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Paul Clayton: How to make the most of your first day at work

Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock.com
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Most people probably start four or five new jobs in a lifetime. All the associated stress, the fitting in, the making of new workmates and friends, and the pressure of feeling you may not be up to the job – all of that is reserved for four or five days during the average working life.

The successful actor however, may have hundreds of first days at work. Sometimes that first day is the start of a job that may run for week after week after week. Sometimes the job may be over by six o’clock that night. Whatever the time constraints, all the same pressures are still there and have to be dealt with.

In the next couple of months, lots of lucky graduates from drama schools will have their very first ‘first day’ at work. They will have been through that best phase of an actor’s life – the time between your agent telling you that you’ve got the job, and the day you actually have to turn up and do it. As the day approaches, the nerves and the reservations set in. Just how early should you arrive at that rehearsal room? Half an hour and look keen and eager, or will that just make you look desperate and inexperienced? Should you put your script in a nice, bound folder so you look well-prepared, or should you keep it in the envelope it was sent in and let it look a little bit dog-eared so it looks like you’ve done this before?

These feelings never go away. Yes, you might not have the worries over how to present your script, or what time to arrive (the answer is always “on time”), but the butterflies and feeling of tense anticipation are as vital a part of the job as learning the lines. So spend your first day prepared to do a lot of listening. Learn names, work out who does what and what is being asked of you. You’ll also probably do a lot of smiling. Keep it genuine and real. If you’re a naturally hyper-energetic and overactive person, don’t be afraid to tone it down a little, just until people get to know you. And make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep. You might have been kept up by nerves and apprehension, but yawning your way through the first afternoon probably isn’t the best way forward. It’s a good idea to have a pen to sign things and write things down. Don’t just rely on your phone. Tapping away at your phone throughout the day may endear you to no one.

On these first days, the group is busy establishing its natural hierarchy. Remember… every litter has a runt. You don’t want that to be you. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so stay positive. Be keen to join in and do that little bit extra. Sometimes it’s all a little overpowering and by the time you get to lunchtime you need an escape. That’s fine. It’s okay to go to a sandwich shop on your own. These people will become your friends, your confidantes and, it has been known, possibly your lover(s) over the course of the job. No need to try and pack it all in on the first day.

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