With more than 30 years of experience as an acting tutor and theatre director, Ken shares his audition tips for both drama school applicants and working actors.
Statistically, as an actor you'll be facing more rejections than acceptances. That's very much the case in the profession and especially when it comes to getting into a good drama school. Let's take drama schools first.
Every year, around the world, thousands of people audition to get into a drama school or an actor-training programme. In Britain, where I work, 10,000 people each year audition to get into a British drama school. Of that 10,000, maybe a few thousand will get through to the second round and of those, several hundred will get through to the third round. And of those...
So, what does it take to succeed and get through to that last round, or indeed to win a place in the drama school of your choice? Over the years I've auditioned thousands of young actors for a place at Guildhall in London. And as a theatre director I've auditioned many many actors for my productions. So I'm going to give you a series of tips that will help you. These are my personal views and not necessarily the views of fellow directors, or my audition panel colleagues. But feel free to pass them on if you know anyone who might be auditioning.
For those of you who are working in profession already, they also apply to you when you're auditioning for a play or a film or a TV series. Even if you're very experienced as an actor, these tips will serve as a checklist to remind you of what you may have forgotten.
There are lots of things you can do to relax, but I'll give you just two...
First, arrive early. Travelling about in a big city can be stressful because public transport is sometimes unpredictable. And if you arrive at the audition with 30 seconds to spare, you're going to be flustered. Your mind won't function well. You'll feel distracted and you won't be able to listen properly. So, allow plenty of contingency time so that you can focus your mind and be present. Also, check the address well in advance – have it and the phone number with you on the way to the audition. And bring water.
The other point is to breathe. Before you go into the audition itself, concentrate on your breathing and try to get it under control. Long, slow breaths using the diaphragm – that's one of the most effective ways to relax quickly. As one of my students said recently, 'The more I breathe, the happier and more confident I am.'
Your instinct will often be to do something flashy with the text – something that will make you look different and memorable. For example, being very loud, or intense or physically dangerous. This will almost always lead to 'pushing' – where you force the energy and emotion through tension rather than relaxation. The voice becomes harsh and the body becomes stiff and awkward. This usually has the effect of pushing the director or the audition panel away rather than drawing us in.
And why should that happen? Why is it so easy to end up pushing? Well naturally you're under pressure to stand out. So it's very easy to end up hijacking the monologue to show all your tricks in the space of two minutes. That's not what the director or the audition panel are looking for. They just want to know what you are really like and how you can bring a text to life with your imagination.
So in your preparation, go back to find the accuracy of the text. Be absolutely specific. Why do you say this particular word, or that particular phrase? Trust the text and it will do a lot of the work for you.
In auditions, what I personally look for in an actor is the quality of their imagination. It’s one of the traits of all great actors.
What I mean by imagination is your ability to inhabit the character and within that, to make your acting choices fresh and creative. But those choices must of course always look truthful.
The best actors in an audition find spontaneity – being completely present in the moment and allowing themselves to discover the speech as if for the first time. Through that, they make it theirs.