The Christmas decorations are back in the garage. Dry January is a distant memory and 2020 may already feel old and stained.
Yet for so many graduates who returned to their drama school last month, there will be a dawning realisation that this is the year it happens – the year that a long-held dream turns itself into a job.
Facing a group of eager graduates recently, I found the last thing any of them were concerned about was the actual business of acting. No questions about screen technique lessons, Meisner or “Where can I continue my craft?”. Their concerns were the very real problems of earning money, living from day to day, wondering if they might ever work without an agent and whether to move to the gold-paved streets of London.
In the words of a successful chief executive friend of mine: “Don’t worry about what you can’t affect.” It’s as good advice for an actor starting out as it is for someone running a multimillion-pound company.
While there is much anticipation about the world of work, there is also a great deal of anxiety. Identify your fears. Ask yourself: what do you fear will happen? Will your career be a catastrophic failure? Are you worried about your ability to cope with disappointment?
There’s a good chance you are much stronger than you think. The worst-case scenario might not be as tragic as you envision. As actors, we all live on hope. Big bucketfuls of it. And luck.
For the past three years, life has been structured for you. Acting has been put on your plate every day. You’re approaching the moment when for possibly the first time in your life, you will be without form and order unless you put it in place.
While you may not know what will happen when you graduate, you can put things in place that will help. What will you do when you’re not acting? What other job will occupy your work circle? Will it just be standing behind a bar being shouted at by drunks, or do you want to look for something more fulfilling? There are many other jobs that will adapt to an actor’s lifestyle, but they do take a little bit of finding.
Be prepared. It’s hard to hit the ground running. After leaving drama school and going straight into a big Shakespearean tour, a famous actor took me aside at the end of the read-through.
“Well done my dear. That was beautiful,” she cooed. I glowed with pride. This was it. I was made. “May I say something?” she added. I leaned forward, eager for her wisdom. “When you’re 40 my dear, you’ll never stop.”
My smile faltered. I was 21. She was suggesting that the next two decades might be hard work. And do you know what? She was right.
Paul Clayton is an actor, director and author. Read more of his columns at the thestage.co.uk/author/paul-clayton/