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The Green Room: What was your first theatre job?

Photo: Shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​

Abi Egerman is in her 20s and has appeared at the Old Vic, the National Theatre, and in regional rep

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances

Eoghan Barry is 30. He studied for an MA at drama school. He has worked as an actor on fringe projects, with young people and is also a writer

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in Oscar winning film, BAFTA-winning TV, at the RSC, National Theatre, and in the West End

Ros Clifford, 30, is currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

John Pepper is 31, and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in various regional theatres, the NT and in radio, television and film

 

VivianIn my first role, I had two bespoke, handmade, Chantilly lace, beaded, full-length, multi-layered wedding dresses. I spent the next decade wearing sackcloth. Literally, the years after that were 90% hessian. I’m aspiring to return to how I started.

Adam Mine was a rather glorious shambles.

JonLike all the happiest jobs.

Adam A two-handed, devised Theatre in Education show. We played schools, a high security prison and on one fabulous afternoon, Shepherd’s Bush Roundabout.

John Wow, I’ve never made it to a roundabout. Another career goal.

Adam My career has gone downhill ever since.

I learned more in my first job than I did in three years at drama school

John I learned more in my first job than I did in three years at drama school.

Abi Despite assurances from my head of year that I wouldn’t be able to open doors into straight theatre with a musical theatre degree, as fate would have it, my first job was a two-hander at the Vaults in London. It was certainly a baptism of fire and I probably learned more in those short few months than I did at drama school.

JonIn what way a “baptism of fire”?

Abi I developed an addiction to coffee and a permanent cold (the Vaults in February was a punishing venue) but I enjoyed the challenge and the thrill a huge amount.

Eoghan The first little-paid job I did after drama school was hosting a ‘bit’ on a street as part of a promenade treasure hunt. A one-off for a couple of hours, but I took a picture of the cash-in-hand I got paid as it felt momentous. And I’ve continued doing a lot of immersive theatre since then, so it feels appropriate.

John My first gig was a tour – so there were huge amounts to learn from being in different theatres every week. Also, touring is easier when you are 21 years old. Luckily there was a good mixture of old hams and fresh-faced graduates, so I got the benefit of both.

Ros Mine was operating lighting and sound for a kids’ show and a comedy show. We had to do the kids show in the afternoon then the comedy show in the evening. The sound was all on midi disks and it was similar to a ballet, swapping the disks over at the right time. I had a lot of fun.

JonI don’t actually count my first ‘job’. It was a fringe production of the Merry Wives of Windsor, which turned out to be a small drama school filling out the showcase production for its two postgraduates with unpaid actors.

Eoghan Oh wow… The first contracted gig I did was a lovely children’s show in London that was shortlisted for an Offie.

JonStarting at the top.

Eoghan Yep. Mine has been downhill ever since too. It felt really nice going. Kids are such honest audience members and it was good feeling – I was out of drama school, working on something good, it had good reviews and then the award nomination too. It started things off really positively.

JonThat does sound like a nice start.

Eoghan Getting properly paid for the first time and signing a contract with numbers like that on it was great. Thinking ‘Here we are, I’m doing it’.

John Does the level of fear ever reduce from your first job to your last job?

JonIt took me quite a few jobs before I felt I had the work that qualified me to say: “I am an actor.” It was about 15 years, to be honest.

Eoghan I still get that sometimes now. More so with my writing. Almost as if the stuff I’ve already done isn’t ‘good enough’ to be able to say I’m a writer like, say, James Graham is a writer.

JonI think it was my first National Theatre gig that made me think ‘Okay, I’m definitely an actor now’. Partly because so many friends outside the industry suddenly expressed an interest in seeing one of my shows for the first time.

Eoghan God yes, I walk past that building – or see friends in shows there, or in the West End and I can’t help thinking ‘that would just make things feel as though I’d properly done it, that would be wonderful’. And then you feel like those idiots who don’t think you’re a real actor unless you’re working there.

Ros I got my first job from a company I had done some work experience with – they kept me in employment for the first year of my career.

Eoghan It’s all about those contacts.

Ros Exactly. I didn’t do a ‘proper’ deputy stage manager job until the end of my second year out of drama school – it was a whole new world.

JonAnyone who set up as an agent for stage managers would clean up.

Ros Yes, I think they probably would. Though I quite like doing it myself. But I might be in the minority…

Eoghan Is that how you get most of your work then, through contacts and recommendations? To be fair, it’s the same for me and I’m sure many other actors.

Ros Yes, most of my work comes that way. I’ve only gone through a proper ‘application process’ five or six times in 10 years.

John Something that does strike me is that I was paid the same in my last job at the beginning of this year as I was in my first job 10 years ago. It didn’t feel like a huge amount even then.

Abi That Vaults job was a helpful and humbling introduction to the reality that acting doesn’t pay much in financial terms – so it’s a bloody good job it was as rewarding as it was in other senses.

Eoghan Everyone starts somewhere.

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