Judi Dench has told students at LIPA Sixth Form College (LSFC) that the best theatrical performances often come from a balance of technique and instinct.
Judi, who has a record eight Olivier Awards to her name, was taking part in an online Q&A with students, when she was asked how she kept a performance fresh. Judi admitted it wasn’t easy. “As an actor, it’s a question you ask yourself every night.
“You have to balance your performance between the work you’ve done, how you have decided to play a part and how an audience may change that. But you have to have the technique if you’re going to go ‘off-piste’ and follow your instincts.”
For this approach to be successful an actor has to be sensitive to each performance. Judi explained: “Performances are fluid. You should always listen to the scene before your scene. Understand the speed of the performance and the reaction of the audience. And then decide if that speed and those reactions should influence your scene and your performance.”
Considered as one of the finest Shakespearian actors of her generation, Judi Dench, who made her professional debut in 1957 – also has an award-winning TV and film career and appeared in eight James Bond movies as M.
During the one-hour session, which was also attended by students from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), she also discussed rehearsal etiquette: “Rehearsals are for everyone, not just for you to complete something you should have done as homework.” As for musicals, she noted that: “You must never stop the dialogue to sing in another kind of voice. It’s a continuation of the dialogue. You should approach it with the same intent.” And about directing, she said: “You can feel very alone as a director. I’d rather act and be part of the puzzle.”
Judi ended by encouraging students to maintain their passion for the performing arts, despite the challenges of the pandemic. “If you’re ready to break into theatre, but just can’t get started because of these extraordinary times, that must be agony, but don’t lose your enthusiasm, don’t give up.
“Just try to see as much theatre as you can, even if it is only online. See what works, see what doesn’t. Keep watching and keep learning.”