I was five. My parents were entertaining friends and I had gone to bed hours before. Unable to sleep, I crept out of my bed and into the living room, where my audience were enjoying themselves over glasses of wine and After Eights. Without a word, I reached for the best song in my repertoire, popped it in the CD player, made my way to the stage (the rug in front of the fireplace) and gave the people what they wanted…. A heartfelt rendition of Whitney’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, sung into the audio remote control with eyes closed for extra emphasis. I think that was probably the moment my parents and I knew I was going to become an actor…
Twenty years on, I am a new(ish) drama school graduate who’s first year and a half in the industry has been a mixture of highs and lows, questions and answers, victories and knock-backs. I have done the odd acting job here and there, but for the most part, my time has been spent writing emails, watching as much theatre/TV as I can to try to stay in the loop, as well as working three jobs to pay the bills. I’m not complaining, because despite the irrational moments of ‘What the f*** am I doing’, I am happier than ever in the knowledge that I am pursuing a career I am both passionate about and dedicated to.
But here’s the thing; about six months ago, I had a very frustrating conversation with a reputable agent who’s pessimism about the job prospects for a new graduate like me made me question my dedication to what she seemed to think was an ‘unjust’ industry. She suggested that the ‘who-you-know’ attitude that the Industry has adopted more in recent times was killing the discovery of the new talent that lives outside of the social circles of the Industry elite.
As I hopped back on the tube from her office to my evening job working FOH at a West End Theatre, I decided that instead of wallowing in self pity over tubs of ice cream and the Modern Family box set, I would put my time and energy into thinking of ways to better integrate the new generation of actor into an industry that can sometimes seem like an impenetrable wall of rejection.
I feel very lucky to have a network of friends and family who are always there for me to wax lyrical to. Of all those whom I can properly talk shop to, however, there is somebody who’s advice I take above the rest. My agony aunt, mentor and above all, friend is off-the-scale hard working as well as being one of the most talented actors I know. More importantly, though, she is a real representation of what it’s like to be an actor. She has had numerable successes throughout her career since graduating from a leading Drama School, but she’s also faced times when things haven’t gone her way; I’m constantly inspired by her ‘pick yourself up’ attitude that makes my skin more resilient to knock-backs, let alone hers.
It was during one of those ‘pick yourself up’, two-fingers-up-to-the-industry conversations that I realised just how important her presence was for my perception of my own career. Listening to her being open and honest about what it’s like to truly be an actor was both completely refreshing and utterly inspiring, and allowed me to take the pressure off myself a little and concentrate more on the marathon and less on the sprint to success. Having said that, her guidance and belief in me has meant that she has whispered my name to her industry-related friends who would otherwise not have taken any notice.
On the flip-side, I may not be able to offer her the opportunities and experiences that she has been able to offer me, but she is always telling me how my passion and (probably slightly naïve) outlook restores her own faith in the future and I’m glad I can be of help to her, even in that small way.
So here’s where you come in; I am proposing the idea of setting up a mentoring scheme whereby the established actors among us join forces with the less so, to offer advice on how to survive as an actor today. Just like a plumber’s apprentice learns from their mentor, I am suggesting a platform to match actors in the hope that more young people can have the personal support network that I have found so crucial in my first year out of Drama School.
It might just be a simple email conversation that will put a newbie’s mind to rest, or perhaps you’re in a play that we could support, with the opportunity to network a little with your cast and creative team in the theatre bar afterwards. Whatever you think you could offer, I can assure you that your time and effort would not be wasted.
I have some ideas of how we could make it work and am more than happy to put some time into properly giving this idea a go, but it would be lovely to hear your initial response to see whether there are enough of you out there who feel like this is something you think you could benefit from / give some of your time to. Leave a comment below if you think it’s a good idea or are interested in getting involved…
Like it? Please share it with your friends and followers on social media. Have something to say? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. Have an idea for an article of your own? Find out more about writing for The Honest Actors’ Blog here.