On the 26th January I woke up at 5am to catch the 5:30am train to Oxford for my audition at The Oxford School of Drama. The journey was long and complicated and rather stressful at times, and due to getting lost on the way, I had to call up to inform the office that I may be a few minutes late but would be there as soon as I could. Luckily I arrived just as the warm up was about to start and therefore didn’t miss anything regardless of my late arrival!
The warm up was led by two tutors from the school, one of which was the head of movement, and we were taken through a brief body warm up which was certainly a lot more alternative than many of the other schools I had visited, and from my understanding focused on ones self rather than interacting with the other people in the room and working as an ensemble or company. One of the exercises included moving around to music freely and adapting the movements to the different music that was played. The leaders would then give various scenarios and instruct different halves of the room to take the space at various points so they could pay more attention to them and how much each individual let go. Although the exercise was mainly focused on the individual, I made sure that I connected to the people I passed when moving around the room in one way or another, whether that be just with eye contact or by actually making physical contact. I think the main purpose of this (as well as warming up our bodies) was to see how easily we could let go of our inhibitions and own the space, whilst connecting emotionally to the music. I felt quite at home doing this as I have participated in similar activities before when doing dance or physical theatre workshops, and some made sure I focused on why I was moving and not just on filling the music with constant movement just for the sake of it. Following this we did a short exercise where we balanced on an imaginary ball, making various poses and balances on it, whilst trying not to fall off. I tried to focus on the feeling of not quite being able to find ones centre of balance and therefore constantly moving slightly from side to side and back and forwards to find this and stay on top of the ball.
After the warm up we were split of into 4 separate groups, each with about 8 people in, to perform our monologues to the same panel. I was i group 2 and second to last to perform my pieces and was feeling relatively composed about doing them by this point, however the panel had stopped lots of the other candidates mid way though their pieces if they went over the limit and so I was terrified this would happen to me and through me off guard! Thankfully this didn’t happen and I managed to get through both of my pieces to the end without being stopped and without anything going wrong. It was very hard to read into how the panel felt about each of our performances and I had learnt better than to read into their reactions and as long as I felt I had done my best that is all that mattered to me at this stage. After each of us had finished we were sent to sit in the coffee bar area while we waited for the other groups to have their turn and then for the panel to decide the result of who would be recalled for the afternoon.
The wait to receive our results took a long time, but finally after a few hours wait the administrator came into the coffee bar area (where lots of the current students were gathered by this point) and read out two separate lists of names and instructed the first group to convene in the theatre and the other group to gather in the dance studio, where each group would be told whether they would be going home or staying for the recall. I was sent to the dance studio, and as we gathered nervously, one of the member of staff casually let it slip that we were the group that were being kept for the recall! I was extremely pleased that I was able to prove myself a second time, however equally as nervous as it seemed that most of the other people in the room were once again considerably older than me.
The afternoon started with the principal coming in to give us a talk on life at the school and the type of training we would receive if we were accepted. As Oxford School of Drama is an independent school not attached to a university it has more freedom to make the course as practical as it likes and to focus on training the actor for the industry rather than just meeting assessment criteria and submitting written work. He also spoke abut how the school don’t solely focus on show performances as they believe it is unfair as it doesn’t give the individual the opportunity to flourish and develop as there will only ever be a limited amount of characters and parts available and not all will be as challenging or demanding as the main few, therefore limiting the other actors potential to learn and grow as an actor. Subsequently, lots of their training focuses on developing the skills as an actor and putting these into practice rather than just rehearsing for shows all the time. I thought this was an interesting ethos and approach to actor training and agreed with the reasoning behind it.
