My first job was a play called Ma Kelly’s Doorstep. The play was on the theme of doorstop safety among the elderly; the production toured retirement homes around London. The job came through my agent at the time who got me the audition.
The good news was that I got the part. Less helpful was the fact that my employer in the day job I had back then was completely unreasonable. I called in sick for the days we were doing the show but that didn’t stop my boss, who was super mean, getting hold of the theatre company’s number and calling them up to complain that I was supposed to be working!
Despite it being a small-scale show, I was quite nervous. It was my first job out of drama school and I was the youngest person in the cast. The other actors were much more experienced and I got the impression they thought they were a bit above this kind of show. Picking up on this atmosphere actually made me more nervous.
What would I have done differently now? Sorted out my taxes. An actor in the company told me I “wouldn’t earn enough money to have to pay tax” so not to worry about it. This was terrible advice, which, not knowing any better, I followed. I ended up with a £100 fine for not filing my taxes on time.
If there is one thing I took away from that first experience that I still try to put into practice today, it is the importance for more experienced actors of being mindful of how we talk in rehearsal rooms around younger actors. It’s very easy to be pessimistic and jaded in this industry, but we need to be mindful that what we say is helpful to less experienced actors. If we can’t do that it might be better to say nothing at all.
With that in mind, I’ll keep my own advice short: whether the production you are in is big or small, turn up on time and do the work.
Training: East 15 Acting School
Theatre includes: Dear Elizabeth (Gate Theatre, London), Upper Cut (Southwark Playhouse), writing and performing Funeral Flowers (Fringe First winner, Edinburgh 2018; Bunker Theatre, 2019; London’s Roundhouse, 2020)
TV includes: Big Juice (Merman/Channel 4)
Other credits: Associate artist, Pentabus Theatre Company
Agents: Wendy Scozzaro at Felix De Wolfe (acting); Kat Buckle at Curtis Brown (writing)
Emma Dennis-Edwards was talking to John Byrne. Funeral Flowers runs at London’s Roundhouse until February 8