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Careers Clinic: Can actors make a sideways move?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ve been pursuing my career as an actor for about 19 years now and I’ve had some great experiences, but now I’m hoping to settle down and start a family.

However, I’m not sure an actor’s life, with frequent periods out of work, and fairly low pay even when I am in work, will be enough to help me reach that goal.

I still passionately love theatre and, if I do make a career move, I would love to stay working in this industry in some way.

I’m an outgoing person and naturally curious, so whenever I am in a show, big or small, I’ve always been genuinely interested in the many other people working on the production and in the venue, not just on the stage.

There are several jobs I’ve seen that I feel I could learn fairly quickly and do well given the chance.

I’m not sorry I gave acting a go, but I do want to make my ‘second’ theatrical career a longer-lasting one.

Any tips for deciding what that career path should be?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE No one would deny that acting as a sole source of income can be a particularly precarious way of making a living for all but the lucky few. Not everyone might agree that this a reason to change careers, but I don’t think anybody should condemn you for it.

As with any such change, it is always wiser to make the move for a positive reason, rather than just as an escape from where you currently are. Let’s take that positive perspective as our starting point. There are a lot of ‘transferable’ skills your acting experience will have given you that can be applied to other roles in the business, ranging from the ability to learn fast and work as part of a team to a basic knowledge of the ins and outs of mounting a theatrical production.

Just as a good actor makes something difficult look easy, a lot of the people you will have worked with whose jobs you may feel you can do have also spent time and invested in learning, either formally or through experience, to make things look more seamless than they are. Before you leap into the application process for a new job it makes sense to do some investigation so you can match your skills to the right jobs.

The first step is to make a thorough inventory of your own skills and experience so far, whether gained as an actor or elsewhere. Cast your net as wide as you can among the many jobs in the world of theatre, whether front of house, backstage or in ancillary services, and try to identify the jobs that might best suit your skill set, and even more importantly, that interest you enough that you will be prepared to do the extra learning that will almost certainly be needed to bridge any gaps in your existing abilities and experience.

Reach out to any contacts and connections you already have in the kind of roles you are considering. If you don’t know anybody personally perhaps your networks do. Keep an eye out too for mentoring and placement schemes that might connect you with those people. The best source of information on any given job is always somebody who already does that job well.

If you are fortunate enough to spend time with such a person, make sure you (and they) get the best value out of the interaction. Do enough research in advance so that the questions you ask elicit insider tips that only they can give you and not answers you could have easily got from a book or on a website.

Treat every meeting as an ‘audition’ for your new role – if you impress with your interest and willingness to learn, that opportunity might come sooner than you think.

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

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