By Eleanor Walker
‘Is it overdone?!’: A question that myself and countless actor friends ask ourselves on a regular basis, referring to a song, or speech, or to the very act of being ourselves in an audition. We are obsessed with being unique and standing out. We spend hours trawling Youtube for the perfect song, even though we all love that one so-and-so did last week in class, and as auditionees, for drama school OR grown up acting jobs, we raid the National Theatre bookshop, throwing away countless great choices of speech that would suit us perfectly. I did it. I chose an obscure piece for my drama school auditions; dated and hardly ever performed any more, that didn’t really suit me or reflect the kind of actress that I want to be. I thought it was a great idea because I wouldn’t have to watch anyone else do the same speech, sat in that dreaded semi-circle on a Saturday afternoon, having been told about seven million times that most people don’t get in to this school in the first year of trying, anyway.
Ironically, I think someone did do the same speech as me at some point, which probably made an already uncomfortable seventeen-year-old me subject the poor teachers at whatever school it was to a rather diabolical show.
Since graduating drama school, I have been known to search the internet for weeks (I had a lot of warning) for a new audition piece, even though I have a ring binder full of them, determined that something ‘perfect’ will appear. A ‘lost gem’. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t.
My theory is this: the speeches that are GOOD have been done before (especially for classical; Shakespeare is so famous because he was the best writer around, and his speeches have all been done a million times over). The songs that are GOOD are the ones that are popular, i.e. there is a reason that the obscure musical performed once in 1999 hasn’t been on Broadway. It’s all well and good finding something ‘unknown’ and shocking or surprising your classmates if you’re still training, or the casting director if you’ve graduated, but that doesn’t make the MATERIAL good.
When I’ve made an obscure choice before, I’ve often found the language hard to access, or the music just not as easy on the ear, or I’ve just been less passionate about the piece… and if you’re not passionate about the piece, how on earth can you give a good performance?
On occasion, I’ve spent hours and hours preparing for an audition, only to get in the room, be handed some sides, and not even get asked to do the piece I’ve just slaved over. So I now ask myself this question- if there is a chance that I may not even be required to DO this piece, why am I giving myself heart palpitations over it?! I should pick something that I enjoy singing, or a speech from a play that really excites me, and I should do my work on that, which is what I’m good at, and stop wasting hours in an internet wormhole trying to be ‘original’!
Now, I’m not saying that we should all just stop making bold choices and sing ‘Defying Gravity’ for every audition. Of course not: anything iconic and irrevocably associated with one artist is a little bit daft to choose for an audition. We are not all Idina. Likewise, ‘Gallop apace’ is a fabulous speech; but Shakespeare wrote other roles for women apart from Juliet. However, I am starting to think that maybe we should all stop stressing quite so much about unique material, and more about what we are doing with it. Spending more time doing our research, analysing the text, actioning if that’s your cup of tea. It is this hard work, after all, that will distinguish one from the other people in the room, and it is this hard work that we all claim to be so in love with- that is being an actor.
This post is an updated version of the original, posted on www.eleanoractress.wordpress.com
Eleanor is an Actor and Singer currently living in her hometown, Birmingham. She can regularly be spotted running around after 3 year olds in pre-school drama classes, behind a theatre bar, and in as many yoga classes as she can get herself to. Other hobbies include watching BBC4 History documentaries, dreaming of being in a period drama, and complaining about West Midlands Railway services to London. You can follow Eleanor on Twitter @WalkerEleanor