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Careers Clinic: Should I tour with a TiE company?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ve been acting for just over a year. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that I have finished my training and am now trying to find opportunities to act.

Currently, I am in the middle of the ‘can’t get much work without an agent, can’t get an agent without work’ dilemma, but I’m not letting that stop me in terms of applications.

After completing my ‘triple-threat’ course I got work as a teaching assistant and I think those extras skills are the ones that have brought in the offer of a tour with a theatre in education company.

I was initially quite chuffed but must say the reaction from some of the more experienced actors I know has been decidedly mixed. Some are all for it, but others have told me it is a career detour and will mean I am “stuck in the back of a van and out of the spotlight” for months. I am in two minds – I still fancy it and the money seems decent, but should I hold out for a bigger break?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Whenever an actor is asked what work they wouldn’t do (a question that often pops up in agent interviews), performers often assume it relates only to nudity and sexuality. Once they realise it also relates to more mundane matters such as their openness to working on cruise ships, in pantomime or – horror of all horrors – in a TiE company it’s surprising how many people who are more than willing to step out of their comfort zone ‘showing their bits’-wise jump right back inside it when faced with a schools tour.

As a relatively new actor, bear in mind that much advice given in this industry can be highly subjective. “That’s a terrible job or venue” often translates as “I had a bad experience there”, just as “That’s a great thing to do” tends to mean “That particular option worked out well for me”.

Like all branches of theatre, there are good and bad TiE companies out there, so certainly if a lot of unrelated people tell you a particular company is to be avoided then by all means do, but there are many brilliant ones too. In my experience, a lot of the common objections to TiE work derive from a combination of snobbishness and unrealistic ideas of what a ‘real’ actor does. The main practical objection to doing TiE work is usually that it involves a lot of unglamorous graft and, yes, backs of vans often do feature in this.

If the money you would make from the tour doesn’t justify the expense and inconvenience, give it a miss. However, if you are going to edit yourself out of being available either to tour or to take unglamorous jobs on an ongoing basis, you are really limiting your casting options.

A further deal-breaker for some actors is that TiE shows are unlikely to be reviewed or visited by casting directors, prospective agents or other people you want to be seen by. This is true, but, for an actor starting out, it makes a lot of sense to get as much acting experience under your belt as you can in advance of you getting seen. In many ways, TiE has replaced the oft-lamented repertory theatre system as one of the few opportunities a new actor gets to perform regularly, experience the ups and downs of being part of a company and hone their focus and stamina in front of challenging audiences.

TiE work on an actor’s CV means they are not only employable, but open-minded. That is far more attractive to any agent with common sense than somebody who sits around waiting for a big break to show up.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne