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Careers Clinic: How do I help my child with her career?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Far from being the dreaded ‘stage parents’, neither I nor my partner know anything about showbusiness, as both our career backgrounds are in entirely different areas. These interests seem to have skipped a generation as our daughter has wanted to work in theatre since she was small.

Her original plan was to study performing arts at a nearby university, but she also auditioned for a drama school and has been offered a place. She’s understandably delighted and we are happy to support her in whatever choice she makes. However, with our parent hats on, we also want to know we are sending her on the course that offers the best range of career options. Can you help us to help her make the best decision?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Whichever course your daughter takes, there is one guaranteed thing she will have to get used to if she makes her career in theatre: getting advice and opinions from lots of different people, whether solicited or not.

Some of that advice will come from people who don’t know the business any better than you (but aren’t honest enough to admit it). The rest may well come from people who do have experience and expertise, but will still usually include at least two pieces of advice that, while equally good, are also mutually exclusive.

Whether a prospective entrant to our industry is making a study decision with the support of a family, as in your case, making it alone, as many do, or against the wishes of nearest and dearest, as can still be the case, getting it right can be a very pressurising task. I would love to be able to offer a quick and easy formula, but in my experience, and from the feedback of the many actors, creative and backstage crew members I have spoken to over the years, the path to a sustainable career is rarely straight.

This may not be the clear-cut advice you wanted, but I have found that letting go of the belief that ‘if I take this course and these precise steps it will inevitably lead to the results I want’ removes the ‘must get it right’ weight and leaves us free to make the best decision with the information we have available. That’s not the same thing as a snap decision or even a choice based on emotion. The more information we can gather, the better odds we give ourselves for staying the course.

My first suggestion would be to explore with your daughter what aspects of theatre she wants to work in. If her heart is set on acting, then a drama school course will involve more practical and vocational training compared to a university course, which may tend towards a more academic structure.

For wide career options there are a whole range of performing arts courses that combine acting with, or focus specifically on, other areas.

The course you take and your final career direction can end up different. I have met many directors, producers and stage managers who started on acting courses at drama school. There are also actors who studied at university and get cast as often as their drama-school-trained contemporaries. The key thing is to drill down into what your daughter would like to do and then into the content, contact time and topics of each course. The better your research, the better your decision. I wish you and your daughter every success.

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

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