Sunday, 9 December 2012

Getting in to Drama School --- It's All About Timing

by Emma Ralph

A LAMDA actor you've heard of
In my final year at school I am in between drama school auditions. When people think ‘actor’ they think Alan Rickman or Benedict Cumberbatch, people they’ve heard of. When they hear that someone they know wants to be ‘an actor’ it is quite possible that their mind will slip away from this possibility and an altogether different idea of ‘an actor’ is formed: someone chasing a dream similar to that of thousands, they’ll never quite make the big time but there will be some claim to fame. I want to take Hollywood back to its most basic form: how its actors began, the drama school, and what both the famous and the failures have in common – the audition and the humble monologue.

RADA
It is important to note that Alan Rickman attended RADA (notably a drama school well known for consistently reeling out successful actors) and Benedict Cumberbatch graduated LAMDA. Now as I turn up to the auditions in London I have something in common with them and 100,000 others, I shouldn’t feel so scared because everyone gets it. If I don’t get a recall then that’s me and 98,990 other people with me. I still am obviously petrified, RADA’s entrance opens up to a grand marble staircase leading round to pristine halls with portraits of ex-pupils and celebrities on the wall; suddenly it’s all rather intimidating. Choosing the monologue that I could bear to perform to this elite panel was a painstaking process, nothing I could think of was good enough or different enough to my other monologues or something that they wouldn’t have seen so often from other applicants. I eventually decided on a piece from an Anthony Minghella radio play called Cigarettes and Chocolate.

The play is about a woman named Gemma, who gives up speaking for Lent. The drama then evolves from the ways in which the people in her life react to her sudden silence. Of course, the longer her silence endures, the more the others run on and on, sometimes about utter trivialities, and sometimes about matters of profound importance. Frequently, indeed, triviality and profundity will be mixed in one breath. Gemma says nothing throughout the entire play apart from her final monologue at the very end, describing how "we often say much but speak little." the conversations the other characters have seeming arbitrary in some instances.

The dramatis personae can be divided into three groups: group one is Gemma; group two is her immediate social circle (boyfriend Rob, best friend Lorna, not-terribly-secret admirer Alistair and the eighteen-week- pregnant Gail), whose characters get the majority of the dialogue, as they babble amongst themselves about Gemma's decision; the final group of characters are the unusually named Sample and Conception, who, like Gemma, are effectively silent - acting as sounding boards for the four characters from the main group (unlike Gemma, their silence is taken entirely for granted). The dialogue (or, frequently, monologue) is sharp, but extremely naturalistic. People repeat themselves and run off at tangents in a distinctly human manner. The characters are entertaining, believable, and sympathetic (in, admittedly, sometimes idiosyncratic ways). Anthony Minghella endorses and amends Plato's rule: the one who feels does not speak, and the one who speaks does not feel.
 
In Cigarettes and Chocolate we watch Gemma, a young and successful woman, withdrawing into silence for Lent. Her silence is apparently provoked by the emptiness and futility of ordinary, verbal communication. She tries to recover the profound in listening continuously to Bach's Matthew Passion. But her silence also causes some remarkable outbursts from her friends, which, we are led to believe, would not have been possible otherwise. Gemma breaks her silence twice to address the audience and to explain the essentially Platonic reasons for her action. If we push further, deeper, we find a character- and a playwright- grappling with the greater questions of the nature of protest, the significance (or lack) of using your voice in a society whose volume is always up full blast, and the ways we fool ourselves into thinking that what we say has any relationship to what we mean.

It is very interesting and engaging and I loved it. I had no set way to perform it, though; I didn’t have specific positions to move to. I did have emotions I would draw on and the occasional gesture that I thought worked. I didn’t get into RADA but I had a successful audition, and that’s what my teacher, Mr McCrohon said makes a successful audition. He’s right because I’ll go to my second one and say things differently in my interview, correct mistakes that may have bugged me. I have a friend who graduated from RADA last year and when I asked him if he had any advice, I’d say his advice was pretty sound and blunt: “don’t cry in your monologue and try to keep calm when they take you into a room and tell you that you will fail as an actor” – Harry Kershaw. There is no set way to go about an audition, it’s not down to a tactical way of sending in your application or a specific routine you do in the morning, it’s just whether or not you’re right.

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