Plan your countdown to the world of work
As actors, most of us can remember the starting point that led to where we are now.
For me it was an afternoon in infant school when I played the role of Soldier in the self-created play “Evil Spirits”. Six years of age and something began to form in my head. A dream.
Whatever that moment, if you’re a final-year graduate, then 2016 is the year when it turns from being just a dream or aspiration into a job. The six months from January are the final countdown of your transition into a working actor. It might seem like years ago when you actually stepped through the hallowed portals of your training academy, but now the real world looms large in your thoughts. The day the acting stops grows ever nearer – because that is what will happen unless you do something about it. At the moment, acting is put on your plate every day whether you want it or not, but after that fateful day in June or early July when you step out into the world, there will be no more acting, unless you make it happen.
So, how best can you use these final months to prepare for the years to come?
If you haven’t already started, this is the time to get those letters out to agents. No good just sitting down and writing one good letter and sending it out to 50 agents. That’s called junk mail. Make a list of the agents you want to target. Who are the actors you like? Who represents them? What is it about that agency that would make you happy to be a client? Do you feel you could cope as an actor in a large agency, or would you prefer to go with a smaller agency and have someone whom you can talk to? Rather than asking for representation, ask if you can come in and say hello. Don’t be scared to ask questions. People who are frightened of their agent probably don’t have the right one. Remember: your dream was to be an actor, not a client. It’s better to have no agent than a bad agent. There are lots of them around. Ask actors you know who represents them and find out if they’re happy.
Start making links with the outside world.There’s no better way of doing that at this time of year than by entering the Alan Bates award at the Actors Centre. The winner and runners-up receive amazing prizes and all six finalists get a year’s mentoring from a working actor. It’s the only competition that you can enter yourself and for which you don’t have to be nominated. Applications close on March 4.
Finding the right audition piece is absolutely key to showing yourself off in your best light. Use the resources such as the amazing Mono Box which has an amazing selection of scripts and speeches that have been donated by writers, actors, and playwrights. The best speeches entertain. Don’t forget that the audience should be able to enjoy your speech. If you picked it because you think it shows off your acting, you’ve probably picked the wrong piece.
No doubt your end-of-year showcase will be looming: the time when agents, casting directors and industry professionals (whoever they may be) forgo their lunch for an unchilled glass of dry white wine and a mushroom vol-au-vent to watch 28 or more actors give two minutes of raw emotion. If you’ve chosen the right speech, then you’re halfway there. Treat the day seriously, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Nerves are a positive thing but only if you manage them well. It’s just another opportunity – one of many that will come your way. As an actor, you’ll do more job interviews in a year than many people do in a working lifetime. Take a deep breath, step out there, and enjoy it. Don’t be worried if nobody approaches you in the bar afterwards and immediately offers to sign you up and make you a huge star. Many successful actors leave drama school without an agent. Sometimes finding the right person takes time.
You’ll probably be immersed in your final shows by now, but don’t forget that the day after you leave, you will have to start your working life. Where will you live? What job will you do when you’re not acting? These are all subjects you can address now so that the transition into your working world is as smooth as possible. Don’t wait until the morning after you have left drama school only to wake up and find everything has been taken out of your life. For many young actors, sorting out where they are going to live can be so time-consuming that looking for a job has to be put on hold. Get ahead of the game and do it now.
Set yourself realistic objectives for the first 12 months so that on the same day next year, you can look back and measure how successful you’ve been. A couple of days’ TV work is a realistic objective, as is a student film, or a fringe show. What’s your financial objective for the year? Will you earn that from acting, or from other work? Set yourself five objectives to look back on at this time next year. You can still have dreams, but also have goals.
The next six months are a crucial time, but if you start to plan ahead now it can make all the difference. Rather than waking up on a Monday morning in late June or early July and feeling that you’re stepping out into a void, thinking ahead can help you prepare for that moment now, so that when it comes along the transition is seamless, and the days ahead are full of exciting opportunities.