-consciousness, and who can respond to direction and switch out of their learnt patterns. Someone who can play.
DOES ‘AGE’ IN TRAINING MATTER? IS THERE A TOO YOUNG/TOO OLD?
Sometimes we suggest someone audition in a year or two because we feel they are too young and would benefit from more life experience. On CDT we try to be clear about that with a candidate. Coming straight from school can be tricky because there is a level of independent learning required that can be a shock when you have had no other experience other than school. On CDT we don’t generally think there is a ‘too old’ but people must be aware if they are auditioning in their 30s or 40s the industry is sometimes resistant to sign or employ someone older without much experience. I don’t necessarily think that that is a reason not to train, though, just candidates need to be aware. Older candidates need to prepare themselves also for the kind of environment where they will be working with much younger colleagues and that even if they have had experience before coming to drama school they will be expected to have a beginner’s mind during the training. That can be challenging.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN THE APPLICATION? IS A PERSONAL STATEMENT AS IMPORTANT FOR CONSERVATOIRE APPLICATIONS AS IT IS FOR UNIVERSITIES? AND IF SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU TRY TO GET ACROSS IN THIS STATEMENT?
It is not as important as universities no, as the audition and workshop are the main things, but I will read the statement if hesitating between candidates and unsure. The important thing is to be honest, clear, concrete and have something to say, a point of view about why you are interested in theatre and what kind of theatre you are interested in. This needs to be genuine and authentic. If someone comes to us in interview and they can’t say what kind of theatre they like or which practitioners or what kind of show they’d like to make or about what, I am suspicious. Theatre is a vocation. You need to be interested in the art form and in life itself.
DOES WHAT DRAMA SCHOOL YOU GO TO AFFECT YOUR CHANCES OF ‘MAKING IT BIG’?
No, not at all. There are many examples of success from all walks of life.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON MISTAKES MADE IN AUDITIONS AND HOW CAN WE AVOID THEM?
Avoid characters that are much much older than you, avoid trying to seduce/impress the panel with a scene choice that is really outrageous. I am looking for connection to the character and the text and honesty. Make sure you read and know the play. Never ever ad lib or paraphrase the text (the panel knows their Shakespeare and we expect you to get the words right). Make sure you know the text INSIDE OUT so you can repeat it at top speed without thinking about it. With nerves on the day, the lines often go, and it knocks your confidence above all. We don’t mind someone forgetting their lines because they have been given a change of direction and it throws them a little; we do mind someone not knowing their lines because they haven’t prepared well enough.
HOW CAN YOU STAND OUT AT AN AUDITION?
Choose pieces you love and connect with, and try to really listen to any directions you are given and follow them with a sense of play and open-ness. Don’t hold back. Be on the front foot. We need to feel your desire and hunger for this profession which is one of the toughest and most competitive of them all. We can train you but we can’t give you the desire or passion.
HOW LONG AFTER APPLYING DOES IT TAKE TO HEAR BACK?
It can be months but check with each school.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO MY AUDITION?
Come ready to move, and play and work. Simple, clear clothing that is not distracting and which you are comfortable working in. Avoid jewellery and hair in your eyes and heavy make-up. Avoid low cut tops or clothes that are too tight. Think of it as a rehearsal.
HOW LONG BEFORE YOU KNOW YOU’RE RECALLING SOMEONE? IF I MESS UP AT THE BEGINNING CAN I WIN IT BACK?
I notice within the first five minutes who is awake, alert, attentive, concentrating, on the front foot, keen, open.
You can always always get it back if you continue to work, listen, immerse, try again, respond differently, be prepared to do something different. It’s never over until it’s over. Never give up in there.
WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR SPEECHES? SHALL WE CHOOSE ONES THAT HAVENT BEEN DONE TO DEATH?
Not necessarily. Choose something you love, and connect to and do all you can to imagine yourself in that character’s shoes.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE FROM THE SPEECHES? DOES PLAYING AGE MATTER?
To me, playing age or gender doesn’t matter too much unless it is very distracting. I want to see contrasting pieces ideally but that can be funny/sad for example or sensitive character/rough character, but understanding of the situation, who you are talking to and what you are saying and connection to the character is the most important. I am looking at some point in the audition to see if I can believe you are this person, really in this situation and saying those words as your own.
I HAVENT HAD MUCH EXPERIENCE DOES THAT MATTER?
No, not at all.
BEFORE LOCKDOWN I WASNT ABLE TO SEE MUCH THEATRE, DOES THIS MATTER?
I think you need to demonstrate that you are passionate about theatre and performance and that you are reading plays and seeing all that you can online -- there is lots of free stuff, there are art films available online for free and high quality tv series and films. You must be interested in the craft you are embarking upon as it is a very demanding path.
IS IT OK FOR ME TO ALREADY HAVE A DEGREE FROM ELSEWHERE AND THEN COME TO TRAINING?
Yes, great, I consider that a plus.
IS IT BETTER TO TRAIN AT A DRAMA SCHOOL THAN A UNIVERSITY?
Yes because it is a full time vocational training that is entirely practical. It is much harder work, of course and much longer hours.
I CAN’T AFFORD TO APPLY FOR LOTS OF SCHOOLS AT ONCE, WILL THAT HINDER MY CHANCES?
No, choose the ones that appeal. Do your homework, talk to graduates, read the websites, watch the promo videos, find out all you can.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR CALMING AUDITION NERVES?
Before entering the room, allow yourself private, quiet time to clear your mind and find some ease. Focus on your breathing in your belly. Slow it down. Avoid unnecessary chit chat with other people. Keep your focus. Before you begin your speeches, take a few moments of silence to gather yourself. Try to just do what the panelists ask, rather than trying to think what we might be looking for. Take the attitude that it is a rehearsal and you are here to explore, learn, discover. Try to remind yourself that we want you to do well; imagine that someone you love is on the panel and thinks you are brilliant! Remember that even if they don’t appear so, every auditionee is nervous. Put your attention on who you are talking to/watching/the exercise you are doing rather than on yourself.
DO YOU THINK ABILITIES WILL BE COMPROMISED WITH ONLINE AUDITIONS?
I think some things will be lost, but some things will be gained and we must all take an attitude of resilience to this time. It is what it is, and artists are made to respond to their times!