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Article by Martyn Bignell
I have been very fortunate to have spent two years, after graduating from University, working as a paid actor and theatre-maker. It hasn’t always been the easiest lifestyle as work isn’t constant, but the pros definitely out way the cons. Everyone will have their own stories as to how they got into professional paid work, but for anyone that is just starting out, here are a few things that I have learnt that hopefully can help people who are just starting out.
My professional career started before I graduated. I know this sounds odd but it all came about after my work as a student. I decided that I was going to try and be in as many shows as possible during my time at University. I went to every single audition possible, from lecturer led projects to student projects and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the Lincoln Company. I was very fortunate to get a few shows in my second year and after that, the more shows I was a part of, the greater my level of performance experience. Also, people began to bring my name up in casting decisions and occasionally I was even approached to perform. Being committed and showing face can mean an awful lot to people who are casting and if people know you work hard, they may consider you based on your work ethic alone. In my case, I happened to be in the right place at the right time in an audition for The Underwater Adventure by Egg Box Theatre which went to Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. The artistic director passed on my information to the Artistic Director of Zest Theatre and subsequently, it led to me being cast in a show that toured around schools across the country. Artists and performers all co-exist in a huge network and people will always talk to each other and share hard working artists and performers, which means it is so important to make a good impression and keep focus, even if it is just something as simple as an audition that you think you might not get.
Another aspect that I believe has been important to my development and employment, has been the willingness to work for free. I understand that this is a very difficult thing to do as a lot of time and effort used for no financial gain can be tough on the bank balance, but if acting work is slow or not happening, volunteering and asking to help out can keep you creative and will also allow you to network and stay on people’s radar, opening you up to new opportunities. Volunteering with theatre companies or working as a performer for free shows real dedication, especially with up and coming companies who will more often than not reward you with work and a good reference. The more time and effort you invest, the better the result. Even now I volunteer and have recently been part of Getting Better Slowly, where I was the assistant producer and gained valuable knowledge on running a big project with a large professional team. This benefited me within my own theatre practise and gave me a whole host of new contacts too.
Lastly, going to events, meetings and workshops is an invaluable tool to give yourself exposure as an actor. By putting yourself in a room with other creative people you are able to:
1. Introduce yourself to new people who you may wish to work with in the future
2. Find out what opportunities are available for you
3. Just keep yourself in the loop as people will see you as a regular and a hard worker in the industry if you keep turning up to events
I have had a good handful of auditions just based on meeting people at events and passing on details. Sometimes it was from other people passing on my details and I would get an email from a company asking me to have coffee with them and chat about their latest project. Knowing the arts community around you really useful and can act as a support network for your career.
There is no ABC’s on how to succeed in the business, but making contact and staying in communication with people is vital. Once your foot is in the door, its up to you to work hard and make as best an impression as possible. Staying positive can sometimes be a challenge, as you can feel like you are investing a lot of time and effort into projects for free at the beginning, but just know that this is all great experience to build a portfolio and if you can get through that phase then you can get through anything and you may be able to reap what you have sowed.