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2017’s best advice from theatre industry professionals

Ray Fearon in rehearsal for Guys and Dolls at the Royal Exchange. Photo: Anneka Morley

What advice do you wish someone had given you starting out?

“Someone advised me to train, and I did. If a young actor asked me for advice, that’s the advice I would give them.”
Actor Ray Fearon [1]

“If you are a woman and a director, don’t get depressed if the men in the theatre think you are not good enough. And work together with other women, we are good at multitasking.”
Theatremaker Lola Arias [2]

“You can’t wait for the phone to ring. You have to be self-sufficient and try to find a project. It doesn’t have to set the world on fire, but you never know where it might lead.”
Actor Hadley Fraser [3]

“There’s no point in comparing yourself to someone else – everyone’s career path is different.”
Artistic director Adam Penford [4]

“Be generous to other people making work around you. The older you get, the less competitive you feel.”
Theatremaker Shon Dale-Jones [5]

“When you don’t give a shit you’re probably at your best.”
Artist and performer Martin Creed [6]

“Any time you spend thinking about the way you look or how other people think you look is a total waste of your time and energy.”
Actor Romola Garai [7]

“I used to play American football at uni, and they said you had to have a short memory and just focus on the next play. If you drop the ball it doesn’t matter. Having that mental strength is important. If you fluff a line, you just have to move on.”
Actor Sope Dirisu [8]

Jackie Wylie. Photo: Christopher Bowen

“That it is okay to be yourself. That it is okay to be the version of leadership that is authentically yourself and you don’t have to try to be a different, more obvious version of what leadership is.”
Artistic director Jackie Wylie [10]

“That vulnerability and ignorance and screwing up are all okay. As a young director, you are desperate to show how confident and capable you are because you want everyone to trust you.”
Artistic director Tom Littler [11]

“Great work comes along more rarely than you would wish. Also, a director who was once asked by a journalist how he would define his policy had the wit to say ‘policy is the people you work with’. That is the truth I wish I had known when I first started, and proved to be the case in more than 20 years of running theatres.”
Artistic director Jonathan Church [12]

“Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome.”
Leicester Curve chief executive Chris Stafford [13]

Go and see work that’s strange to you: live art, dance, theatre in different countries. Don’t just see the kind of work you can imagine making yourself.”
Director Jeff James [14]

Tips for auditions

“Claim your space and dare to be a bit different.”
Actor John McCrea [15]

“Don’t go unless you really need the job.”
Choreographer Twyla Tharp [16]

“Get the focus off yourself. Play your scene. Do your work. Let go when you’re done. Spit on the floor and leave.”
Director Bartlett Sher [17]

“Pick a short song and nothing from Wicked.”
Producer Jamie Hendry [18]

“If you want another go at something, don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be offended if time doesn’t allow.”
Artistic director Robert Hastie [19]

“Breathe properly and take valium.”
Actor Catherine McCormack [20]

Chipo Chung [21]
Chipo Chung

“The lesson I’ve learned over time is the magical art of not giving a fuck.”
Actor Chipo Chung [22]

“Check your teeth for spinach.”
Former artistic director Kerry Michael [23]

“Walk in, look at the person taking the audition naturally, and say: ‘Hello.’ You’d be amazed how often that doesn’t happen.”
Choreographer Wayne McGregor [24]

Who or what was your biggest influence?

“I used to go to theatre quite a lot, and saw the greats: Gary Oldman, Mark Rylance. But it was the women, the actresses, that used to really get to me. Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Mona Hammond, so many. There are a lot of young guys now, too, like Anthony Welsh and Ashley Walters.”
Actor Ray Fearon [1]

“I was very influenced by Sarah Kane and her grappling with the big stage pictures. For me, one of the things you can do with theatre – or that theatre does and should do – is really explore what it is to be human. Sometimes that means going to the dark place and I think Kane was very unafraid to do that.”
Playwright Zinnie Harris [25]

John Boyega

“Teresa Early at Theatre Peckham, where I started acting; Femi Oguns, my agent, manager and friend; my dad, Pastor Samson Boyega, and obviously my mother too; and Stefan Wade, one of my closest friends, who I live with.”
Actor John Boyega [27]

“Paul Thomas Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola and Howard Davies.”
Director Sam Yates [28]

“Garry Marshall, who taught me to make every rehearsal a party. And my dad, who taught me that hard work, loyalty and perseverance are everything.”
Director Gordon Greenberg [29]

“Mum and dad, Glenda Jackson and Beryl Reid.”
Performer Josie Lawrence [30]

