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Careers Clinic: How do I get back on top of my game six months after leaving drama school?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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For the first six months after leaving drama school I was very energetic and organised, planning out my days, making applications for jobs and keeping up all my vocal and movement exercises – even though it was just me in my bedsit.

I have had a few castings and some small jobs, but nowhere near as many as I hoped for, and my enthusiasm is starting to wane. I used to moan about all the warm-ups and stretches we had to do when I was in training, but they still got done because they were part and parcel of the daily routine.

Now, they just feel like chores that I don’t always get round to, which in turn means that, when I do get castings, I’m not on top of my game like I used to be. Can you help me break this cycle?

John Byrne’s advice

As actors, we are good at bringing stories to life, often by immersing ourselves in those stories. This means that we need to be a little bit careful about the weight we give to the stories we create in our own minds.

I’d like to challenge the story you’re telling yourself that you only did your various drama school practices and exercises because you “had to”. Full-time drama training is neither cheap nor easy, so whether you went to classes with a spring in your step or grumbling and complaining, by turning up you expressed your commitment to being an actor rather than just dreaming about being an actor.

That motivation is still there, even if it has been dulled by the mundanity of daily life. Being surrounded by others who have also made that commitment undoubtedly makes sticking to routines easier. You also had teaching staff on hand to encourage you and hold you accountable.

The longer you spend on a drama course, the bigger the shock to the system it can be once the afterglow of the graduate showcase wears off, your classmates start focusing on their own individual gigs, and the realisation dawns that you are now a small business owner with a staff and management team numbering just one.

Managers in any industry will tell you that it is much harder to get staff to carry out their day-to-day work effectively if you just tell them they ‘have’ to. That’s why companies spend so much time and effort trying to get their employees switched on to their overall mission statement.

You need to reconnect with your mission statement too. Moving from full-time training to the day-to-day actor’s life involves leaving a world where you got to use your acting skills every day and trying to make your way in a world where getting the chance to act at all can feel like it depends on external forces ranging from agents and casting directors to Lady Luck.

I would suggest viewing vocal and movement exercises as ‘my choice to use my performing skills without having to ask anyone else for permission’. Work out regular times to do the work and remember that, counter-intuitively, making your goals more challenging can increase the enjoyment factor. As for having to do the work alone, that’s not necessarily a situation you have to stick with either. You might not be doing the same course any more, but you can still buddy up with actor friends old and new to check in with, encourage and positively challenge each other to reach your mutual goals.

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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