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Editor’s View: Debut Awards nominations show there’s no single route to success

Clockwise from top left: The Stage Debut Awards nominees Dan Gillespie Sells, Adam J Bernard, Miriam Teak-Lee and Grace Molony. Photos: Adam Bennett, Tristram Kenton and Manuel Harlan
Clockwise from top left: The Stage Debut Awards nominees Dan Gillespie Sells, Adam J Bernard, Miriam Teak-Lee and Grace Molony. Photos: Adam Bennett, Tristram Kenton and Manuel Harlan
Alistair Smith
Alistair Smith is editor of The Stage. Having joined the publication on staff in 2004, he has also held the roles of reporter, news editor, opinion editor, deputy editor and print editor at The Stage and has written for publications ranging from The Guardian to Hello! Magazine. He is also the author of two major industry reports (the London Theatre Report and the Theatre Workforce Review) and a founder of the My Theatre Matters! campaign.
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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people start and maintain a career in theatre.

Originally, this was because I spent much of the past 12 months working on a report investigating the theatre workforce and its training requirements. Then it was because The Stage began developing a website offering careers and training advice for those looking to break into theatre. Most recently, it has been because of The Stage Debut Awards.

One of the fascinating aspects of judging these awards has been in defining what we have meant by ‘debut’ and, even more confusingly, ‘full professional debut’.

We settled on first named role reviewed by The Stage for performers, and first lead credit (when reviewed by The Stage) for creatives. While researching nominees’ eligibility, we looked back through their credits and cross-referenced them against our extensive back catalogue of nationwide reviews.

One thing became abundantly clear: there is no single, standard path to theatrical success.

Some performers have sprung as if from nowhere: with no formal training, TJ Jones made his stage debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company. But others – especially those working in musicals – have had years of experience as swings, or in ensemble roles before landing a named part: Adam J Bernard falls into this category.

When it comes to creatives, designers might be relatively fresh graduates like Rosie Elnile – or they could be more like Simon Spencer, who had worked for more than two decades as a technician at the RSC before getting his first credit as a lighting designer.

It’s the same with composers, writers and directors. Katherine Soper is a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, while Dan Gillespie Sells is a graduate of a chart-topping rock band. Titas Halder is a director turned writer, Lynette Linton is a writer turned director. Both Asif Khan and Victoria Willing are actors who have become writers.

Success takes many forms and can come at different times to different people. It is pointless to compare one’s own career to anyone else’s because each is as unique as every individual working in theatre.

But however the talented theatremakers on our shortlist have got to this point, we hope that The Stage Debut Awards can help propel them to successful and rewarding careers in this strange industry we all love.

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

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