Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Drama Fool

It's a rare thing for a drama school graduate to not mention within the first 5 minutes of talking to them that, given the amount of places available for the number of applicants, it's twice as difficult to get into drama school than it is Oxbridge. It's a statistic you probably couldn't care less about and, to be fair, most actors aren't too bothered either but heck, it at least validates our lack of interest in GCSE Physics.

Step One...

But the application process for drama school is a tedious one. Given the level of competition, people probably think that landing a place is the first major hurdle but it's not. Hurdle one is finding the money to apply. Each drama school charges between £30-50 as a non-refundable fee just for the privilege of going (I'm sure some people are readying themselves to tell me that, 1) not all drama schools charge and, 2) it's to cover costs. Thanks.) And then there's the money to get to these places. Because the world revolves around London and it's important that you train within sniffing distance of a branch of Balans, most drama schools sit uneasily within our fair capital city. And unless you're one of those odd children who grew up near a tube station then, chances are, you're going to have to pay to get here.

Step Two...

So, you've scraped your pennies together by whatever way possible (I had a part-time job in a shop that sold lava lamps and dodgy piercings and I also stage-managed a production of Summer Holiday made up of a cast of 45 4-15 year olds...never again...) and you're off to London! Or Birmingham! Or Manchester! Or, heaven forbid, Exeter (sorry, Cygnets.) Well, no. Not yet. You need your monologues first. For most people, you make sure you've got your keys and your phone with you before leaving the house. But for actors, you must never walk out without your Shakespeare and your modern. NEVER. You never know when you might bump into Rufus Norris on the tube and everyone loves a bit of Bouncers on the District Line...

So you've first got to find yourself a couple of speeches. That's easy, right? Shakespeare is full of the bloody things and the fact that everyone's writing a play these days, speeches should be easier to come by than Pret. Wrong. Firstly, there's a list of speeches you should never do. I would list them here but basically they're basically anything a female says within any Shakespeare play.

"They're so overdone," people will say at you which is supposed to put you off doing them. That theory didn't stop Wet Wet Wet covering Yesterday so it shouldn't stop you.

This period of your life will be mainly summed up by you guarding the Drama section in Waterstones are you flick furiously through every play trying to find a speech that's suitable for someone with no life experience and wants to go to drama school. I spent most of that time wishing I was a middle-aged man.

Step Three...

Once you've sent off your application forms and fees, you should start racking up some auditions. Now, the auditions tend to fall into two categories:

The In-Out

Though delightful in some respects, these can be bloody difficult. One of my drama school auditions (no, I won't name the school) was an In-Out audition at its very finest. I arrived and due to the person before me not having turned up, I was instantly ushered into a dark theatre. I'd been travelling for nearly 3 hours, I'd had difficulty finding the school (this was in an age when you were considered fancy if your mobile had a colour screen) and I needed a wee. But there I was, straight onto a pitch black stage and unable to even see the faces of the audition panel. I offered out a "hello" not even sure if there was any out out there to receive it.

"Your first speech, please," a deep voice ordered.

I do my Shakespeare. The urgency of the wee making me trip over iambic pentameters.

"Go slower," I hear, just as I hit the final note of my speech, desperately trying to look like I'm still in the moment and not wondering whether I should stick to wine or spirits at my friend's birthday drinks that night.

I launch into it again, this time probably going slower than is entirely necessary and convincing myself that there really isn't a panel there at all but, instead, a tape on loop.

I'm then shoved through my modern speech by the faceless dictator and then, within 10 minutes of arriving, I'm leaving. £30 audition fee. £20 travel. £50 to not even be able to physically make eye contact with someone. Thank you very much.

But, of course, the opposite can be just as worse. It's quite something, while auditioning for a precious place with your dreams and career prospects hang on this one moment, to look up and see the panel actually wince by the time you hit the second note of your song. I defy anyone to stay in tune while it looks like your prospective head of year is struggling to keep their breakfast down.

The Passive Aggressive...

And then, of course, there is the group audition. I've written before in great detail on my dislike of group auditions: having to take hours out of your day to feign interest in a whole load of other actors where you have to try and look supportive while all trying to outdo each other. The greatest challenge as an actor is to try and assist your fellow actors in tedious drama games when really you want them to be as skilful as a drunk descending a flight of stairs.

There's a particular look an actor takes on when trying to look supportive and open to the increasingly ridiculous games being thrust upon them. Mine seems to manifest itself as a immovable look of wide-eyed wonderment. I'll know I've done it because my eyeballs start to ache on the tube journey home.

In the midst of games, improvisation exercises, singing in the bloody round and movement workshops where you have to pretend to have no inhibitions whatsoever, you'll blurt out your speech at some point. If you're lucky then you'll get to do it for just the panel. However, get unlucky and you'll find yourself doing your speeches in front of all the auditionees. Land yourself in this situation and your supportive face will go into overdrive while you listen to countless versions of Lady M and perfect the art of stifling yawns and stomach rumbles.

Step Four...

You've forked out your precious earnings, you've forced emotions upon more speeches than a politician and you've played so many games of Zip Zap Boing that you've developed tennis elbow. You've terrified yourself at just how many people you've met and how few places there are and you've wished you wanted to do something else with your life.

So you wait. And then you panic. Panic about what happens if you don't get in anywhere and panic if you do get in somewhere and then you're signed up for this. A life of Stuck In The Mud and supportive faces and being winced at.

Whatever the outcome is, you've just learnt your first few lessons in what a ridiculous, brilliant, soul-crushingly wonderful but awful profession you're trying to get into. Welcome.

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