Careers Clinic: How can I move my career to the UK?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I hope you won’t mind giving some advice on UK theatre careers to somebody living on the other side of the world.

I’m a working actor in musical theatre but the professional circuit in my country is a very small one. I feel I have taken things as far as they can go.

It was seeing shows as a child on family trips to London (where my dad is originally from) that inspired me to start acting in the first place.

Since starting my own career, I have been back to UK for at least a week every year. Each time I try to see as many West End shows as I can. Given the chance, I feel I can perform to the very high standards that kind of show requires and I want to experience what working at this level would be like. My plan is to move to the UK this year, once the show I am in finishes. Can you give me any advice on how I go about finding an agent and generally getting started on the UK scene?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE: As it happens, my thoughts on your move are exactly the same as those I would suggest to an actor travelling in the opposite direction.

Let’s start with the obvious: living and  working in a new city or country is never the same as being there for a holiday, even a working one. Rose-tinted glasses are never the best lenses with which to consider long-term career moves. I would suggest drawing on your acting skills to dial everything you ‘know’ from previous trips down to zero and starting your research afresh.

Practicalities are a good place to start. Check any visa or work restrictions that apply to your particular circumstances carefully. If anything needs sorting out, make sure you take responsibility for doing that yourself. This isn’t something an agent, producer or other gatekeeper in the new territory would normally take the lead on. The ‘if they want me badly enough, they will work out the detail’ myth is not one to rely on – even if you are a major star in your own country (as many stars from here have found out in US and elsewhere).

You may be at the top of your game in your current territory, but moving could mean  starting at the bottom again. I have certainly worked with a number of performers who have been very successful in their own lane, who when moving to a different area, either geographically or within the industry, have had to restart, if not from scratch, then a lot further down the bill than they have been used to. The ones who accept this quickest and get on with rebuilding their platform from the ground up are usually the ones who get back up the ladder fastest.

Budgeting for a ‘finding your feet’ period is unglamorous but crucial. In musical theatre for instance, even if you get in the frame for a promising job, multiple callbacks are by no means unusual before the part is secured. For this reason, investigate the types of day job you can reasonably expect to find yourself on arrival and what those jobs pay compared with your projected cost of living.

Once you have done your online research, it might then be a good time to consider one final fact-finding visit, this time concentrating less on the big shows and more on the small  productions that are likely to be your entry point into the industry. Finding out which actors already do that type of work, and who the agents that represent them are, should give you the right steer to start building your  own contacts.

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