Dear West End Producer: What’s the best way to forge an acting career after graduating with a science degree?
Dear @westendproducer, how would I start to forge an acting career… after graduating with a science degree?
— Richard Stranks (@StrankyR) July 1, 2016
If you have a science degree, then you already have many things going in your favour. Theatre is very much like science – it takes a lot of experimenting in the rehearsal room to get it right, but when all the elements come together and the actors stop exploding, a production’s winning formula can be found. Vitally, just like a GCSE science exam, to make a show work you need the right ingredients (the cast and creatives), the correct conditions (a nice cool theatre, unlike the Charing Cross Theatre, which is currently a sauna), and an equation to follow (a script).
One of your options is drama school – particularly a postgraduate course. Drama schools favour people who don’t come straight after GCSEs and A levels, and often advise candidates to take a year out to gain life experience, which is essential when training. Often drama students will spend the first two years trying to fit in with their peers and learning how to cope with living on their own, by which time it’s their final year and they’ve missed out on important bits of training. This is where you have a huge advantage: you will already have gone through all this when studying for your science degree.
I imagine you have done some sort of acting in the past, so now you should focus on getting more experience. If drama school is not for you, other institutions offer shorter courses, some of which are part-time so you can work while doing them. A practical drama course has many advantages: you will be surrounded by others, explore all different genres of drama, and make all-important contacts. Many actors find themselves working with fellow students and teachers in the profession – it can often lead to your first job. You could perhaps do a showcase with an invited audience and try to get an agent. Obviously it can be harder than it sounds – but with perseverance, passion, and persuasion, anything is possible.
Another route is to take part in fringe shows in London – or festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe – and invite people along. This can be a good way of getting spotted. It’s all about getting experience and meeting people. As someone with a different life experience and job on your CV, it already makes you sound more interesting to directors. Never shy away from discussing your science degree; it makes you different from others.
Many teachers and actors say: “Never have a back-up option, because invariably you’ll end up doing that.” I disagree. Already having a degree, you have something that allows you to support yourself when ‘resting’. It works to your advantage. Embrace your academic qualification – in fact, celebrate it! You will get roles because of what you know, and who you are. It is what marks you out from everyone else who is applying or auditioning. And be clever with your choices of monologues. Find something that discusses science, and invites questions about your interest in the subject – have a look at some speeches from Arcadia or other Stoppard plays.
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