Friday, 17 June 2011

That special something....

In an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, “A Tiger’s Wedding: my childhood in exile” (publishing June 25 in audio, eBook and limited edition hardback), Isla Blair talks about auditioning for drama school, and the difficulty of finding someone with that “special something”....

I sit on the auditioning panel at RADA and I know how frightening the audition experience can be. What I hope it will never be is a humiliating one. The applicants come with a spring in their step and hope in their beating hearts as they embrace the day they pray will change their lives. It is surprising how few people who come to audition have got that special something that makes you sit up, the thing that you know could move, uplift, or make an audience laugh. Sometimes they are too moved or amused by themselves to include us, the audience; sometimes they are too afraid, or too schooled and coached. Only rarely do you think, “Yes” – and a green pencil marks their application paper. At this stage it is usually unanimous amongst the  panel.

Recently on an “auditions day”, applicants trudged through the snow to make the appointment that would last just a few minutes. Your heart breaks for them. The ladies’ loo had an aroma of nervous tummies, perfume for confidence, mouthwash and hairspray. Some of them were lined up in the corridor, pretending nonchalance and cool when in fact you knew their pulses were racing, their palms sweating and their insides were in a churn. One girl came in barefoot thinking, I daresay, that she was being bohemian – just as I had when I was at RADA, with my black fishnet tights and a ridiculous rubber elephant tucked under my arm. I wanted to hug her and smooth her hair and tell her everything would be well, but of course it wasn’t. She wasn’t very good.

All of them are full of dreams, as I had been, and ambition and the desire to act. How those same hearts would sink when the letter with the RADA logo came through the letter box with the R for   rejection. What they should know is that most of them WANT to act which is different from NEEDING to act. Of course, we, on the auditioning panel, are sometimes mistaken in our judgement; sometimes we are very, very wrong.

When I auditioned for RADA there were about 800 people auditioning for 40 places – now it is just under 4,000 for 28 places, so one has to be quite strict even to allow them in to the next round. There are four auditions to get through at RADA, each one leading to a more expansive one until a whole day is spent work-shopping with other hopeful candidates and several members of staff. But at least you want the applicants to have a pleasant experience auditioning, so we try very hard to be friendly, we chat, they do their pieces, and we chat some more. My heart aches for them, as I know how I felt that hot June day waiting for my future to be decided by anonymous strangers sitting in the dark of the little theatre.

"A Tiger's Wedding: my childhood in exile" publishes on June 25th in eBook, audiobook and hardback editions.


  1. Bless you! Such a lovely empathetic person -- S.

  2. Bless you! Such a lovely empathetic person -- S.