Following our talk we engaged in some improvisation based activities, this time with a new judging panel of tutors assessing us. We were lined up across the back of the room and told we were all a group of friends who had just graduated and decided to take an impromptu trip to Brighton beach to celebrate, and once we arrive there someone suggests we have a competition to see who will be the first to run down the beach, into the sea, touch a buoy, submerge yourself fully in the water and run back first, in order to win a bottle of the most expensive champagne. After he had set the scene we had to act out this scenario several times in different ways, such as in slow motion, super speed, as well as repeating it a few times to get a genuine and realistic portrayal of this. When doing this I think I held back a bit too much or didn’t give them exactly what they wanted as I was unsure as to whether they wanted an over exaggerated heightened and comedic version or if they wanted it to be truthful, however I went with my instinct and made it as truthful as possible, focusing on the pebbles on the beach and how cold the water would be. Instead of focusing on the competition side of the activity and being the first in and out of the water, I decided to approach it in the way I thought I personally would in that situation. Therefore instead of rushing to be the first there and back I thought about how I would most likely spend a while testing the water temperature by dipping my feet in and then at each new level of water I would stop for a split moment and submerge that part of my body and let it adjust to the cold. Then I made sure that on my way back through the water and up the pebbled slope to the beach I picked up the pace and thought about how I would naturally react to the cold and the sharpness of the stones on my feet and then incorporate this into what I was doing. As we repeated this exercise I tried different things and tried to interact with the other people to try and portray the bond of friendships by laughing with them, holding onto them and dragging them with me and counting down together so we submerged ourselves in water at the same time. Nevertheless, I worry that the panel may have thought that I did’t understand the brief or that I was trying to take longer than the others as a way of getting noticed which wasn’t the case. We were then asked to do this one by and one, but still imagining that we had the others around us. I was second to last to do this, which was unfortunate as it meant lots of the ideas had been used and I was worried about seeming like I was just reusing other peoples ideas and not being creative, but on the other hand I didn’t want to outwit the task. Most people focused on the sounds we would make which often created a humorous side to what they did. I don’t think what I did was very inventive and probably didn’t stand out amongst the rest of the funny takes, however I wanted to remain true to my initial idea of being truthful and naturalistic in my portrayal rather than slapstick or clown like.
After we had done this we got into pairs and did an exercise where we were given two short lines and were only allowed to use these to communicate, putting the dialogue into various scenarios and generally playing around with this. I think the lines were ‘Let’s go’ and ‘Where are we going?’, and we played around with this idea before swapping over lines so A was saying B’s line and visa versa. When doing this I tried to use the space and adapt my physicality as well as my one of voice. Although this all sounds fairly simple, after a while it became difficult to not fall into the same speech patterns and just alternating between these, therefore you had to be really on the ball and react to how the other actor was choosing to interpret the lines and work with that rather than against it. The panel switched up the pairs and got each of us to perform the exercise in front of everyone in turn, this time giving us new lines (usually ones that counter balanced or contradicted each other). I couldn’t really tell how my turn went and I felt I got stuck in the same pattern however I tried to play around with ideas and use the space, and eventually me and my partner started to discover a through story when we were given the opportunity to take the scene further and use our own words as well as the ones given to us. Stupidly once I had a finished my turn I managed to get a sneaky look at the male tutors forms and I’m pretty sure he only ticked average in one of my boxes, which through me slightly and may have influenced how I perceived my audition to go.
