Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Emily Cohen is in her 20s and works in theatre and TV as well as running her own theatre company. She is an associate member of a national company
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
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
Jon We have touched on first days before, but I thought it was worth looking a little bit beyond…
John If I can be specific to first days for a moment, make sure you have said all of your lines out loud before the read-through. Sounds obvious, but it’s worth remembering.
Peter Despite the nerves, I really enjoy the first day. It’s exciting to hear the play for the first time. I’m a good sight reader, so I’m not usually too nervous. I’m always amused by the meet and greet – the girl from accounts who’s not quite sure why she’s there.
Albert I dress slightly smarter than I normally would. When I used to direct, I always wore a tie on the first day in a bid for authority.
Beryl It’s often a bit of a blur on the first day as you haven’t slept much the night before.
Albert Somehow, no matter what time I go to bed the previous night, I never manage to sleep properly, so unless we are doing improvisations in the afternoon, I make sure I up my caffeine intake that day.
John Try not to drink too much coffee and eat something, no matter how nervous you are. I was so nervous about my first job at the National Theatre in London, I didn’t eat at all and nearly bloody fainted.
Beryl I’ve also done jobs where there isn’t a read-through, and that’s slightly different.
Albert I always leave my phone in my bag. I saw a young actor taking notes on his phone on a first day and unfortunately it did give the wrong impression.
Peter I like meeting new people. I’m usually the first person to suggest the pub at the end of the day. The beginning of a screen job is completely different though. Everyone starts on a different day. You arrive not knowing anyone, often halfway through the shoot. On screen jobs I get nervous.
Emily Yeah, on the first day of a screen job I usually have a total meltdown the night before.
Beryl I rarely sleep the night before guesting on TV.
Emily The start of a job is so exciting though. I love packing my bag the night before, making a packed lunch and buying new stationery.
Beryl New job equals new notebook.
Peter I’m always amazed by the director’s ability to go round the room and remember everyone’s name.
Jon If it’s a director I haven’t worked with before, that first week is always interesting because you’re sniffing out what the process is going to be. In fact, while I think of it – dear theatre employers, please don’t call us on the first Saturday. Buy yourselves some cheap goodwill.
Beryl Oh, yes please.
Jon If there’s someone I have mutual friends with, I spend the whole first week with that future conversation buzzing round my head until there’s a chance to have it. It’s often weirdly stressful.
John We did that on the first day we worked together, Jon.
Jon So we did.
John Another tip – have a decent go at learning some of your lines before rehearsals start. I have never, ever done this and I always regret it.
Beryl I never learn lines before rehearsals, unless specifically asked to do so. I do lots of preparation on a script, but not learning, as you can’t commit something to memory without making decisions.
Peter I never used to, but as I’ve got older I’ve started to.
Beryl I’ve heard that before, Peter. The preparation makes me familiar, to be fair, but not off-book.
Jon How do you get on your feet at the start? Sometimes I have to remind myself to make bigger decisions. To be honest, I can be quite bland to begin with.
Beryl Don’t we always feel boring at the beginning? A blank canvas can be built on, whereas if you make too many strong choices beforehand that all has to be unravelled.
Jon I certainly hear that. I definitely feel like there’s a point where you have to tell yourself not to be safe, which is scary sometimes, particularly if you’re doing your big weepy meltdown scene on day two.
Beryl Also, I relish the journey of discovery that you take together as a company. Maybe it’s about being guided by the material and not our insecurities in the room?
Jon There’s a freedom about the beginning of a job, which is the polar opposite of the feeling you get later on that there’s too much to do and we will never be ready.
Peter I worked a lot with one director who was very controlling. I learned never to do anything cautiously, otherwise he’d be on you straight away. So I always went all out, even if I later changed it.
Beryl It’s job specific to an extent…
Emily I feel like you have to take things too far. Go wrong, to get it right.
Jon Does anyone have any other thoughts on how to handle the beginning of a screen job? It can be a nerve-wracking beast, as Peter said earlier.
John Learn some names – other cast members, the director or producer. I think it’s very important. It will really help if you’ve learned the assistant director’s name before you meet them.
Peter I’ve been in and out, done a scene with no direction and hardly spoken to anyone. Absolutely hate it!
Beryl For theatre, it’s the time to fail safely. For TV, just be ready.
John Study the call sheet meticulously. I always miss stuff. It can look a little confusing if you are not used to it.
Emily The call sheet is so hard to make sense of sometimes. There are so many boxes and so much information.
Jon And it can remind you that you’re a newbie if there’s a little running in-joke on there, as there so often is.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org