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Careers Clinic: New year’s resolutions

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The season to be jolly has been and gone. It’s now the season when acting blogs, journals and personal social media accounts are full of goals and resolutions aimed at making 2017 even jollier.

To create some resolutions designed not only to increase your chances of getting those plum parts, but also to prevent last year’s career calamities repeating like some particularly dodgy sprouts, let’s look at some of the most common dilemmas to come down the Careers Clinic chimney over the past 12 months.

1. Dream big – but not for too long

Timing plays a big part in any successful performance – but not so much in the many “how can I get work in panto?” questions that usually flop on to the Careers Clinic mat along with our first Christmas cards.

Short of the occasional substitute who might suddenly be needed if Jack falls off his beanstalk in rehearsal or Aladdin’s costume gets ignited by the magic lamp, the vast majority of panto work is usually cast in mid-summer to late-autumn and certainly by the end of November. Approaching production companies any later than that is very unlikely to result in an “Oh, yes we will”.

Whatever your goals for 2017, a wise resolution would be to consider when the best deadline for achieving them might be and then work backwards from that date to discover when you need to start taking the actions and making the connections that will make them reality. You’ll usually find the distance between the time for dreaming and the time for doing is a lot shorter than you think.

2. If it ain’t broke, still fix it

While the Careers Clinic will always do its best to help in every circumstance, not being staffed by Fairy Godmothers or Genies means that some of the ‘last-minute emergency’ queries can be particularly tricky to sort. ‘Unforeseen circumstances’ have assailed actors and productions since the immortal words “the show must go on” were first uttered.

What we have learned from dealing with quite a few emergency dilemmas over the years is that, in many cases, last-minute problems have not only been foreseen, but often foreseen well in advance. It is just that nobody bothers to do anything about them until disaster actually strikes.

Regular script-reading partner not available for a crucial, last-minute self-tape, and no substitutes saved in the contact book? Passport three weeks away from expiry when the ‘dream’ overseas job comes in, but requires an actor with a minimum of six months’ validity? If you’re thinking this would never happen to you, that’s exactly what the two actors it happened to this year thought, too.

Do yourself (and your agent) a favour and make a resolution to spot your own avoidable 2017 hurdles early and get them sorted before they come back to bite you at the worst possible time.

3. Don’t be yourself

‘Be yourself’ may not be the most original advice, but it certainly works well in situations both on and off stage, which is why the Careers Clinic is still quite keen on it.

Once or twice a year, though, it can also pay to not be yourself. Look at your casting profile as if you were somebody else entirely. Consider all of your material from that ‘other’ perspective.

Now, assuming you had never met this performer in front of you, what story does their headshot, showreel and CV tell you about their strengths, background and casting potential?

Most actors who try this exercise discover a tweak or two worth making, so as you head into a new year of ‘getting yourself out there’, it is definitely worth resolving to give this exercise a shot.

4. Network with the ‘wrong’ people

Like it or not, networking – whether on social media or in person – has become increasingly key to building a profile in the industry.

‘How to network and who to network with’ enquiries have also become increasingly regular arrivals at the Career Clinic.

It makes sense to keep up to date with industry leaders and peers, but, since ‘all the world’s a stage’, remember that there are some very effective business tips and techniques to be learned from non-theatrical sources and individuals, too.

Resolve to cast your networking net just a little wider from time to time – and once in a while it might even be a good idea to put into practice that most difficult resolution of all:

5. Give up

Despite the frustrations and high pressures that theatrical life can entail, I don’t think we have ever advised a correspondent to give up for good.

But if you are currently finding that every TV show, movie or play you see is viewed through the lens of “how would I play the part?” or even worse, the red mist of “why isn’t it me in that part?” it might be time to give up judging yourself and switch off your ‘actor brain’, even if just for a few days, and immerse yourself in enjoying a show or two just as an audience member.

Not only is it less stressful, but the fresh perspective may be very helpful by the time you are ready to enter the fray again.

With sincere thanks to everybody who sent in queries and contributed answers last year, rest assured that the Careers Clinics’ new year’s resolution is to continue being a resource, a listening ear and a sounding board for whatever new surprises 2017 has waiting backstage for all of us.

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