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Careers Clinic: How do I start my career on the right path?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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It seems like only yesterday I was nervously shuffling in for my drama school audition. Two years later I am preparing for my graduate showcase and, beyond that, for life in the acting industry proper.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in training and I have learned a lot. The encouragement I have had from tutors and classmates gives me a lot of confidence for the task ahead. Several of my fellow graduates have already secured agents, and one or two will be leaving to go straight into professional jobs. Although those good things haven’t yet happened for me, I’m not too worried. I really do believe that ‘it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish’ although I may feel differently in a few months’ time if things still aren’t moving in a direction I’m happy with.

What is your advice for hitting the ground running and making this first year in the business really count?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE In more than two decades working with actors, I have seen first hand how careers that appear to be going well in public can be a very different story in private. It is certainly worth bearing this in mind whenever you are tempted to compare how fast others seem to be moving forward with your own experience.

I can also confirm that not every career that comes off the launch pad at full throttle necessarily sustains that momentum indefinitely. Obviously I hope your career starts with a huge bang, soars to success year-on-year and ends with you collecting every award in the industry. Equally obviously, that’s not something either of us have the power to guarantee.

It is more likely that your career will be a combination of ups and downs. Forward movement will sometimes relate to careful planning but can just as likely be the result of dogged determination, being in the right place at the right time, and sometimes pure luck.

For all those reasons, the best advice I can give for your first year in the industry is to put in place the one thing that tends to disappear from your life the moment you leave training: structure. Most of us understand that being a working actor involves using artistic skill and business skill in tandem. But without the structure of regular classes and the progress assessments that training entails, it is easy for one or both of those important things to grind to a halt.

This may even happen to your friends who already have representation. It is very common for actors to assume agents will provide the same structure that training used to. However, while an agent can be a good sounding board, their primary job is to get actors work, not run postgraduate training courses.

By all means enjoy your graduation and celebrate reaching this stage of your journey. Learning to pat yourself on the back and not to be constantly in thrall to outside validation is a skill that is perhaps more important in our industry than any other. Once you have done that, get some structure into your week as soon as you can.

When and how are you going to keep your talents sharp? What slots can you allocate for classes, practice times and collaboration with other actors? When will you do your submissions, your social media, your accounting? Without regular times set aside there is a good chance these important tasks won’t happen. With a set structure in place, they will still occur even on those inevitable days when you don’t feel like it. 

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

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