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West End Producer: 10 things they won’t teach you at drama school

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Our beloved ‘agony aunt’ West End Producer tells you everything you need to know about working in theatre…

1. You won’t make much money

Photo: Caron Badkin/Shutterstock
Photo: Caron Badkin/Shutterstock

Many people think that actors get huge sums of cash for their dramatic emoting, particularly if they’re playing a main character. Sadly this is only true for leads in West End musicals, celebs and David Hasselhoff. Many regional theatres pay a company salary that is below the poverty line, and force actors to emote eight times a week for little more than the minimum wage. However, it’s not all bad. An actor paid the Equity minimum will earn enough money to eat a varied diet of beans on toast and Pot Noodles.

2. Getting a role on Holby City is not guaranteed

Obviously, you will be dreaming of playing a guest lead on one of the top-rated television series – Holby or Hollyoaks. Sadly, walking straight into a television job is very rare, particularly because established actors now play all the minor roles. Only last week Ian McKellen played ‘Dead Man 1’ on Holby, and Helen Mirren played a sheep on Emmerdale. You are much more likely to leave drama school and do a schools tour of Shopping and Fucking, dear.

3. You may not get an agent

Some people will leave drama school without an agent – but don’t worry. Competition in every aspect of this business gets more intense by the second – with millions of new graduates every year, fewer jobs, and the expectation that everyone should be a quadruple threat. If you don’t get an agent at your showcase, it will usually be because they have someone else on their books like you. So what can you do? Get yourself in a show, invite agents along, ply them with alcohol and bribe them.

4. Book digs early

Photo: Christian Delbert/Shutterstock
Photo: Christian Delbert/Shutterstock

The best accommodation on a theatre’s digs list goes quickly – so plan ahead. When you get a theatre job, ensure that booking your digs is a top priority. Call the theatre, get a copy of their digs list, and book. Important things to consider: the cheaper it is, the better, be close to the theatre and make sure the landlady is not running a zoo inside her house. It is also wise to find out if there are any young children in the house who will scream at 5am, run into your bedroom and force you to play Pokemon Go.

5. Tax doesn’t have to be taxing, but it is

As soon as you leave drama school, register as self-employed. Keep all your receipts and literature from the Inland Revenue in one place. And get yourself an accountant. Of course you could do your tax return yourself – but this invariably leads to weeks of tears, depression and, in severe circumstances, death. I recommend you get an accountant for your first couple of years, and then when you have a better understanding of what it involves, try it yourself.

6. Don’t be more intelligent than the director

The director is legally entitled to be the most clever person in the rehearsal room – and that’s why they like being the director. They will have assembled a cast of people who are average at acting, look nice, but most importantly don’t question their authority. The director is always right. If you ever disagree with the director it is vital you bite your tongue until you get to the pub – after all, drinking was invented for discussing how bad directors are.

7. Never call your agent more than five times a day

Photo: Christian-Bertrand/Shutterstock
Photo: Christian-Bertrand/Shutterstock

Your agent is not the fourth emergency service – it is not their top priority to advise you about your sex life or what car to buy (unless you’re very lucky). However, if you haven’t heard from your agent for a month, you should call them to make sure they remember you’re still alive. Generally it’s a good time to move agents when they haven’t got you an audition for more than a year.

8. Stay motivated – create your own work

It’s a tough business. Many people will never work, and often the people with zero talent will get the good jobs (because the casting director fancies them). However, don’t let this get you down. The hardest moments are when you are out of work. You will need to find another job to pay the bills. There’s nothing shameful about this – every actor needs to find other ways to earn money. This is also when you have to stay motivated. Get creative in a different way. Write, take classes, go to the theatre, put on your own production. Keep your positivity up – and never compare your own career to someone else’s. If all else fails, invest in a good quality bottle of single malt, dear.

9. You will be treated like a child

When in your first job you will realise that the role of an actor can be likened to that of a child. The creative team, stage management and anyone at the theatre will presume you are badly behaved and have the intelligence of Dean Gaffney. You have to be punctual, and will get whipped if you don’t know your lines by press night. You will not be allowed to go to family weddings, funerals or anything to do with your normal life. It is to be expected that your real life will always take second place to your theatre life, dear.

10. The hierarchy in drama school means nothing when you get into the professional world

Drama school is an institution in which you are given a certain status by the staff and your peers. There will be favourites who get all the good parts and people who will spend three years standing at the back holding a spear. Don’t let this worry you. When you enter the professional world of theatre, none of this will matter. Your place and status in drama school is forgotten as soon as you leave. You are a new actor, with a fresh slate, a new face – and the possibility to be the next Dale Winton. Good luck, dear!

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

Read more advice on drama schools


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