Here we are approaching the time of year when drama schools release their offspring into the world. Training at a top British drama school is still the best in the world, and yet in today's tough climate, drama schools have to take on more and more graduates in order to survive. It's an increasingly heated debate as to whether they are training too many people for a profession in which they will never find jobs; a profession that will remain a lottery however long they spend in it. Yet when young actors leave drama school saddled with at least £30,000 worth of debt, they need to make sure they've got a winning ticket. It's not just about how talented they are. It's about how organised they are, and whether they can run their life as a business.
Here are my top 10 survival tips for those first few years in the real world... and for quite a few years afterwards actually.
1. You Are the Best 'You' There Is.
Your drama school may just have spent three years breaking you down and building you up again but remember you are unique. It's important to go into each and every audition or interview and show them who you are, not what you think they want you to be. As the immortal Dr Seuss says: " Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is your than You"
2. Don't Let Your Agent Stop You Working!
Having wanted to be an actor since the age of two, lots of drama graduates spend the last three months of their training wanting to be a client - i.e. getting onto the books of an agent. Having done so, they then sit around and just wait for the telephone to ring. In no time they are blaming their agent for their lack of work. Work with your agent, chase work, and find out what is going on. Ask your agent what there is that you can do to help. Having invested so much in your training, why would you put all chances of success into someone else's hands? And remember: no agent is probably better than a bad agent.
3. Get a Job.
Even if you are deemed 'successful', you won't spend 100% of your time working.. Think about what job you can do alongside acting. From call centres to bar work, and promotional work or other customer facing roles - some even specifically target actors. Something that you can go back to with a reasonably regular income, that allows you time off for auditions. And of course, something that uses some of your acting skills will give you more job satisfaction.
4. Be Organised.
Not only do you have to keep a good diary and know when your appointments are but you also have to know what it is that you want to do. What does success look like? Playing the lead in a Hollywood film is a good dream to have, but is it a relevant, attainable objective for your first year out of drama school. Set yourself some smart objectives. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed. Such as two days of television work, or eight nights on the stage. That way at the end of the year, having achieved your objectives, you will have a rightful feeling of success that will carry you forward.
5. Do One Thing Each Day.
Don't spend your whole time mooching around being depressed because you're out of work. Do one thing each day that might lead to work and then get on with living your life. People buy people, they don't buy desperation. Working actors don't need to act each day, but they do need to do something that is relevant to acting and then get on with living.
6. Develop Resilience.
Even if you are successful, an awful lot of people will still say no to you in your career. Don't take it personally. In most cases it's not because you're bad, it's because you're not right for the role in their eyes. After each rejection, take stock and move on quickly.
Quite often when you've been on the TV, more work follows as people are reminded of your existence. If you're not working, then this can be hard to achieve. Get out there with your tribe. Go to first nights, go to fringe shows, use places such as The Actors Centre to meet other actors and find out what's going on.
8. Develop Your Skills.
Whether it's acquiring a driving licence, learning a foreign language or checking that you have got a valid and up-to-date passport, do something that increases your employability. It's not just all about Meisner and method and rolling about on the floor. Professional development can be at its best when you're increasing your practical skills.
9. Be Proactive.
Lots of great pieces of theatre, film, and TV that have been developed by actors when work has been scarce. What would your one-man show be about? What's the sitcom you want to write? How would you fill the fringe venue for two weeks if somebody gave you the space? You never know when the opportunity will arise, so start creating the work now.
10. Know When To Give Up.
We all change with age and what might be a burning passion at 22 can weigh us down and destroy our dignity and self esteem by 29. We fall in love, have families and priorities change. Acting is a hard job if you're the breadwinner. Only 2% of actors earn more than £20,000 a year, and there might come a time when that's just not enough. Much better having done it than lived a life of regret, a life of "what ifs": there is no shame in moving on.
I have just turned 58 and in the words of the Sondheim song "I'm still here". It's not always been an easy road, and there have been many times when I've had to work out how to live on five interesting things to do with a baked potato. But I've survived, and of that alone, I am proud.