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Careers Clinic: How do I take my acting to the next step?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I am retired but I have always wanted to be an actor. I live in a small Midlands town where there are few regular classes beyond night classes at the local college. I enjoy travelling to the ‘big cities’ for theatre outings and I have seen some of the best actors in the country on stage. I’m not naive enough to think I can compete with any of them, given how late I am coming to acting, but, having a lot of lost time to catch up on, I want to start from the best foundation. I’m not sure a local class for an hour or two a week can provide that.

I have invested in many books and videos by top acting teachers over the past few years and I do my best to practise what they teach. I record myself on video and I think my skills are improving, but I’m aware that this may be a subjective view. Even if I’m right, I’ve no idea how to take my acting out of my bedroom and to the next step. Can you help?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE For any of us who have a dream, waiting for ‘exactly the right circumstances’ to make it a reality can often be the reason it never starts at all. Certainly, if your goal is to become a better actor, then the better the teacher, the more likely you are to reach that goal. If the current priority is simply to start acting in the first place, then getting out of your bedroom and doing it in the outside world as soon as you can, and by any means you can, would be my advice.

Like driving, cooking and self-defence, you can invest in the best books, DVDs and online masterclasses, but the techniques only become yours when you practise in real time. When it comes to acting, putting them into practice requires interacting with others, which is why a class is often the easiest and safest option.

You can supplement what you learn with other research and perhaps engage a private acting coach if your wallet allows, but acting work is almost always done with other actors and in front of audiences and the training room offers both opportunities, even if the ‘audience’ is just your fellow students.

In a similar spirit, it’s worth checking if there are local drama groups in your area. Thankfully, some of the snobbery around ‘amateur’ versus ‘professional’ companies has diminished in recent times and the quality in many amateur productions I have seen has been very high. Obviously, the focus of these companies is on putting on shows rather than classes, so you can’t necessarily just turn up, pay your sub and automatically get cast. But getting involved in any capacity is another way to ease yourself into the world of theatre – watching rehearsals and performances, even if your role is ushering or box office, can help identify more clearly what your own development goals should be when you train further afield or at the next level.

Speaking of further afield, if you can find a well-reviewed class in a neighbouring town or city it might be worth the extra time and travel cost. Social media can be a good source of information as to what other local actors, both professional and aspiring, recommend. There may be one-off weekend classes and workshops worth travelling to and staying over for if their reputation is good.

Do keep going to theatre. See great performances by others as signposts to aim for – not bars to reach. However late you feel you have left it to get your acting off the ground, remember that your first class is the initial step on a journey that can take you in many different future directions. Enjoy the ride.

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

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