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The Green Room: What do you wish you had known when starting out?

The cast of Follies at the National Theatre in 2017: the older actors are haunted throughout the show by their younger selves. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of Follies at the National Theatre in 2017: the older actors are haunted throughout the show by their younger selves. 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…​​​​​​​​​​

Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, RSC, in the West End and on the road

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

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

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

 

Peter What my strengths were. For example, I’ve got a good speaking voice. I should have got into voice-overs. I could have made a lot of money. I never did.

Beryl It’s okay to just listen. Don’t feel you have to gabble on about stuff.

Abi That being a jobbing actor is far from being a failure. In fact, it’s a triumph (and most of the actors I respect would describe themselves as such).

John There is quite a lot of stuff that I probably knew, but didn’t pay as much attention to as I should.

Beryl That I was probably a bit too gobby.

Jon I think I’d like to have known how little difference there is between your ‘worst’ performance in a run and your ‘best’ – and how subjective those both are.

Unless you’re Judi Dench, some people will like your work and others won’t

Peter That you can’t please everyone. Unless you’re Judi Dench, some people will like your work and others won’t.

Gary Maybe the fun is in not knowing much at the start.

Jon I like that. So you get the fun of learning on the job? It’s good to be green at first?

John Yes, I think possible ignorance is a useful thing in hindsight. You shouldn’t have to know everything.

Gary It would a shame to start at 21 (18 if drama school counts) with too much insight.

Jon I’d like to tell past me that, as unhelpfully fairytale as it sounds, one job really can change everything.

Abi That’s interesting. Do you reckon it would have been exciting or terrifying had you known about the ‘one job’ thing?

Jon A bit of both? The knowledge that you can get one job that changes your career would have comforted me at times, but at other times I would have thought: “What if you never get it?” Or, worse, going into an audition thinking: “It’s this one, don’t screw it up.”

Beryl I think I knew my faith in myself would be tested, but maybe not to the extent that it is… constantly.

John I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be going back to drama school now – 11 years after graduating. Would I get more out of it, or would I be coming at it a little more jaded?

Abi Also, if you do go to drama school, the fact that some teachers might not rate you doesn’t mean you aren’t up to anything. I guess that comes under the ‘subjective’ banner too. But I feel like putting your drama school teachers on too high a pedestal is dangerous.

It just has to be sink or swim, doesn’t it? For years

Gary Drama school – certainly mine – didn’t prepare us for the reality of the profession. But I can’t imagine how they could. It just has to be sink or swim, doesn’t it? For years.

Peter That you will get a lot of rejection and should learn how to deal with it. Some good actors don’t cope and leave the business. I’m in my 70s and hope I’m still learning.

Jon So that’s another thing – that you can’t know everything and may feel just as clueless at 45, say, as at 21.

Beryl Indeed. It’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

John One thing I really wish I had accepted is that if you simply learn your lines for an audition so you can do them while juggling on a unicycle riding through the Blackwall tunnel, you really are giving yourself a better chance.

Beryl So much of what we do is about discovery in the moment. I guess to pre-empt it may be a little like being over-rehearsed?!

Peter That you will be remembered as much for being pleasant and fun to work with, as for your brilliance.

Abi Great point. Work ethic and attitude can mean so much. I would love to have reassured myself with that when I started out.

Jon And that your network becomes more and more important. The people who know you will tell the people they know, until you’re walking in to audition with people who may not know you but know you’re a good colleague.

John Yes – attitude, attitude, attitude. No matter how good you are, if you throw a hissy in a tech, people will remember that. Actually Jon, I always like to follow your advice and to leave an audition room with them thinking: “I’d really like to work with that guy.”

Peter Don’t be afraid to try what you’re asked to do in rehearsal, even if you’re convinced it’s wrong. A good director will realise if he is wrong, and it may be you who is wrong.

Jon Yes, and also that one moment where your director or a colleague wants you to do something you don’t want to may not be so important as to risk pissing people off.

John Absolutely.

Beryl Unless they’re telling you to take your knickers off.

Jon Let’s hope those days are on their way out.

Beryl Indeed.

John Above all, really find something that you love to do that pays money outside of acting. Really go and do that. Really.

Careers Clinic: How do I start my career on the right path?

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