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The Green Room: When did you know you wanted to work in the arts for a living?

Patsy Ferran in Summer and Smoke. Photo: Marc Brenner Patsy Ferran in Summer and Smoke, she has had what our panellists call a ‘dream’ career path. Photo: Marc Brenner

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

Albert_Parker

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

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

Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television

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

Seamus Wallace is in his 30s and has appeared regularly at the National Theatre, as well as at the RSC, in the West End, on tour and on TV

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer

 

Peter Living? I’ve never made a living.

Ros About four years after I left drama school and finally started making a bit of money, I knew I could do it. I had known I wanted to work in theatre since my 10th birthday when my mum took me to see Les Mis at the Palace Theatre in London.

Beryl I had decided I was really going to give it a serious go by 15.

Annie After years of working non-stop and then suddenly not working – that’s when I decided I wasn’t giving up on it. Everything else makes me feel so dull.

Albert I wanted to be an actor after having been in a play at infant school and liking the feeling of everyone watching me. I knew I was going to do it for a living when I got my first pay packet. The rest of the question comes with: “What else do you do to make a living?”

Peter A fairer question would be: “When did you decide you’d been in the business too long to try anything else?”

JonI knew when I was seven (I played Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale at LAMDA, like a precocious little brat) that it was what I wanted to do. However, the first time my income from acting outstripped my income from anything else, I was 40.

Adam I knew it was my dream when I started doing plays at school, and then some more at university.

Beryl I have been sacked from pretty much every other job I have tried to do.

Seamus Sepia-toned answer: When I was 11, the school drama teacher strode across the playground and pointed at me, saying: “You sir. You’ll be perfect as the lead in the next school play. Come and see me at break.” It was the first time anyone had ever said I was decent at anything, so that’s what I thought I would do. Pragmatic answer: About 18 months after drama school when I got my first properly paid job.

Annie I was an incredibly shy kid and came out of my shell when I could explore movement, dance and scripts and empathising with people and characters. But I didn’t know I could make it a career until one of my film/drama teachers said you should go to a drama school and give amdram a break. I thought it was just something people did for fun, not money.

Careers Clinic: How do I take my acting to the next step?

Albert The clouds burst open one day and a light shone down from the skies on to me through the grime heaps and slag hills and said: “You will act, but you may not make enough money out of it, so go forth and diversify”. And I did.

Peter Diverse is an in word at the moment, Albert. How diverse are you?

Albert Diverse in that all jobs I do use my core acting and directing skills to earn a very good living, but it’s not all what people might term ‘acting’.

Seamus I had always said in my teens and early 20s that I wanted to do something such as acting, often to chides or derision. But I kept wanting it and, had my parents not been as supportive as they were (I come from a working-class hero family where graft is king), there is no way I would have applied to drama school. The university drama society would have been the pinnacle of my acting career.

JonSo, even after the taste of it at university, you might not have carried on without family support? That’s a lovely testament to your family.

Seamus Correct. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford the audition fees at least without my parents.

Adam Most of us know a very successful actor and can remember having the conversation with them early on when they were thinking about giving up. I certainly do. The early years are a constant questioning of that decision. Am I doing the right thing? Am I wasting my life?

‘I didn’t know I could make it a career. I thought acting was just something people did for fun, not money’

Peter The people who don’t ask that are either very stupid or very lucky.

JonI’ve often wondered what the ‘dream’ career would be like – in the West End before you’ve left drama school, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company leads within a year… It feels as if that’s ‘not what it’s really like’, but for some people it is. That’s exactly what happened to Patsy Ferran, for example, but then she’s a genius.

Ros I went to drama school with an actor who has had that career and then some. Said actor was very quiet and humble. But yes, I knew.

Albert It must be hard if it happens really quickly because these days, for all of us, it’s about sustaining a career.

Adam Drama schools and universities are usually all about stage work – and some of the best screen actors don’t dazzle on stage in the same way, but really come alive when a camera is pointed at them.

JonI’m so hideously stagey that I genuinely don’t understand actors who prefer screen work.

Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email greenroom@thestage.co.uk

Careers Clinic: How can I maintain my acting career and pay off my debts?

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