Dear West End Producer: ‘I am an actor. But I also direct, write and produce. Would it be better to tick just one box?’
I am actor. But I also direct, write and produce. Does the biz get on with you better if you just stick to one box and not bother with all the other bits…?
— Matthew. EMENY. (@MatthewEmeny) April 30, 2019
Have as many boxes as you like – the more the merrier. Sing, dance, act, juggle do the splits while playing the trumpet – anything that makes you stand out from the crowd. This is entertainment, and the more you can do the better.
The saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ doesn’t apply in showbiz. We now live in a time of quadruple, quintuple and octuple threat performers – where actors are expected to act, sing, dance and play every musical instrument under the sun – all while acting as marvellously as Serena Mckellen. The truth is there are so many bloody actors out there that any extra skill will help you get the job. And people who do everything are far more interesting to talk to in auditions – they always have far more to offer.
But remember: make sure you can actually do the skill. There is little point saying you can play the piano if all you’re capable of is plonking out Chopsticks. That doesn’t make you skilled, it just makes you below average (unless you can play Chopsticks with your feet, dear). If you write, direct, and produce, even better. It means you have more chances of creating work for yourself and others – and each of those disciplines will help you grow in all the other areas.
The business has changed so much over the past 10 years. Now, the people who really succeed are the ones who produce their own work – forming companies and doing things on their own. It means you don’t have to rely on someone else to give you work. And, particularly with social media and YouTube, creating your own material and collaborating with others can be a brilliant way to kick-start a career.
I know a comedy group that recently filmed a pilot and put it online. Within a week, it had more than 200,000 views, and the people involved were invited to meet with one of London’s biggest agents – who now represents them. So, as you can see, it can be a clever way of getting yourself noticed.
There are also lots of theatre festivals, and venues that invite new work to be performed – where you can make those all-important contacts. For starters, have a look at the Camden Fringe, and venues such as London’s Theatre503, Arcola and Finborough theatres – all of which have literary departments to support new writers.
It is a wonderful thing to work with friends and colleagues – even if it’s just sitting at someone’s flat and having a quick read through (while drinking copious amounts of wine). You never know where it might lead. And the simple activity of bringing people together is marvellous for creating a community of like-minded people. This is useful not only in getting feedback, but in looking after your mental health.
Who knows? Your friend reading Spear Carrier Number Three may one day be running the National Theatre. So make sure you have plenty of embarrassing photos to bribe them with in future, dear.
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