How to: Audition for Drama School - Part 2
Following on from last week's How to: Audition for Drama School, Domenique Fragale spoke to Head of Acting at Arts Ed, Gareth Farr, on being on the other side of the audition panel. Gareth is an award-winning playwright and actor, whose credits include The Royal Court, The RSC, The Young Vic, BBC and Channel 4.
Is there a criteria you want to ‘check off’ when auditioning potential students?
I wouldn’t say a 'checklist' but I personally look for an understanding of character. I’m definitely not looking for a finished product. I’m not looking for someone who could be out there working straight away. I look for people who are exciting and who would fit our contemporary, and industry-relevant training. I want to see someone who has clearly worked hard, thinking about the world of the character and the situation that the character is in at that moment. I find it difficult when someone just reads their lines and hasn’t delved in deep. Someone speaks a speech or exchanges words with someone else because they cannot hold it in; it’s vital to them, and if there is a sense and a moment of that in an audition piece then I am immediately interested. I want to feel like they’re talking because they need to, not because they have to. I don’t want to see an element of the actor involved. I look for connection to the moment. If I see that, then I’m hooked.
Are hobbies and interests outside of acting appealing to you?
It's not a deal breaker, but I think the ability to come across well and relaxed in an interview environment is a beneficial quality for a performer. It makes for a well-rounded, positive human being – exactly someone we look for in our training. What we’re about at Arts Ed is the creative potential of an individual, not a brand of actor. It is about you the creative person, so if someone shows sides of them other than ‘I want to be an actor’; I want to know who you are and your interesting personalities.
What path led you to where you are now - a playwright, actor and teacher?
I wanted to tell stories. For any working or non-working actor, just starting out or working for years, we all have one thing in common: that love and fascination of stories. I was a writer first, and then took some advice that I should say the words that I was trying to write. I was lucky and worked a lot, but acting wasn't ever my sole passion. I love being in a room with creative individuals, and what better way to spend time with like-minded people than teaching. I started working as a teacher after working professionally at The RSC, The Royal Court and The Young Vic, and after twelve years I felt like I had enough in my experience to be able to pass something on. I had the opportunity to work in several great schools, but ArtsEd was the place where I thought that if I could go back and do my training again, I would love to be able to go to ArtsEd. Not to discredit other drama schools at all, but ArtsEd focuses on aspects I didn’t receive when I went to drama school, especially the offering of TV and film training.
On graduates in today's industry:
In some ways it is getting harder and harder, and in other ways it is getting easier and easier. Social media is certainly a tool I didn’t have when I started but it is a vital tool to stay engaged to who’s saying what, and who is doing what, in whatever city you are living in. There are always opportunities out there – you just have to look for them. You can stay connected immediately by following the right people. Staying within the acting community and ensuring you are a part of it is vital, for example being on Spotlight, writing to industry professionals, offering yourself for play readings – these are just some aspects that will help you feel connected and like you’re contributing to the industry.
I am always looking for aspects in life, other peoples or my own, that are full of tension – something that opens a window into a world that we don’t necessarily know about. As a writer I am interested in ordinary people in extraordinary situations. This is always my foundation for starting to write. So when I found myself trying and failing to have a family and undergoing several rounds of IVF, I found myself in the most dramatic, suspense-filled and hopeful scenario I have ever known. So I began to wonder if I could I ignore that as a writer? I started writing The Quiet House,then deleted it. I started again and deleted it again, because I didn’t want the play to be about my wife, Gabby Vautier (theatre producer) and I. I want to be a playwright that puts his influences into a scenario. I had to work hard at this. At times I was writing it from a place of pain, we didn't know the end to our story as I wrote the play, we were still in the thick of treatment. As a result it became one of the most difficult and easiest pieces I have ever written. I promised myself that I would not write or use any conversations that Gabby and I shared, once I had made this contract with myself it became much easier to write. It was terrifying at first to have something produced that was about myself, it felt exposing, but I do feel that it is a responsibility to share our experiences. The response we had from audiences was incredible. For someone to say ‘you’ve helped me’ was just something unimaginable. As creative individuals we have to expose our vulnerabilities.
What would you tell your younger self?
Stop worrying. I was always stressed and felt like I was always trying to get somewhere else, as in where I was at the time wasn’t good enough. It did serve me well don’t get me wrong, it’s ambition and drive, but I think I took a lot of time being obsessive. When I went to drama school the pressure wasn’t solely on myself, but the development of us as creative artists. We are all crazy for doing what we want to do and that makes us wonderful, but we need to make sure it is healthy and manageable. I always like to think that we never know what is around the corner for us. Whatever you go through, whatever experiences come up in your life; be patient. You never know the benefits about a job until later. You never know where you’ll be in ten years but you will end up being happy because you made choices that were best for you at the time. Also, never feel the need to fulfill pressures that you think people place on you; be it family, people who have invested in you at drama school or tutors – this is your career and your career path, you are self-employed, so be that and be happy with the choices you have made and if not, change them.
Find a speech that makes you 'you' – something that you connect to. Something that makes you laugh, enrages you – anything that makes you feel something. That way you immediately have a great understanding of what the character is feeling on a personal level.
- Spend a lot of time searching for the right speech. If you find yourself going 'that’ll do' or 'yeah I like it' and not feeling like you have to do it, then you need to keep looking.
- Have more than one contemporary piece and more than one Shakespeare lined up, because some drama schools use lists, so if you use the same pieces everywhere, we will have seen those pieces hundreds of times. Have a range and variety just in case.
- Make it a priority. You need to find a piece that is close to you in some way that you can talk about, talk about the character and then be able to talk about yourself. You want to be an actor, so make time for your craft.
- Breathe, relax and remember we’re not judging you. I am not there to criticize anyone. I want to see someone doing what they love. No one is against you, I’m on your side and I like to see people with ideas of their own. I don’t want to see someone try hard to be someone else – mimicking an actor. You can smell it a mile off. No-one else can act like Benedict Cumberbatch doing Hamlet, there is only one Benedict Cumberbatch, alike to there is only one you, which is something to be celebrated.