Once we had all got up and done the exercise we were told that they handed out a piece of text for sight reading which they would see us individually for, as well as having a brief interview chat with us and potentially see one of our pieces again. I had quite a long wait which was good in some ways as it gave me a chance to read over the text and familiarise myself with it as much as possible and think about the context and objective of the monologue. We were told to be ourselves and not ‘act’ it or feel the need to add a character to it as they wanted to see truth. They also told us we could learn the text if we wanted to, however it wasn’t essential as the exercise wasn’t to test how well we could read or memorise text, but rather to see what we could do with a piece of text without preparation. I personally didn’t want to try and learn it as I thought the more time I spent doing that the more likely I would be to just regurgitate the lines rather than feel them. I also didn’t spend much time blocking it or deciding what I was going to do as I didn’t want it to come out as a stale and regimented performance, so I simply went through the text and wrote notes on the edge about the thoughts behind it and where the natural stresses and pauses were in the piece. I thought up a backstory in my head and applied that to the text to give what I was saying more emotion and truth behind what I was saying. I didn’t want to be too dramatic and so kept it quite stripped back and minimal as I wanted to show myself and not just present an idea of someone or other. I started sitting down and imagined the boy I was talking to was sitting on the floor next to me but wasn’t speaking back at me to start with – much like someone who is giving silent treatment as a way of expressing anger or annoyance. I left pauses for when I felt the boy would have spoken and interjected into the text to help it feel more naturalistic and also give me something to work off. I think it worked in my favour not planning anything in stone and allowed me to be quite free with my choices, however I hope it didn’t come across that I hadn’t taken ownership of the task and that they would be able to see all the notes and scribbling I had on my sheet when I handed it in to them. The lady asked me who I was imaging the other person to be, and I explained how I saw it as my characters best guy friend who she has like for a long time but tries to suppress it and pretend she doesn’t as she doesn’t want to admit it as she doesn’t want to lose him as a friend. She then went on to ask whether this was something that happened in my life; stupidly I told her that it wasn’t but that I was taking various experiences and emotions from other situations and applying them to this scenario – which I don’t think she wanted to hear and I worry showed my innocence and lack of experience in life. I had heard that lots of the others had been redirected in their sight reading however I wasn’t redirected as such, and the female panellist commented on the strong emotional connection I had to the text and how she wanted me to keep that same emotion but do it again positioning the person I was talking to further forward and on the other side in order to give them a better view and keep my sight line up. I was also told to push the last section where she confesses her love for him and says how she wishes she was naked in the bath with him with the intention of convincing him. I did his again using the ideas she had planted and tried to push the idea of trying to flirt in the last few sentences to ease the tension I had created before and get the character to ease up and forgive her.
After the sight reading the lady asked me whether I felt I had convinced him at the end of the speech and I replied saying that I felt I was a lot further ahead than I was on my first attempt! The then looked through their notes and asked to see my modern piece again, which I showed them and I honestly felt like I gave one of the strongest performance I had done of that monologue in a long time and at the end of the day that’s the most important thing. Once I had finished my monologue I was instructed to pull up a chair so they could have a brief chat with me. Here they asked me the usual things like what I’m doing now and why I think I ‘m ready for training on a three year course. The two tutors on the panel really started to focus on this aspect and spoke to me about how they strongly believe that it is important an actor trains at the right time in order to become an exceptional actor and sometimes that means waiting longer to be fully ready to do so, so you have the maturity and capability to tap in to all your experiences and emotions. They then asked me about my mental health (which is the first time this has ever been brought up) and so I said that I had suffered from depression but that I was doing a lot better and in a much better place – as I didn’t want to go in to detail and have it held against me. I got the impression that they thought I was good at what I do and gave a good performance, but worried about my maturity and whether it was the right time for me to train as they went on about this for quite some time. I tried to fight my corner by explaining that although I look very young naturally and may come across as quite young and inexperienced, however I am a lot stronger and experienced than I appear.
Overall I feel I did the best I could on the day and I should be satisfied with this, however it is getting quite tiresome to keep getting feedback about my age, lack of life experience and maturity and strength, as this isn’t something I can change and in truth I feel I have been through a lot compared to most my age and am a actually mature in a lot of ways, I just lack experience in others! I appreciate that they can usually tell when a person is emotionally ready to start training and perhaps I am letting out vibes that I’m not quite ready. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get offered a foundation or simply straight out rejected because if this, however if this is the case I guess I can’t complain as I know I performed my best and that’s all I can do!
I received a letter a few days after my audition informing that they would like to offer me a place on the Foundation course as they were impressed with my work but didn’t feel I was ready for the 3 Year BA programme just yet; this is was what I had expected as the panel that saw me for my recall audition gave the impression that they thought I was too young still.