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Susan Elkin: This is how auditions ought to work

Mountview. Matthew Marrs and Danielle Williams in Dreaming America by Terry Johnson, directed by Stephen Jameson in 2014. Credit thisisruler Matthew Marrs and Danielle Williams in Dreaming America by Terry Johnson, directed by Stephen Jameson in 2014. Photo: thisisruler
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I’m the first to criticise schools which rip off wannabe students by charging high sums for just a few minutes of audition time. So credit where it’s due and three cheers when I find one which really is trying to give auditionees a fair deal.

I went to Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts a couple of weeks ago to talk to Stephen Jameson, its principal and artistic director, who is still sad that the school’s much-vaunted plan to move into Hornsea Town Hall has withered on the vine but hopeful of a new deal with Haringey council which might mean a new building within a Wood Green regeneration scheme. I asked him about auditions, as I always do when I’m at a drama school.

Stephen Jameson Credit Robin Savage
Stephen Jameson. Photo: Robin Savage

Two years ago Mountview changed the way its auditions work. Auditonees pay £45. For that they get two 90-minute workshops in the morning, one in improvisation and the other on movement.

“They work in groups of 12 and we have four groups in for the day from 9am to 4.30pm,” says Jameson, adding that he hopes it’s long enough for applicants to feel at home and stop being too nervous as well as getting to know each other a little.

It also gives the staff a chance to observe group work because ultimately they have to convene a class which is effectively a company. It’s intended to be immersive and effectively a drama school taster.

Then in the afternoon they perform their speeches and other prepared material. There’s a question and answer session with staff and current students and, usually, a separate session for any worried parents who have accompanied their offspring. All of this applies to both acting and musical theatre course auditions.

In an effort to find harder-to-reach young people with talent and potential Mountview runs auditions in Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester, Norwich and Newcastle as well as in London. “And we have a network of venues which work with young people and youth theatres who recommend talented but low income youngsters to whom we then offer one of our free auditons,” says Jameson, explaining that Mountview funds a limited number of these every year. Eventually numbers are whittled down to 120 recalls and there are no charges for recall auditions.

I know Mountview isn’t the only school which has drastically improved its auditions and is giving fair value for money. But there are still many schools with a lot of work to do. Those institutions should take a leaf out of Mountview’s book

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