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Careers Clinic: How do I get my career back on track?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Like a lot of actors, I’m using the beginning of the year to review what has happened over the past 12 months and make plans for the future. My problem is that not very much happened at all last year. It was probably the quietest stretch I have had since I graduated.

There has been one silver lining: I started my own freelance business a while back that has gone better than expected. That’s probably why I didn’t notice the barren acting year flying past. I’m pleased about the day-job success but my goal is still to be a working actor, not a self-employed web designer who does acting as a hobby.

If a piece of software or hardware in my web design office was on the blink, I’d know where to start looking to get it back into action. The ‘technology’ of getting my acting career back on track is proving a bit more mysterious, which is why I’m contacting your ‘helpline’.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I can suggest a technology-flavoured approach to help you get back on track this year, but don’t let anybody tell you that any plan, scheme or strategy can, in itself, guarantee your success in this business. It is, by its nature, an unpredictable one. The only decision that is within our control is the resolution to make the best of each life and career event as it comes to us.

To put themselves in the best position to do this, any professional who uses physical ‘tools of the trade’ will normally set aside some time every so often to check that their instruments are in good condition and properly calibrated. An actor’s ‘tools’ are often less physical, but this check is still a sensible thing to do, and the beginning of the year is a great time for it.

Even us non-tech savvy types know that when a device stops working it isn’t usually because the whole item has died, but because one or more parts have stopped working. The first step in repairing or upgrading is to identify which part is at fault. This means checking the system piece by piece, starting with the most likely areas. In terms of your career you haven’t given much detail as to why it didn’t produce much work for you, but here are a few thoughts to start your personal investigation, which may be useful for others doing similar assessments.

If you got regular auditions, but they didn’t translate into jobs, there are two main possibilities: either you are going for the wrong parts or you are going for the right parts, but your audition technique is letting you down. The latter can be true even if you received ‘good feedback’. Polite encouragement is fine, but if you consistently aren’t getting the parts you go for, something needs to change. This is probably where you should invest your energy going forward, via coaching or classes.

If you aren’t getting into the room at all, there are a wider range of areas to explore, ranging from your headshot, to your showreel, to the roles you are submitting to.

Again, a ‘practical mechanics’ approach can help: can you go back to the last point in time where you were getting called in? What has changed? Something internal, such as a headshot change (new doesn’t always mean better), or something external? Is your casting different and if so has the way you present yourself changed? You may not hit on an immediate answer in this process, but at the very least it will suggest some areas to experiment with.

I wish you every success in making those discoveries and the appropriate upgrades in the year ahead.

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