Article by Phoebe Wall-Palmer
Dear Third Years,
It’s the last day of University. Depending on how these last 3 years have gone it’s likely you’ll have a plethora of different emotions; euphoria, excitement, quandary, fear, panic… It’s a bit like the stabilisers have just come off your bicycle – it’s all a bit unsteady and faltering but damn it, the wind is in your hair and you’re free.
I have to say, University is brilliant training. It has completely shaped my career and confirmed lots of things for me. But what it does not prepare you for is what on earth you’re meant to do next.
Some go on to study a Masters, some want to teach, some go to drama school – for me, I knew I wanted to make my theatre company work. To keep making and performing and building something from nothing with some of my dearest friends. But on the day of the last hand-in, that felt like an overwhelming thing to comprehend. Realistically, I had sorted a house share with some close friends and worked part-time as venue staff at the local theatre. Job apps were looming on the horizon but nothing was guaranteed. Especially when you’re up against hundreds of other aspiring graduates with the same qualifications.
I won’t bore you with my life story, or the specifics of how I got into what I’m doing just yet, but where I am now simply comes down to this:
85% hard work: This is plain and simple. It’s back-breaking and any person in this industry will tell you so. To be honest, if you don’t have days where you’ve managed to power-nap standing up, you’re not working hard enough. And that’s whether you’re an actor, a director, in arts management or a teacher. As aforementioned, you are constantly in (healthy) competition with your peers. “You have to stand out, you have to to give them no other choice but you.” I agree. But it’s not the be all and end all. I have had my fair share of rejection and disappointment in the short time I’ve been in the game. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe that if something shuts down to you then there’s probably another way around it. Often a better, more enjoyable way. That’s just my experience and maybe because that rocky trajectory has left me in good standing at the moment.
10% network: Being in Lincoln, it’s arguably one of the hardest places to make a living – lack of jobs, opportunity and funding. That can be true. BUT, if you keep the right people on side, you help, contribute and collaborate with your peers on their projects then they will return the favour (and if they don’t, their not worth having!). My ex-lecturers have been the most wonderful and generous with their opportunities and time. They are a fantastic source of knowledge as most of them have their own practices or certainly know someone who could help – be nice to them, they want the absolute best for those who work hard and want to make something of themselves.
On a wider level, we were told when we started out to be everywhere. Seems simple, but genuinely, just being at shows, seminars, free events, workshops, can build your network no end. We recently got a really exciting residency and their strongest reason was the fact that we make the effort to turn up to everything and engage with the arts community. We do this because we want to be there – because it’s learning and contributing to our artsy world. Sometimes it gets expensive or you get busy, but this is so invaluable when you’re starting out so try and take the hit.
5% luck. This has been literally down to timing. Being there, and acting on something. My job on Box Office was mostly down to the fact the application opened just as I graduated and I was in the position to train for the job whilst the application was open. I was so, so lucky. And they took a chance on a recent graduate, who has since learnt a whole new trade. I guess I can’t give pointers on luck… maybe just be observant for opportunities?
So, in conclusion: This is tough. But when it goes well it really goes well. And believe me, you’ll only do it if you really, actually want to do it.
And very finally: I mentioned healthy competition earlier, and this is really important. Competitiveness drives ambition. Ambition makes you succeed. But very few people get their alone. Be helpful and generous with your skills and resources. Collaborate, discuss and make and be part of a thriving and vibrant community of wonderful, weird people. It’s much more fun that way.
Phoebe Wall-Palmer is the Box Office Coordinator for Lincoln Performing Arts Centre and the Co-Artistic Director of Flickbook Theatre. The former is a good balance of customer service and data analysis/audience development (with a pinch of marketing). The latter varies from being a performer, a tour booker, a marketing manager, a producer and a general manager.
Flickbook Theatre is a Lincoln-based company, making work that glories in the little absurdities of everyday life. The company are currently working on their next show, Casket Case, which is all about the fear of death, dying and being dead (with comedy songs). For more info, visit their website: www.flickbooktheatre.com.