"Climbing the Ladder" - My personal story and advice on how to put a foot on yours.
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
So, you want to get into acting and you have no idea where to start? Me too.
These were exactly my thoughts at 18 years old when I left school, and decided (against my head of years persistence! - No hard feelings Mrs. Daniels) not to go to university. I was a very academically minded pupil, I loved to learn and worked really hard to get the results that I did. I can remember rather vividly, sitting in the computer suite applying for UCAS and on the day we needed to send off our applications I decided not to. As my Dad has instilled in me..."Know what you don't want to do", words to live by indeed, and I knew that's not what I wanted in that moment.
So there I was, sitting at home (in Devon by the way, not London just in case you think your location might hold you back, it won't!) trying to figure out how to get into acting with no contacts, no training and no idea how to get into the industry. While working at the local pub I spent the rest of my spare time RESEARCHING. I spent hours trawling the internet for clues until I found...
*Cue magical music and horn blowing* Tadaaaa.
I felt like I'd found the Holy Grail, there they were in front of me, jobs that I could apply for. Huzzah!
There were only few minor set backs...I didn't have a showreel, CV, headshots or anything remotely tangible to make me seem like a viable employment choice. Just a few things to tweak then.
Undeterred I decided to sign up to CastingCallPro (now called Mandy) and StarNow. Now if you aren't familiar with casting websites let me give you a quick run down. These websites are like any other job website, you upload your credentials, write a cover letter and apply for roles on a job by job basis. They also cost a monthly fee of varying amounts, so make sure you budget for that. Anyway, I signed up and created a profile using my Am Dram credits, Drama A level, and a "headshot" I took myself on my phone.
And then the jobs just rolled in!
As I mentioned before, to an employer I was no where near a top candidate choice but regardless I applied and applied, until 9 months later I got my first audition. It was for a production of The Tempest in a conference centre in Exeter, and I was so excited. It's worth noting that this was advertised as "Profit-share" meaning if the company make a profit you get paid, if it doesn't you don't. It is a great starting point to delve into the strange grey area of semi-professional, and learn about your working style.
So I auditioned for the role of a female Antonio, (photographic evidence below!) and initially didn't get the part. However a candidate from London dropped out and I landed my first job.
PUMPED is an understatement.
The very idea of performing and potentially getting paid was mind-blowing to me at the time and I had a very positive experience there. I learnt about nerves, trusting your instinct, working with fellow actors, brushing up on my Shakespeare (any one who gets that reference wins a gold star) and generally training on the job; something I aim to never stop doing.
Now it just so happens that a South West based agent was starting up at the time and came to watch. So as soon as I found out I sent an incredibly honest email stating that "I have no professional experience but you've seen me perform now and I want to be an actor. Please represent me" And low and behold she did! Now I must take a moment to thank my first agent, you know who you are, we spent four years growing together and built a relationship on trust and friendliness. I will be forever grateful for you taking a chance on me and hope what ever endeavours you are pursuing that they bring you so much success.
Now this got the ball rolling a little more! But I know for some people getting an agent to attend their performances is hard, but don't give up hope. Even if you email hundreds of agents (do check out the CDG or casting websites for agency lists) they are very busy people, just keep doing it. No show to promote? Send a short monologue that you've filmed on your phone. Anything. People will listen. Eventually.
After a few months my agent got me my first audition, it was for a local independent feature film called "Dartmoor Killing", a physiological thriller set, you guessed it, on Dartmoor. This was hugely exciting as I had never been on set before and to film on Dartmoor, where I grew up, was the cherry on top.
I met the wonderful Director Peter at Exeter Airports hotel lobby and performed the lines there! I learnt very quickly about the differences in film and theatre acting. you had to be smaller, more naturalistic, nuanced. This was already fascinating to me, and once I'd got the job I learnt so much by watching the other actors on set and how they behaved in front of the camera.
This is the moment I felt the most at home. I knew a film set is where I belonged. I of course have savoured all jobs, be it stage, screen and everything in between. But a true desire to return to this environment was ignited at this point. I had to do this...forever preferably. A year later the film was released and remember seeing my face on the big screen for the first time was both horrifying and joyous all at once.
From that moment onward the work came flooding in and I became super famous.
I think one of the hardest lessons to learn is that this industry is so very unpredictable. I wasn't prepared for the months of unemployment, desperately searching for a job. How auditions felt different and equally as terrifying every time. How you could spend five incredible days filming, or a Christmas performing in pantomime and then have 6 months of ominous blank diary days.
I also quickly learnt about rejection. Although I had been rejected multiple times online, things got harder when I went to physical auditions and never heard back. Or got to the last two and they went with the other candidate. This happens a lot. That coupled with months of no auditions in the first place was a crushing reality. I am much more chilled now, and accept there are so many elements not in my control, but it will always be hard. It's this difficult balance between being invested enough to learn the lines, fall for the character and perform to your best ability, but not so invested that you are desperate and pin your hopes on that one role. Its tough.
After Dartmoor Killing I learnt that you just have to keep pushing. You keep applying, and you keep proving why you are the best choice for the job. It is now 6 years later and I have done jobs that made me feel on cloud nine, and jobs that have made me feel undervalued and untalented. This will probably never change, and that is just part of the ride! In fact it's in the hardest moments, and the more testing circumstances that we find our strength, what genres we enjoy working in and who we enjoy working for.
It's an absolute roller coaster, but if you are ready to go for it then know it will be worth it.
I am currently writing while the UK is slowly trying to recover from Covid 19 lockdown and I've been unemployed since the West End shut down. I've had a lot of thinking time, and focused on moments I am usually otherwise too busy for. I know that my run at The Mousetrap has come to a close, and have no idea when or if the industry will recover. But I have faith, because it has to.
Never forget everyone needs entertainment and escapism. Its a rough road, and you'll be told "to get a real job" more than once. But its a damn noble profession too, and it takes so much hard work.
Your thick skin will grow and you'll climb that ladder.
I'm still climbing one rung at a time, to a unreachable destination that will never fail to tempt me, and I love climbing.
Thank you for reading,
P.S A few parting to tips if I may, and if you would like any further advice please don't hesitate to contact me or make suggestions for new blog topics.
I hope I can be that someone who I needed when I first started out.
Join casting websites (Spotlight.co.uk is your end goal but you need 4 professional credits to join, so I recommend starting with Mandy.com)
Make yourself as employable as possible, research online courses, or local theatre groups. Make a student film with your friends or invest in a showreel from a showreel creating company.
If you can invest in a good headshot, many photographers offer this service or make friends with someone who is good with a camera. Make sure the photo looks like you! Natural.
Never rule out a genre without trying it. I have learnt so much by doing pantomime, corporate work, scare acting, the works! People will try and put you in a box, don't let them. Enjoy every aspect of this career.
Divas get nowhere. Your reputation will always precede your talent, be kind and humble and work hard. If conflicts occur treat them with civility and professionalism. In my experience 99% of the people in this industry are truly wonderful, and you'll enjoy being around like minded people. Always be friendly and have fun.
You are never NOT LEARNING. Every job is a is an opportunity to hone your craft and improve your skills.
Job opportunities with arise from the most unlikely of places and at the most random of times, be open to this and see what happens.
MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES.