Careers Clinic: How can I benefit from a ‘small job’?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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A press officer gave a guest talk at our drama school just before graduation. She told us the best time to start promoting ourselves was when we had something concrete to promote.

It’s taken six months but I finally have something – I’m touring schools and care homes as the Good Fairy in a very small panto. I am having great fun, the pay is regular and, even on our tiny budget, the costumes, props and script are good quality.

Realistically, I am not expecting press reviewers or any of the agents I am pursuing to come down and see me in this type of show. However, the other thing the speaker told us was that we should “use every job to help us get our next job”.

What are your tips for making the most of this very small job?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE When my family was much younger I attended quite a few small shows like the one you describe. Even in a ‘dad’ rather than ‘industry professional’ capacity, it was easy to spot the actors who saw being in a kids’ show as a ‘day job’ to be got out of the way as quickly as possible. It was also clear who was thinking: ‘Today I may be playing the Big Bad Wolf in front of an audience of three year olds in a school hall, but if that’s my opportunity, then I am going to be the best wolf a school hall has ever seen.’

In any profession you can be a jobsworth or you can make your job worth something. The latter attitude will make somebody look up the actor’s name on the programme even if it’s only a photocopied sheet of paper.

Therefore, my first tip, which applies to every performance you will ever do, is to always give it 100%. Not just because your audience deserves it, but because there is no way of telling who might be at that particular show.

It could be an industry pundit like me on family outings duty. It might be a pupil or teacher whose parent or partner happens to be a producer. Or it might be that the scriptwriter or director behind the show you are in, who is also building their career from the starting blocks, will end up working for Netflix or the National Theatre and be in a position to get you seen for a project that may be just an idea right now.

Even if the outcome isn’t quite such a fairytale ending, you should still make the most of being in this show. It is certainly a perfectly legitimate piece of ‘news’ to use when keeping in touch with any agents you are courting.

Yes, the chances of them coming are slim, but you are reminding them that you are an employable actor and establishing that you are somebody prepared to go where the work is, rather than cherry-pick. Both of these are attractive qualities to any working agent. Similarly, don’t be shy to promote what you are doing on social media – just because you are not playing the London Palladium or the Royal Court.

You will need to check what photos you can or can’t post if you are working with children or vulnerable adults. A challenge of being an actor online is finding interesting things to talk about, but this job presents that chance.

Lastly, run it past your local newspaper and radio stations. It is the season when journalists are always looking for new angles on traditions like panto and this could be your chance to make their dreams come true.

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