I was a child actor back in the 1990s working regularly in commercials, children’s shows and in several musicals. I enjoyed it, but as I entered my teenage years other interests took over. I ended up getting a pilot’s licence and then worked in the travel industry for 20 years.
I’m now a consultant, which means my time is much more flexible than it used to be, and, to my surprise, the acting bug – which I thought was well behind me – has resurfaced. I signed up for a part-time drama course recently and am gathering my courage to start looking for castings. I’m excited by the chance to be more in control of the work I would like to go for as an adult, which wasn’t the case as a child.
My fear is that having been out of the business for what seems like forever, I might be a real fish out of water. Would it be worth chasing up the contacts I worked with when I was a kid, to see who is still in the business and what doors they could open?
The long period you have spent out of the industry may bring advantages as well as challenges, as you are approaching it with fresh eyes.
I often sit down with actors who have had five or six-year career gaps and who come back into the business expecting things to operate pretty much as it did when they left. It can be quite a shock to discover that from casting turnaround times to the ubiquity of self-tapes and the growing role of social media, ‘just getting on with things’ the way they have always done doesn’t work any more.
For obvious reasons, ‘what worked before’ isn’t relevant. Almost everything about your own casting type has changed, so new headshots, new showreels and learning new technical skills are necessities rather than options. You can be daunted by this or embrace it.
Unlike a child actor, your current playing age and general appearance is unlikely to change radically over a short period (unless you decide to do something radical) so you can take time to research what works best for others in terms of quality and affordability and stock your new toolbox accordingly.
As an adult, you are also in control of your own communications and marketing. Don’t be shy about seeking recommendations and suggestions from other actors. There are still the occasional divas and trolls out there but in general, actors’ social media communities can be generous and supportive places.
This brings me to your question about whether to search for contacts you knew when you were in the business before. This is undeniably a business where ‘who you know’ can be an advantage (though not quite as essential as the more pessimistic among us might have you believe). On the other hand, you have been very clear that you are entering a new season, as an adult, with new goals. It’s human nature that whenever we move on in life, some people will always struggle to come to terms with that growth and continue to treat us as the younger and more naive people we once were.
This is a complaint I sometimes hear from young adult actors who are still with agencies they joined as child actors. When it does happen, it may stem from a genuinely protective and caring motive but that can still feel very frustrating and limiting.
How you proceed is up to you, but I would definitely consider which older contacts will be open to seeing you as you are now, not as you once were, before you send that LinkedIn or Facebook request.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at email@example.com or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne