This article and the ebook produced by HowtoDrama.com is meant to give information to those aspiring Actors who really want to get into the Drama school of their choice. I would recommend reading this to the very end and if you take this seriously then get the book.
Should you train at Drama school?
This, if you haven’t found out already, is a tough profession. There is very little that separates success from failure. People can become frustrated because there isn’t much feedback as to what they can do differently. Some people spend years waiting for a “lucky break” only to see an inexperienced Actor become an overnight sensation. I have seen many Actors loose faith simply because they’ve been tearing their hair asking “what am I doing wrong?”
If you are first starting out then you will need this guidance more than most people. Veteran Actors have got a series of experiences that help their Character and business decisions. Those can either be learnt the hard way or the easy way.
Unlike in a lot of professions nowadays where a degree is becoming less and less valuable. A good Drama school will deliver valuable training. They are such a nurturing experience for beginner Actors and can be great to start to your career. A side note is that you have more chance of catching a lucky break from being picked by a good agent. It’s an intelligent investment and something that I do not regret.
You are going for something that you are really passionate about and nothing is wasted if done with passion.
The Whole Picture
I will not be able to cover everything you need to know about getting into Drama school. The reason I helped produce the book was that it takes a lot of explaining and detailed analysis. What I’m going to go through is the absolute basics:
- Choosing speeches that suit you – both contemporary and classical.
- Looking at which schools to apply for – general things to think about.
- Audition mindset – how to act in the room and how to prepare.
If you are applying to Drama school then you will need to prepare some contemporary speeches as well as Classical speeches. The difference between these two can be roughly classed as modern writing and Jacobean / Elizabethan respectively.
A lot of schools vary in their definition but the general rule is that a contemporary play is written from 1960 onwards.
The best piece of advice I can give is for you to play to your strengths! If you did some Theatre in the past think back to a time when you really nailed a part. If you have never done any Theatre then think back to a time when you were in front of a lot of people and you just soared!
Were you funny? Intense? Were you aggressive?
If you really haven’t got anything to go on then think back to a time when you were with your family or friends and you told a story and they liked it.
- How did you tell that story? Or maybe you played a part a certain way?
- What was it that you did that people liked?
You need to identify what vibe shows you at your best. What is your archetype? What kind of character do you think you’ll be cast as?
This is irritating because normally you are not overtly told what vibe you are giving off and it’s very difficult to objectively look at yourself because that’s the very definition of not being objective. However, this is a question you are going to be asked time after time after time. The better you answer that question of “what am I selling?” the better you will do in this industry.
This website is going to be your best friend for finding a Shakespeare speech:
I do not expect you to read the entirety of Shakespeare’s canon. I doubt you will read half the books on that list but I do not doubt that you will have to read through a list of monologues to see which one you like.
This website is fantastic.
You click on whether you are a man or a woman and it gives you all the plays and all the possible monologues within them.
- The Comedies
- The Histories
There is no shortcutting this bit. You should read through a handful of speeches from each genre and pick which one you think you could do best. What I recommend is that if you find a speech you like you read the scene that the monologue is from and figure out the circumstances of the character.
Let’s take an example:
I go online to shakespeares-monologues.org and click on WOMEN
- I click on the play Henry VI part I
- I see that there is only one female character that has speeches and that is Joan.
- I see that the first speech she has is an absolute cracker:
I read the speech and I get the gist that France is not in a good way and that the main cause of the unrest is the English king Henry. Hypothetically I think I could play that very well.
What I would do then is read the scene which is Act III Scene III and find out the circumstances in which she’s saying the speech.
- Who is she talking to?
- Where are they?
- What is she trying to persuade the other person to do?
- Is her language aggressive?
- Is she trying to be sweet and caring to the other person?
- These are the things you need to think about in a speech.
I will go into this in more detail in the section about “Preparing a speech” but whilst reading the speech try and imagine the situation that the character is in.
Which one to Choose?
Going back to my advice on choosing a contemporary monologue. Choose a speech that you think you can do well. I do not know you personally so I cannot give you any advice apart from picking a speech that: inspires you; scares you or compels you! I can’t give you any exercises for this you simply have to read through as many as you can and make a judgement call.
The main thing is to use this website to survey the different options you have. However, after a couple of days looking you have all the necessary information and at that point, you simply need to choose one and stick with it!
Do not choose a nymph or fairy character. If you walk in there and start skipping about as you say the speech you might be showing your movement skills but they can tell nothing about your acting.
Prop: It’s absolutely fine to bring in a piece of blank paper if you need it or a handkerchief but if you’re thinking about bringing in a teddy bear (I’ve seen this) or a plastic knife (I’ve also seen this) then just don’t. Let the acting do the work and when you have a prop they’re more than likely just going to be distracted.
Do not! Take everything I say as hard and fast rules. If you read Othello and you think you could do the speech “It is the cause, it is the cause my soul” then do not let me tell you otherwise. These are only guidelines but you’re the one who has to go in there. It is more important that you are passionate and confident about what you are doing. Enjoying it is more important than getting it right!
Do not choose a character who is much older or younger than you. They will infer a lot from you by the choice of speech you make so be brave and try to cast yourself in a part that you think you could nail!
However, this doesn’t apply to every character!
For example, a 20-year-old girl could do Lady Anne from Richard III.
She is much older but the part offers a lot of emotional range.
What I’m saying is that the same girl should think twice about playing the part of the maid from Romeo and Juliet. This part has no three-dimensional range in her emotions.
Sometimes Shakespeare simply writes in older characters because they’re comedic.
Polonius does not have a huge emotional range that a 20-year-old guy can access. It’s not his age that is the problem it’s the fact that his speech isn’t very emotionally charged. Ideally, you want a role that you could be cast in whose emotions are easy to access.
How to Prepare a Speech
- Units and Objectives
- Given Circumstances
When an actor picks up a script then they cannot just read through the lines once and then act them perfectly. There is a method of picking apart a script so that you understand it better which is called Units and Objectives.
Think of it like this…
If you were going to learn how to sing a song you couldn’t just listen to it once and then instantly repeat it – unless you had been singing for decades.
The way you would deal with it is to break it up into sections and then learn each section consecutively. Once you learnt all the sections you would just need to stitch them together.
When you find a monologue you need to break it up into smaller sections in much the same way. You learn the verse, the breakdown and then the chorus.
These are called units.
The way that you know a unit has begun or finished is if the intention of the character has changed.
Imagine that you were trying to persuade one of your parents to give you money to go out for the night.
You have prepared a list of reasons as to why they should give you that money.
Those reasons are not all going to be along the same lines.
Some of them are going to be logical “It will mean you won’t have to cook me dinner”
You might try to guilt trip them
You might have a point that talks about your anger for how a sibling is treated in comparison
Then you might try to flatter them
Then throw another logical reason back in there for good luck
The changes between these points will be classed as different units. The unit changes when a different tactic is applied
Have your speech typed up or written on a piece of paper
Have two stations where you can sit: for example set up a chair and your bed (this will make sense in a moment)
Say the first sentence of the speech whilst sitting down in the first chair.
Then before you say the next sentence switch to the other chair and speak the second sentence.
Carry on switching for every sentence until you get to the end of the speech.
This will help you identify the moments that the characters change their thoughts and will help you plot the tempo of the speech.
The problem with a lot of people who audition is that they start the speech and then just rush straight through it without any breath. Those moments when there is a full stop what are those characters thinking? Whatever they would be thinking is exactly what you should think before you open your mouth to say the next sentence.
Enjoy those moments between thoughts because those are the moments that the magic happens!
You can do this in a park or a spare room because you’ll need a little space.
Start walking in a straight line as you speak your first sentence.
When you reach a full stop then stop completely turn in a different direction and speak the second sentence.
Carry on until the speech is finished.
This is a better speech for involving your whole body because you are standing up.
When you are speaking those lines I don’t want you to act it I want you to really think about the meaning of what you are saying.
Don’t worry on looking good or being persuasive worry about whether you understand what you’re saying.
If you are saying a speech and thinking about how persuasive you sound or what actions to do then you’re focusing on the wrong thing.
Try and think about the words you’re speaking and work on getting clarity and understanding of your speech.
A great way that I learn my lines is to record myself whilst I’m doing these exercises.
I then listen back to the audio recording.
Just listening to the different way you do the lines is a great way of knowing what you’re getting right and wrong. There will be moments that you can hear that you are understanding what you’re saying and you know exactly why you’re saying it and other moments that you will have no idea what is going on.
Listen to those tracks multiple times and listen to those moments
Alternatively, you can film yourself whilst you do these exercises but I think that I can always tell by the sound of it whether I’m connecting well with it.
You have to do some research into the circumstances that the character is in whilst you are speaking the lines. Knowledge of the lines and how they are structured are completely useless unless you know the context in which they are being said. These are called the Given Circumstances.
You need to answer these questions for both your contemporary and classical speeches:
- Where are you?
- Who are you talking to?
- Where have you just come from?
- What am I trying to do to them?
- Where do you want to go?
In answering these questions you will undoubtedly discover facts that will inform the way you deliver the speech. It makes a big difference if your character is breaking up with their partner after murdering someone than if they just ate a bowl of cornflakes.
An example from when I was applying
When I was applying for Drama School I learnt a speech from Henry IV part I. I enacted my own advice and I realised that the place that Hal would have been speaking the speech would have been in Windsor castle. Whenever I performed the speech I would imagine that I was standing in the great hall in Windsor castle. I would also imagine that my father (The King) was standing in front of me.
I love performing this speech even to this day because I have put in the work to flesh out the lines with my imagination. It goes back to what I said at the very start of this book: “The more effort you put into learning a speech the more you will enjoy it!”
Performing the speech
When you get to know the lines better and when you’ve gone through the given circumstances then practise the speech in full Character. It’s going to be difficult because 99 percent of the time you will be speaking to a wall in an empty room. What I want you to do is remember the circumstances that your character is in: Where are they? Who are they speaking to? Where have they just come from? What are they trying to get from the other person?
- Where are they? Who are they speaking to?
- Where have they just come from?
- What are they trying to get from the other person?
Then really try to imagine that other person on that wall or wherever you are rehearsing the speech. The more research you do about the circumstances the easier this will be. Every time you do that speech keep that imagination going!
Try not to just say the lines for the sake of saying them, really think about why you are saying those words.
Anyone can get up and say words…
Only an actor can get up and bring life to those words. If there is one thing you need to work on it is being able to allow yourself to be in the situation your character is in. Don’t worry about getting the rhythm right when you are in that room – you’re not an expert on Shakespeare and they’re not expecting you to get that perfect.
Don’t worry about pronouncing the big words right or doing big Shakespearean hand gestures.
To be a good actor is to transport yourself into another set of circumstances and then play!
Trust yourself – that’s the only person you’ve got