Press-Ups In Musical Theatre Auditions: Misguided Exercise Or Outright Ableism?

Last month, it came to light that Guildford School of Acting (GSA) had been asking its auditionees for their Musical Theatre course to do press-ups in their audition. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie star, Layton Williams, tweeted his confusion about this revelation. He said that a student of his asked about the press-ups needed for an audition, and he took to Twitter to ask if anybody else had heard of this. Understandably, there was criticism from all manner of people in the theatre industry, and the general consensus was that the ability to do a press-up did not directly translate to a candidate’s ability to be successful in musical theatre. 

It was taken on by all levels of performers from auditionees to West End veterans who expressed their dislike of this news, and genuine surprise that this would form part of an audition process to one of the UK’s top drama schools.

There were a few auditionees who said, on Twitter, that they had carried out the exercise. One account even expressed that, because they had only auditioned at GSA, they didn’t realise that it was any different elsewhere.

Recently, though, Guildford School of Acting has defended their position after a social media backlash. In their response, GSA said that the exercise was taken out of context and the entire audition was specifically designed to test their candidates fully. They told The Stage on 26 February 2021 that their audition exercises highlight “physical facility, strength, alignment, and coordination”. 

In my eyes, as someone who has previously auditioned for drama schools, self-taped for shows, and been in many musicals, this all seems like something that would cause unnecessary stress, at first glance. Whilst I’m not condoning the addition of press-ups to the list of audition requirements, I’m also a big advocate for getting all of the facts before coming to a conclusion about a certain issue or revelation. With that in mind, it’s good to know that auditionees are not being forced into a room after carrying out other aspects of their audition, and then one by one asked to perform 10 press-ups, for example, an image of something the mind can quite easily conjure upon first hearing.

Now, I’m not the most physically fit of people, but as a disabled person who does have the ability to do a press-up, I can’t help but feel this is a little exclusionary and ableist. This addition of press-ups to the list of things that an auditionee may have to do does not take into account those who are wheelchair-users, those with chronic illnesses, or other differently-abled candidates. 

Of course, when one applies to a drama school, they have the chance to mention if they have a disability and there is a section in most applications that asks if special requirements would make their experience better. For me, I often leave them blank, since my disability is visual impairment, and I have never come across a situation where I needed requirements that may assist me, but as someone with no depth perception, if it came to light that an audition I had been preparing for now had a ‘catch the ball’ aspect, I would be less than pleased.

As drama schools around the UK are being held under the magnifying glass when it comes to their intake protocols, whether that be inadvertent racism, ableism, or just generally missing the opportunity to encourage applications from underrepresented groups, surely any and all barriers to entry should be eradicated? 

And don’t get me started on audition fees…

Words by Eli London.

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