There are thousands of talented actors, singers, dancers and musicians working in the performing arts industry today. But very few of them know how to turn that talent into a fulfilling career on stage and screen, according to dancer, choreographer and founder of online professional development portal The Showbiz Clinic, Xena Gusthart.
“I’ve worked in the West End, on Broadway, and everywhere in between, and everywhere I have been, I was shocked at how little people took themselves seriously – as a service, as a product, as a business and as a brand,” Gusthart says. “That’s why I set up The Showbiz Clinic. To inform, inspire and empower. To empower people to take their career into their own hands and make things happen.”
It is a lesson that Gusthart had to learn for herself. Born and raised in Edinburgh, the daughter of working-class parents who had little to do with the arts, she was forced to find her own way. She trained as a dancer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, founded her own company in her early twenties and built a career first as a dancer, then as a choreographer.
In recent years, she has worked on stage and screen, choreographing the hit Meat Loaf musical Bat Out of Hell in the West End and on Broadway, as well as designing dances for some of the biggest names in pop music – Rita Ora, Kelly Rowland and David Guetta – and for some of the biggest brands in the world – Adidas, Mitsubishi and Virgin among them.
“I had to forge my own way,” she says. “First in Scotland, then in London, then in New York and beyond. My dad was an entrepreneur, and he was a big inspiration. I watched him build businesses for himself from scratch. My brother is a big inspiration too. He has cerebral palsy and isn’t able to walk. If ever I can’t find the energy to keep going, I think of him.”
Throughout the course of her career, Gusthart has picked up innumerable invaluable tips and tricks on how to succeed, covering everything from how to write the perfect email and introducing yourself to a director, to how to make sure you do not waste your time at a networking event and how to work out your own USP as a creative.
“Take networking, for example,” says Gusthart. “It’s not enough just to be in the room. You have to be active in the room, and the key to that is positioning – literally, where you locate yourself in the room. Don’t just cling to the wall. Physically put yourself next to people you want to build a relationship with. Interject with a compliment. Introduce yourself. Get chatting. It works more often than not.”
Or, continues Gusthart, consider emailing – something all of us do every day, but very few of us get right. Gusthart has developed a strategy that breaks down the best way of introducing yourself to someone online. It’s just one of hundreds of helpful hints members of The Showbiz Clinic can expect.
“People think you have to be very formal when you email someone, but all that does is create a barrier between you,” she says. “The trick is actually to be more conversational. That helps you generate a genuine relationship with someone, and then they are more likely to remember you, and to mention you to someone else as well.”
The Showbiz Clinic started in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Gusthart ran popular video conferences coaching creative professionals to “pivot through the pandemic”. She soon realised that lots of people working in the industry today could benefit from her hard-earned wisdom.
“We’ve already had great results, which is insane given everything the performing arts industry has gone through over the past year,” says Gusthart. “We’ve had people finding work at the BBC, finally getting themselves agents after trying for a long time, and we’ve had people successfully swapping singing for acting. All sorts of success.”
There are three levels of membership with The Showbiz Clinic. The Game Changer Plan is a monthly membership that includes weekly masterclasses with Gusthart and other industry experts, as well as networking opportunities, career-coaching classes, exclusive industry discounts and the Showbiz Success Kit, a tailored pack of resources and workbooks designed to help you achieve your showbiz goals. All for just £28 ($40) per month.
The 360 Plan is also a monthly membership, and includes all of the above, plus invitations to social events at a members-only club, an introduction to Gusthart’s own international network of industry contacts, and a monthly one-on-one session with her to discuss your personal showbiz journey. At only £55 ($78) per month this, says Gusthart, is The Showbiz Clinic’s most popular membership.
The Showbiz Mastery Plan, meanwhile, is a yearly membership programme that includes everything on the 360 Plan, plus access to The Showbiz Clinic’s 10-step intensive course in achieving showbiz success. It is available for £611 ($865) per year – the equivalent of 12 months of the 360 Plan for the price of eleven.
“There’s loads more, too,” adds Gusthart. “There’s an audiobook and an e-book on the way. It’s called The Business of Showbiz: the Ultimate Guide to Levelling Up Your Showbiz Career. And we have a popular podcast, too – The Showbiz Clinic Podcast – which is available on most platforms.”
On top of its membership schemes, The Showbiz Clinic also offers regular masterclasses on specific subjects – everything from finding an agent, to improving audition preparation and making sure you sign off from a job in style.
All of it – the Game Changer Plan, the 360 Plan, the Showbiz Success Kit, book and podcast – is focused on teaching the tricks and techniques that you don’t learn at university, drama school or in the workplace.
“I was that kid that couldn’t afford to go to the theatre,” says Gusthart. “And when I could afford to go, I could only afford the cheap seats, right at the back of the balcony. Now, I’ve worked in the West End, on Broadway and around the world, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve proved that anyone can do it. It’s just about knowing how.”