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The Green Room: What have you learned from your job in theatre that you use elsewhere?

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical at the Other Palace: Our panel considers improvisation to be a useful life skill. Photo: Tristram Kenton

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

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

Velma Lee is a 32-year-old actor, comic and improvisor

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

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

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


Velma Auditioning teaches you that life is a numbers game. Don’t be too crushed if you don’t get it first time.

John A certain degree of confidence.

Beryl Entertain us!

John Ha. “Are you not entertained?”

Ros Decent people skills.

Beryl Listening is way more important than talking. I use a lot of active listening in the real world. Oh… and the odd gag. And I can talk to pretty much anyone, which I guess comes back to John’s point about confidence.

John I mean confidence when talking to or approaching people. Not the off-putting kind of confidence.

Jon I still can’t do first days, but I do at least now know what I should be aiming for.

Ros I agree with the confidence thing. I think without my job and without theatre I’d still be shy to the point of selective mutism.

Jon Nothing like having to make Tannoy calls to an entire theatre to help treat shyness.

Ros I’m still terrible at it.

Jon Not true.

Beryl Interestingly I always admire the capabilities of a deputy stage manager on a complicated book, and presume this takes and builds great confidence.

Ros It does take great confidence. I’m fine when I’m doing my job, but outside that I’m still awkward and self-conscious.

Beryl I bet you put up a good shelf though?

Ros Oh… no! There was a reason I wasn’t an assistant stage manager for long. I was always a better DSM anyway. I’ve made a 10-year career out of it, so I can’t be that bad.

Jon I guess that’s where I find transferable skills interesting. For example, I know from personal experience, Ros, that when there’s anything dangerous happening on stage, you react with instant authority, even if you might not describe yourself as authoritative outside that environment. That’s interesting to me – the things that come with the territory.

Velma I feel blessed that my life hasn’t followed the set timeline of preconceived rules – you know: engaged, promotion, married, mortgage and kids. That’s fine if it’s for you, but the acting game teaches you the need to be flexible and put away your defined idea of security and success. It’s kept me true to myself.

Vivian I’ve learned to be a social lubricant: to entertain, to tell a story to avoid awkwardness. I’ve learned how to make people laugh. I’ve learned how, when I feel nervous, to pretend I’m not. That’s very useful. I’ve learned to empathise with strangers.

Beryl Yes to empathy.

Vivian I’ve learned to walk into rooms feeling alone, vulnerable and very shaky, and pretend I wasn’t.

Jon People skills is a big one for me. I don’t think there are many jobs where you have to create instant intimacy and trust with large groups of people every couple of months. I mean, we’re nowhere near up there with nurses and carers, but we do need to be able to forge bonds pretty quickly.

Ros Yes, indeed. And also the importance of vegetables.

Beryl Veg rules.

Jon Vegetables. Yes. And how to find a Pret, Itsu or Wagamama in any given city in less than half an hour.

John Shit, did I miss the term on vegetables? I might have to retrain.

Velma Improv has definitely had a huge impact on the rest of my life – primarily the way you learn very viscerally what your habits on stage are, and how these tend to be your habits in life. It’s a great lesson in not just deciding your angle and waiting for people to finish speaking in order to talk. You have to listen intently and build on the person’s idea, not just doggedly stick to the hilarious scenario you have in your head. It teaches you there is no set outcome.

Beryl We have a lot of transferable skills, particularly in communication.

Vivian I’ve learned about joy. Don’t laugh. I’ve found joy in my work, so outside work I look for joy too.

Jon Absolutely. It feels highfalutin to talk about joy, but, after all, it’s the root of the verb ‘to enjoy’ and I don’t think anyone would be seen as pretentious if they talked about the importance of enjoying your work.

Beryl So much about the joy.

John I’m setting myself up here, but maybe a greater sense of self-awareness?

Jon But maybe the self-awareness comes with the danger of a certain self-consciousness?

John Very fair point.

When I can’t do something, I pretend I am someone who can

Beryl We spend so much time assessing our role or function in a play or room, I think that has to translate into life too.

Vivian When I can’t do something, I pretend I am someone who can. At the moment, I have various emotional, legal and ‘grown-up’ stuff going on and have learned to blag it. Fake it ’til I make it.

Jon Yes, although ‘fake it ’til you make it’ sometimes feels judged as a phrase. I think it’s an honourable thing to be able to adapt behaviour to suit a situation, even if that behaviour may not be familiar to you.

Beryl Self-perception is hard though, right?

Ros It is.

Jon Yep. And sometimes risky. I’m always wary if I find myself thinking: “Oooh, I’m being really good tonight.”

Beryl That’s when I know I’ve buggered it – if I think that. Not just on stage, but in life.

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