As a self-producing theatremaker, I was delighted to win an award earlier this year. Not only was it a very nice evening, but the best part, or so I thought, was being approached by several producers and venues who were newly aware of my work to discuss collaborations.
Unfortunately, we are now near the end of the year and none of those discussions has borne fruit. It’s frustrating because not only have I regularly been up and down to London at my own expense, but based on the assumption that at least one project would be up and running by now, I have put my own work on the back burner.
Winning the award was a big confidence boost, but having nothing in the diary between now and Christmas for the first time in years is having the opposite effect.
What am I doing wrong and is there time to fix it?
JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Situations like yours always remind me that planning for success can be just as important as dealing with challenges. You are far from the first actor, comedian or theatremaker who has discovered that winning an award can just as easily lead you up a dead end as it can to the fabled ‘next level of success’.
I am all for awards, not least when they recognise the roles in our industry both on and off stage that don’t normally get to bask in the spotlight. Awards can also be great networking opportunities and also offer the wider benefit of being able to publicise your win, and hence your work, on social media, your CV and other platforms. But it is important to remember that networking and marketing are both means to an end, not the end in themselves. In a business where forward work is very hard to guarantee, it’s always worth considering potential opportunities that come your way.
As you have discovered the hard way, I think it is never a good idea to put ‘bread and butter’ work on hold for a bigger chance that may not materialise in the future. If the big opportunity does become concrete (accompanied by firm dates and contracts rather than just having ‘potential’) you will usually be able to find ways of fitting smaller, previous commitments around the bigger ones, rearrange them, or, as a last resort, compensate accordingly based on it being worth your while to do so.
If you have turned down other work because somebody has made firm commitments to you with specific dates, you should be speaking to your union or legal adviser as to what you might be entitled.
From what you have told me, it sounds like the collaboration ideas you have been discussing in the wake of the win have simply gone off the boil – as projects in this business often do – with no bad will on either side.
Frustrating as this can be, I wouldn’t necessarily burn your bridges. Have an honest conversation with potential collaborators and point out that while you are still open to working together, you need to prioritise your own work.
I hope you have many more wins in your future. When they arrive, take this as a lesson that, unless there is a very clear follow-up commission or opportunity directly bolted on to the award, new connections arising are a bonus, not the backbone of your work for the rest of that year.
In the meantime, chalk this lull up to experience and get back to doing the quality of work that won you the award in the first place.