Fresh-faced and eager theatre grads leave school filled with adrenaline from their closing night of Spring Awakening, (if you were lucky to be in person during the pandemic), believing the performing arts world is their oyster, glistening with pearls before them, showers of roles and parts and casting directors that will take one look, fall to their knees and say, ‘We’ve been waiting for you!! Where have you been!?’
It’s not to say this can’t happen. We all have that friend of a friend who, within two months, was opposite Michael Fassbender in a feature (true story for real) and I truly believe that there’s room for everyone at the table.
The tricky part comes when these greener-than-grass goslings realise they’ve been taught to eat an oyster, but most teachers forgot to show them how to shuck it. Thus begins the ‘industry reality’ learning curve which is vertical, self-taught, horribly disheartening and can take 4-10 years to settle and establish itself into some kind of manageable, procedural logic.
It breaks my heart when young actors leave school and believe they’ve failed when they don’t have an agent, a manager and a booking to their name within three weeks. There’s such a feeling of anxiety and rushing and comparing. I’m guilty of all of this.
Where I can provide insight to the down-trodden and as-of-yet unrepresented is that I’ve seen both sides of this path first hand. After my first degree in Vancouver (Musical Theatre eh ooooh) I was one of about 5 who received agent offers off the bat. Coming out of my degree in the UK, it was crickets, rejections and about 80 (beautifully penned, I must say) not even answered emails.
But the reality is far from the ideal you imagine. My agent in Vancouver, the one that was immediate, dropped me after three months. The agencies I’ve had offers from recently were after 83 rejections, most unanswered, but have more alignment with my goals than I’ve ever encountered before.
So having seen both sides of the graduating-agent dilemma. I have this wisdom to share.
IT DOES NOT MATTER THAT YOU SIGN WITH AN AGENT RIGHT OUT OF THEATRE SCHOOL.
It’s heart to believe, I know. You’re rearing to go. You’ve got the training, the know-how, the drive and then… crickets. You can’t get signed, or if you do, there’s no auditions and you don’t understand how the world can’t see your fantastic abilities and give you the life you’ve always dreamed of and deserve.
The reality is that you are unlikely to be discovered, even with a great agent, and the fastest way to where you want to go, is unfortunately, slowly. It’s a numbers game, and there’s nothing sexy about it. You have to have a talent for your talent.
What does that mean? It took me years to understand it, but to me it translates to ‘knowing the work that gets you work.’ This means your materials, your branding, your headshots, your strengths, your weakness, your skill sets, your marketing. All things that have very little (you think) to do with anything you just learned in theatre school. It doesn’t matter how many time-steps or monologues you know if no one sees you doing them.
But, dear reader, there is hope in patience; not rushing into something gives you time to reflect on the qualities you really want in a life, let alone your career. What really matters to you in an agent, a manager, your muggle job, your skill set, your materials? I planned for three months the last time I had headshots done. I spent weeks and months editing old clips, tracking down materials, speaking with mentors before posting my showreel. There’s always something you can do, and good work takes TIME.
It isn’t sexy, like I said, to do this kind of groundwork and I can bet you 100 pounds none of your actor friends are going to show you the slow, painstaking brick by brick work it takes to have a sellable, sleek and well-branded package to agents and casting directors. All you see is the surface stuff. And it’s mostly, if not totally BS.
So ask yourself: what kind of career do I really want to have? Then go about researching, reading articles, books about finances, developing your hobbies, skills, your showreel, your headshots, all the work you KNOW you need to do but have been thinking was just something for ‘other’ actors who have less talent than you.
No one is coming to save you. No one is coming to offer you your dream life.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but it’s time to wake up and smell the industry (weird but you get it). Gone are the days where putting yourself out there once guaranteed a career. It’s up to you, every day to take steps to becoming the person YOU WOULD HIRE and YOU WOULD WANT TO WORK WITH.
Sound boring? Maybe this isn’t your field. But if you really take a moment, step back and become your biggest team mate, you can begin to piece together a healthier perspective that with slow, continual growth, you can and will likely have a longer, more fulfilling and connected career. So start. Start from where you’re at, own your disappointments and forgive yourself for the imagined ‘failure’ it is to graduate theatre school and to take your goddamn time.
You are great. Now learn the industry. Go bravely and steadily forth, young gosling, because you’re just getting started.