With the UK in lockdown, drama schools are turning to self-tapes to audition prospective students. Lee Knight looks at how expectations differ between schools and offers some self-taping tips
Even prior to the coronavirus crisis, many drama schools had begun to shift initial auditions for 2020 online, which means, in industry terms, to self-tape. Now, with everything in lockdown, all drama school auditions have moved to self-tape.
For those who have never done one, self-taping is simple and won’t hinder your chances of success. If anything, it may even help you focus on the details of your speeches without the nerves that would inevitably strike on audition day. As a drama school audition panellist, I’ll be assessing each applicant in exactly the same way.
Self-taped auditions are increasingly favoured by many casting directors, so this also presents an opportunity for any aspiring actor to practise what will become a regular form of auditioning.
There are some things those looking to improve their self-taping should consider. This includes a thorough read of any recent correspondence sent by the schools applied for. Institutions are thinking fast and their requirements vary in how they want applicants to tape. My students have shown me emails from drama schools and, although their guidelines are similar, be aware that there are differences.
In addition to the prepared pieces, most schools will now be asking for a short piece directly to camera. This is your opportunity to tell the panellists a little bit about yourself.
It is your chance to talk about why you want to go to drama school, and why you have picked that school. You can share what inspires you as an actor, your career objectives, what you are doing in life at the moment, why it’s the right time to train and any previous experience. The key is to relax, show who you are and keep to the time constraints.
Some schools ask for one speech shot in full body and the other shot of the upper body. Guildhall School of Speech and Drama asks they both be shot from the torso up. Other schools such as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland don’t have a preference, whereas Arts Educational Schools London asks for both pieces in full body. If it is not speciﬁed, then I would recommend recording one piece in full body and the other of your upper body so they get a closer look at your face.
The key with self-taping is to relax, show who you are and keep to the time constraints
Some schools, like Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Drama Studio, have also asked for a movement piece. They don’t really elaborate on this, so I would recommend ﬁnding a piece of music that reminds you of a favourite character and exploring their emotional state through movement. You should use your imagination and move freely without overthinking it. See what comes naturally and take the famous advice I learned at drama school to “leave yourself alone”. Dancers, or those with a movement background, should show their skills and be bold.
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has also requested a movement piece but it is much more speciﬁc, so those auditioning must ensure they follow the instructions as per their email.
Once the pieces have been decided, you should ﬁnd a blank wall that’s well lit, ideally with a window in front of it. Natural light is great for tapes. If not, lamps can do wonders. If there is no bare wall, you should create one by moving things out the way. While the panellists won’t judge the filming skills or the choice of books in shot, no one auditioning wants attention distracted from them. If there are family photos in the background, my eye may wander.
Once the space is ready, the next task is to set up a camera or, more likely these days, a smartphone. You should always ﬁlm in landscape so the recording can be viewed on any screen. Tripods are very cheap to buy online and I would suggest investing in one, but a table and some carefully balanced books can work just as well. This is a DIY audition after all.
After pressing the record button, you should ﬂip the camera round so you can check that you are positioned correctly on screen. You can edit the tape once it’s done, trimming the ends so that the tape will start and ﬁnish in the right places.
Unless otherwise stated, anyone auditioning should record all of their pieces in one continuous take, so it is all on one ﬁle. Emailing a ﬁle for each piece will overload the school’s inbox and make it harder for them to navigate. You should introduce each piece with the character name and the play, before going into the speech, then move straight on to the next piece and so on. Those who are savvy with iMovie can edit separate pieces together into one file.
You should not perform speeches directly to the camera, but instead fix your eyeline on a spot just off camera and imagine the other character is there. It can help to get a family member to sit in.
After preparing the space, all that matters is to relax and focus on the work and convey your interpretation of these characters in the most truthful way. This is what the panel wants to see.
The benefit of filming pieces is the chance to review, refine and do more takes. Though actors don’t usually look at takes, directors do – and for good reason – but you shouldn’t overthink it and do 20 more takes. It is good to do one with all the essentials in place, then if need be, one more. From experience, a ﬁrst take is usually the most honest.
Finally, once they are done and you’re happy with the final take, follow the drama school’s guidelines on how it should be uploaded. It will most likely be via Dropbox, WeTransfer or Vimeo. Then, your job is done. You should relax, and reward yourself for submitting your ﬁrst self-tape. Hopefully, it will be the ﬁrst of many in a long acting career.
Lee Knight is an actor, who also teaches drama and sits on a drama school audition panel. Details: theauditionroom.co.uk