Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Recognising and Misrecognising the 'X' Factor: The Audition Selection Process in Actor-Training Institutions Revisited

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Recognising and Misrecognising the 'X' Factor: The Audition Selection Process in Actor-Training Institutions Revisited

Article excerpt

In the April 1996 issue of this journal, Kath Leahy discussed some of the findings of her study of the 1993 audition processes at four Australian actor-training institutions. She called for the issue of 'talent' to be addressed because 'many sections of the Australian community are denied access to theatrical training and expression simply because of the underlying cultural values which inform "talent"'.1 In particular, she argued that, in her observation of auditions, '[I]t became clear that outward presence had more currency than inner facility involving emotional connectedness or imagination'.2 However, ten years have passed since the publication ofthat article. Apart from her own acknowledgement that some actor-training institutions have reviewed their attitudes since her 1993 study, no further discussion has emerged in this journal concerning the issues and challenges in legitimately recognising and nurturing 'talent' - more colloquially known as the 'x' factor.

But how can or should we talk about 'it', the 'x' factor, 'talent'? Sometimes it seems almost improper to talk about 'it'. There is a fear felt often by actors and directors - that if one tries to reflect upon, measure or analyse 'it', then 'it' will disappear, never to return. Yet recognitions of having 'talent', 'it' or the 'x' factor also depend on whose interests - actors, agents, directors, producers, critics, audiences, academics, acting teachers, student actors, and so on - are at stake. In my doctoral research participation in the audition process in Sydney for the School of Drama, Victorian College of the Arts, in December 2000, I witnessed the following attempts to recognise the 'x' factor:

Among the twenty applicants in one of the morning auditions, a female auditionee presents Helena from A Midsummer Night 's Dream. Afterwards, two VCA assessors - one male, one female - specifically confer on her audition.

Female Assessor: '... (I'm not sure if it's just) surface or something in her

Male Assessor: '... I can't see it ...'

Female Assessor: '...I see a larger life, a complex imagination ... I'm only responding to what she presented to me ...'

Male Assessor: "... wasn't it in her neutrality that you invested meaning?'

They decide to invite her back. On Call-back Day, for her Helena piece, the comment from another female VCA assessor is 'clear'. In her contemporary piece as Carol, the comment is 'enlivened'. During the final 'impulse' workshop, the auditionee, during her monologue, receives coaching from this second female assessor.

Female Assessor: '... use your voice, not in a whisper ...' (Later on)

Female Assessor: '... find "again", "again", find "again" ... ah, that's clearer...'

Afterwards, the male and female assessors note that she is 'alive, overdramatic'. During the group debriefing, the auditionee says that, during the impulse workshop, she felt 'safe, supported' and that she also appreciated the 'physical connection, how it makes you feel, respond, instructive, intuitive ...' She is subsequently offered a place at VCA.

On another day, a male auditionee selects the role of Helena, to present as a contrast to his portrayal of Alan from Equus.

Male assessor's first assessment: '... he has size ... bravery ... great voice ... great energy ... out there ... nineteen years old ... needs to be not so conscious of himself ... worth trying him.' Afterwards, he is called back to present Angelo, from Measure for Measure.

Male assessor explains what he is looking for. ? would like to see a simpler [presentation of the piece], a bit less conscious of "performing" it ... focus on what the person [the character] is saying and where it takes you ... all the emotions [at the moment] don't have a chance to shift you ... it affects the audience to see the lines take the actor somewhere, rather than [see the actor] controlling the delivery, the "package".' The male auditionee begins his monologue. …

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