“The Bush Theatre and its ethos that you are there to do the play, not to present yourself.”
Director Dominic Dromgoole [31]

“Fizzy wine and loved ones.”
Actor Jemima Rooper [32]

“My influences range from my grandmother to artists and writers like Virginia Woolf and directors like Katie Mitchell – to be predictable – but also people like Tim Crouch. And being able to travel internationally I think had a big influence.”
Artistic director Ellen McDougall [33]

“The spirit of Naples – there are no rules, just do it.”
BECTU official Sofie Mason [34]

“When I was younger I loved Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, but Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Ellen Burstyn have been inspirations to me.”
Actor Marcia Gay Harden [35]

“Apart from Shakespeare, probably Russian culture: the rich psychology and humanity of the great writers; the emotion of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich; the energy, invention and social conscience of the 20th-century avant-garde visual artists and theatre practitioners.”
Director of opera Oliver Mears [36]

“I could give you a list of inspirational artists, but the honest answer would be the colleagues I work with now.”
Artistic director Ruth Mackenzie [37]

“Artists like Francis Bacon and the people around me.”
Director Hamish Pirie [38]

Ria Jones playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Manuel Harlan [39]
Ria Jones playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Manuel Harlan

“Andrew Lloyd Webber: his writing. I love his music because he writes the most memorable melodies, dramatically they are so strong and for someone with my kind of voice – what they call a ‘belt’ voice – nobody writes in a better style.”
Performer Ria Jones [40]

“Richard Branson got me thinking about what it takes to create something from nothing.”
Really Useful Theatres managing director Rebecca Kane Burton [41] 

“Daniel Brooks, a very smart guy who doesn’t care about the market. He is the one person who, if he is doing a new project, I have to go and see it. And my dog. We adopted him when he was 50 days old. This is how you see how a machine starts to feed itself with information and grow and change and become more complex.”
Writer Nassim Soleimanpour [42]

“The late, great Howard Davies.”
Director Jeremy Herrin [43]

“When I was growing up I was a huge fan of Celine Dion. I still am. I’ve seen her in concert several times and she was the reason I started singing. But reading about Cilla Black’s rise to fame and the knockbacks along the way, that’s inspirational as well, and quite magical.”
Performer Kara Lily Hayworth (who plays Black in Cilla the Musical) [44]

If you weren’t involved in the theatre what would you have been?

“My fantasy job is to be a tennis player. It’s a total fantasy. In my head, I’m Serena Williams when I play.”
Actor Nikki Amuka-Bird [45]

“For ages I wanted to be an agronomist – someone who tests soil and advises farmers on how to develop their crops. A friend’s mum did that. It sounded like the best thing, because you got to drive around and speak to people.”
Director Hamish Pirie [38]

“I did think about being a drama critic but Derek Jacobi said he would never speak to me again if I did.”
Writer Mike Poulton [46]

“Something to do with animals. I always said I wanted to be a vet. I think that in a past life or a final life I will be a dog. I have two – Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles.”
Actor Summer Strallen [47]

“Probably a stoner in a bookshop. I like reading and if I have to earn a living, I’d like to be surrounded by books.”
Director Jeremy Herrin [43]

Yael Farber. Photo: Marc Brenner [48]
Yael Farber. Photo: Marc Brenner

“War correspondent.”
Director Yael Farber [49]

“An environmental manager. I still don’t know what that is.”
Actor Edward Hogg [50]

“When I was a kid I wanted to be a missionary.”
Dancer Donna McKechnie [51]

“I always imagined myself as some kind of crazy, mad scientist in a lab with lots of things bubbling around me and winning a Nobel Prize and saving the world. Unfortunately, when I got into science I realised that the reality is very different.’
Artistic director Vicki Amedume [52]

“A helicopter pilot or a film-maker.”
Composer Dan Gillespie Sells [53]

“In an alternate universe, one I’m grateful isn’t my reality, I’d be a lawyer, but fantasising about being a performer.”
Cabaret performer Le Gateau Chocolat [54]

“I’d love to have been an astrophysicist or astronomer. I can’t image what it might be like to go to work at the beginning of the 21st century with the tools they have. They must be high as kites every single day.”
Actor Cherry Jones [55]

“Probably crime – or criminal defence. There was a time when I thought lawyers were the most noble people on earth. I even registered for one year of introductory legal studies.”
Actor Kurt Egelhof [56]

“I am very sad I quit playing the piano. Music is better than words. Words are very boring.”
Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour [42]

