So, you’ve graduated from drama school – what next?
Theatre has never been an easy industry to find employment in; there has never been anything straightforward about starting out as an actor, a writer, director or designer, or indeed any other job going. But in 2015 there seem to be even more pressures on young creatives looking to find their place in an already oversubscribed industry.
George Want graduated from Warwick University in 2013, and took the decision to do an MA in theatre directing. He is now graduating from his MA course. Explaining why he decided to study for an MA, he says: “I wanted an environment in which to hone my craft… so that when I have to go out and get those assisting gigs I have a bit more of an idea of how to do it.”
Even before someone graduates, they’ve already made more financial decisions than students of previous generations. I asked Want how he could afford to do an MA?
“I had to pay for the MA personally. I had a career development loan, which enabled me to pay my fees. But for the living costs, my parents remortgaged their house… and I had a bit of money saved up.”
One of the main challenges facing graduates is the question of where to live
One of the main challenges facing graduates is the question of where to live. Received wisdom used to be that everyone needed to move to London – this was where all the action was, it was where the work was made and all the important decision-makers were based.
There’s no doubt that London is still a fantastic, creative and vibrant city. But is it the most obvious place to gravitate to after graduation? The cost of private housing and the lack of social housing means that many graduates are finding it harder and harder to find an affordable way of living.
Some turn to innovative ideas such as becoming property guardians (often described as ‘legal squatting’), where you pay a peppercorn rent to live in empty properties (such as office blocks), thus looking after them before a landlord finds new permanent tenants, or refurbishes.
Others find themselves out of London living in smaller cities. The most obvious hub for culture outside of London is Manchester, the city Want finds himself living in. “One of the reasons I am going to Manchester is I can afford to live there, and it’s not a bad quality of living either. I’m not going to have to scrape around like I think I would in London.”
It’s a city so culturally ambitious and diverse, you start to wonder why any of us bother to stay around London. Manchester has truly hit a tipping point in the last few years, with enough theatres, arts centres, TV companies and independent producers to offer enough possibilities to an emerging creative, while still being small enough to not be too faceless. And it’s not just Manchester – Glasgow and Newcastle are other such examples of cities that value the arts and their artists.
“I think there are really exciting things happening artistically. Home is obviously really exciting. Manchester International Festival is in a really interesting stage of its development, the fringe scene is bourgeoning and I think people are starting to have very interesting ideas,” says Want.
Many seed-funding and small project grants are now being weighted away from London
Talking about the fringe scene leads neatly on to arts funding. There has been much discussion about the London weighting of arts funding, with many leaders vowing to redress the balance. This also gives a great deal of opportunities for graduates looking for funding. Many seed-funding and small project grants are now being weighted away from London in an effort to redress the balance.
Such considerations also show a marked change in how emerging creatives think of themselves. You used to move to London to get a job, whether that be as an actor through auditions, a writer with a commission or a director being employed to direct a play, or to assist. Now you are much more likely to be applying for small grants to create your own work. Often this involves being offered space and in-kind support, alongside small amounts of money. In many ways, this is a much more exciting prospect than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, but it also means you are often in a much more precarious financial position than previous generations.
But it isn’t just about money. Making those contacts and connections can feel almost impossible. It is estimated that people send and receive around 200 emails per day. So how do graduates start to build meaningful relationships with venues and producers? For Want, this started in training, and was one of the reasons he chose to do the MA.
“The MA sends you out to work in a professional theatre for a year,” he explains. “It gives you a relationship with a theatre. So you’ve got two years to develop your craft and find out what kind of director you are as well as begin to make those relationships in order to have a career.”
My advice to graduates is to get out of London, find a way of living affordably and start creating your own work. Keep an eye on development funds and try to build and maintain relationships with people whose work you admire. But remember: it’s about the work, not the networking.
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