Careers Clinic: How do I get over a rocky patch in getting acting and writing work?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ve had a generally successful career as an actor and writer so far. Or at least it was going quite well up until this year. Unfortunately, I am now in the middle of a dreaded ‘rocky patch’.

In the past two months I went up for two really good parts for which both myself and my agent thought I’d be perfect. I didn’t even get in the room for the first, despite putting a lot of time and effort into the self-tape. After two callbacks for the second, which I thought went really well, the next we heard about the role was the press announcement that somebody else was cast in it.

This morning, I have just heard that a play I submitted for a new-writing festival hasn’t made the cut either. Again, I thought I had a topic so contemporary that they would at least have wanted to see it developed further.

There’s a new festival I should be applying for this week, and my casting profile renewals are due shortly. But to be frank, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this isn’t going to be my year and maybe I should put my energy into something else. What should I do?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE As a writer and performer, you will no doubt have an understanding of the power of associations and patterns when aiming to take your audience on a journey.

A common example of this would be the ‘rule of three’, by which we set up two very similar events or phrases in close succession so that the audience expects a similar thing to happen the third time. We can then throw in something completely different to create shock or laughter – or both. Another example is the ‘callback’: a scene or a phrase at the end of a play that mirrors or echoes something that happened at the beginning.

How does all this relate to your current bad spell? It is important that those of us who are storytellers for others remember that we are just as prone to create stories for ourselves. We do this by linking and interpreting events that may or may not actually be related. This can have a particularly negative effect if the story we decide to tell ourselves is a less motivating one.

We writers and performers tend to spend a lot of time ‘in our heads’, especially when we are not working, so we have even more opportunities to start telling ourselves negative stories without the chance for them to be challenged from the outside.

Worse than that, if our brain’s love of patterns – even rubbish ones – kicks in at the wrong time, we start acting in ways that may well lead us even further downhill.

There may be many reasons why you lost out on those last three jobs – perhaps there were lots of plays with similar themes, somebody else’s look might have suited the part better or the casting director might have decided to offer the role to somebody they had worked with before.

What I can pretty much guarantee you is that the decision makers for these jobs made their decisions independently without consulting each other, so you linking them in your own head into a ‘bad run’ isn’t useful at all.

If you can get feedback on any of the jobs, that might help. If not, the best plan really is to get back out there and start applying again. Perhaps also look at creating something for which you don’t have to wait on somebody else’s permission.

Above all, don’t start acting out the story of somebody who is having a rocky patch. Be positive, be disciplined and, above all, be productive – whether you feel like it or not. I can’t guarantee a happy ending for that story, but it will definitely be a more motivating one.

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