“A marine biologist – there’s still time.”
Director John Tiffany [57]

Carlos Acosta. Photo: Andrej Uspenski [58]
Carlos Acosta. Photo: Andrej Uspenski

“A musician or a footballer.”
Dancer Carlos Acosta [59]

“If I was smart enough I would love to have been a doctor. I like the diagnosis process, I like the problem-solving of it, I like the care of it. I just don’t have the science.”
Director Bartlett Sher [17]

“I think I’d like to have been a potter. I just really love pottery things – sculptures and bowls. I love the feel of it and the weight of it.”
Artistic director Ellen McDougall [33]

“The only other thing may have been a lawyer. I used to watch [US legal TV show] Petrocelli, I thought he was awesome.”
Theatremaker Shon Dale-Jones [5]

“Professional rugby player.”
Director Declan Donnellan [60]

“A carpenter, a fisherman or a chef.”
Actor Philip Quast [61]

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?

“Tons. I always walk around the theatre before a press night and chat to her [the theatre], and go to the back wall and put hands on it and chat again. I have a little prayer with the theatre. I do talk to the Hackney Empire a lot.”
Actor and director Susie McKenna [62]

“I fight my superstitions because I don’t believe in them. One of my rituals is that when I direct a show, as soon as the curtain goes down I go outside and walk around the block – or the park if it’s at the Delacorte – and take a few minutes entirely by myself, to let go of the thing I’ve just made. Then I come back to the party and give it back to the world.”
Director Oskar Eustis [63]

“I shave for a premiere. I let my hair grow during rehearsals, but there’s something about a clean face and a fresh look on first night that gives me confidence.”
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon [64]

“No, but I respect them. My roots are in Nigeria, where spiritual things do happen.”
Actor John Boyega [27]

“Don’t whistle in the dressing room, don’t walk under ladders and do salute a magpie.”
Performer Ria Jones [40]

F Murray Abraham

“Olivier had a ritual I hope is true: he would stand before curtain went up, his face up against it, and say, ‘You lucky bastards!’ That’s a great technique for not being afraid.”
Actor F Murray Abraham [66]

“Protective ancestral spitting over my left shoulder, wearing a hamsa symbol, having Ganesha in each rehearsal room.”
Director Yael Farber [49]

“In Funny Girl, my stage manager is not allowed to wear his glasses. Whenever he does and not his contact lenses, things go wrong. And I have a picture of Fanny Brice that I will probably take to every show I do from now on, which I got from Paul O’Grady when I did panto with him at the London Palladium last year.”
Performer Natasha J Barnes [67]

“No, but I did get in the habit of saying all the lines from The Winter’s Tale before I went on just to get myself into the headspace of the iambic pentameter.”
Former actor and MP Tracy Brabin [68]

“I have a meditation tape and a portable bed of nails that helps me to nap before the show. I can sleep for seven minutes and wake up feeling refreshed and focused.”
Actor Michelle Collins [69]

“I carry a piece of solidified lava my father brought back from Pompeii with me, and hold it for luck.”
Director and actor Glen Walford [70]

“In Argentina we hug each other before and after the show. It’s too much, in fact. But you have to do it or the play will fall apart…”
Theatremaker Lola Arias [2]

“Mentioning the Scottish play. Over many years, inexplicably, I’ve seen the quantity of disasters that have fallen on people involved in productions of this play. I think this is due to the fact that Shakespeare couldn’t have avoided using true language for the witches and today one must find how to counterbalance this so as to be able to work freely.”
Theatremaker Peter Brook [71]

“I keep bottles of Rescue Remedy at various points in the theatre, should I need it. I get very keyed up about press night, but as soon as it’s over I look forward to going on stage.”
Actor Catherine McCormack [20]

Audra McDonald. Photo: Autumn de Wilde

“I have rituals for each character. When I was doing A Raisin in the Sun with Sean Combs, we began in bed and he would give me 10 kisses and an 11th for luck before the play began.”
Actor Audra McDonald [73]

“I’ve seen many shows ruined by bad reviews and good reviews, so I always tell my actors not to read the reviews until after the run is over. The actors work out how to create the show with me during the rehearsals. They owe it to themselves and each other to maintain that contract regardless of what the critics say.”
Director Marianne Elliott [74]

“Life is a ritual.”
Choreographer Twyla Tharp [16]

“I get a bit weird if I accidentally whistle in a dressing room. In the Ken Russell movie The Boy Friend, the actors make each other go outside, turn round three times and knock on the door. It stuck.”
Actor Jemima Rooper [32]