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Careers Clinic: Do immersive shows mean I accidentally hide my own branding as an actor?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I did my first immersive show as a graduate last year. It was a small, site-specific one, but enjoyable and I learned a lot from doing it. Through contacts I made on that show, I went straight into a much bigger budget immersive show, that was more challenging but also a longer run and very helpful financially as well as artistically.

I have been approached by the same company for its next production, which I would love to do.

I just wanted to run one concern by you: much as I love this kind of work, the scale of the shows and the number of actors involved means there are rarely mentions of individuals in the reviews.

The ‘walk-through’ format also means that not every visitor to each performance will get to see me do my stuff.

Do you think that doing too many immersive shows might mean I accidentally hide my own branding as an actor?

It seems like only a few years ago that I was updating my business lectures at drama schools to include a brief mention of self-taping as a ‘new thing.’ In a short space of time the ‘new thing’ has become so much the norm that high quality self-tapes (completely achievable on even budget smartphones) are now minimum requirements for castings, rather than luxuries or lucky takes.

Similarly, there have always been interactive and participatory forms of theatre, but whereas the mere fact a show was immersive might once have been enough to attract attention, advances in technology, creativity and sometimes sheer scale has set the quality bar high for producers and performers alike.

This is positive news for somebody like you. Just as good scare acting is very different from putting on a mask and shouting ‘boo’, truly effective work in an immersive environment involves acquiring and putting into practice a range of skills.

One example would be to flesh out a realistic character, often from some very basic background details, and stay in that character while interacting with a range of different audience members, often in all weathers.

Another example would be the physical acting skills demanded by this kind of performance, to say nothing of the stamina required to keep up your energy for the entire show without any exits behind a proscenium arch to give you the occasional breather. Yes, ‘branding’ is a current buzzword and it’s always gratifying to be recognised and name-checked by critics and theatregoers, but from a future work view, you most want to be on the radar of people who are creating productions and looking for proven talent.

Rest assured anyone who is serious about putting on good work, whether immersive or not, will respect solid credits in this field.

Keep your CV updated, not just recent productions (it’s surprising how many actors forget to do this) but also in terms of skill set. Is there a new skill, however niche, you have acquired while working in one of your recent immersive jobs, or an existing ability that, over a long run, has been practised and polished to the point where you can upgrade it to “highly skilled”?

Make sure those gains are reflected on all of your profiles. There probably will come a time when you feel you have learned enough from this type of show that you may want to look at other options, but it sounds as though you are still enjoying yourself and learning, and that seems like a very sensible career choice to me.

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

John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne

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