It’s hard to pin-point when exactly your journey as a theatre maker begins. It could be when you first step into the real world as a graduate, with a vague idea of what you want to do and how you might do it. Or before that, when you first start your training having decided that this is the profession you maybe want to go into. Or even earlier, when have your first drama lesson in high school, and realise that this is something that you not only enjoy, but you’re not too bad at it either. Or it could be that you haven’t ever had any of these experiences, but you just happened to go to the theatre for the first time last night and it has changed your life forever. Whenever it is, once you start thinking about the future it always feels like you have much more work ahead of you than you have left behind – which is scary.
Having recently graduated with a BA in theatre, I’m at a stage that feels like the beginning. Theatre has been the thing for me since I was in amateur panto aged eight, but university and the year following focused my attention on creating a company that makes (to use the slightly rubbish but accurate term) ‘issue-based,’ physical and comic work.
At university I was taught how to make the show, but in the outside world it’s practical logistics that are the problem. Alongside jumping in at the deep end by directing and producing a show at Brighton Fringe with my company, Silent Faces, I have also spent the last three months working as producing and administration intern with the Belarus Free Theatre. This experience has been a great way to get to know the way a company functions on an admin level, and realising the shear amount of paper work that creating theatre takes. As an 18 year old being awed by the Royal Courts’ incredible production of Jerusalem, I definitely was not aware that there had been hundreds of meetings scheduled, emails sent and spreadsheets created just so that myself and the audience around me could sit and watch Mark Rylance playing a lonely drunk.
Instead of giving a detailed rundown of everything else I have done since graduating and how each has affected me, I am going to talk a bit about some helpful tips I’ve discovered along the way. Some of these tips make it all seem easier, and some make you want to give up and stay in bed, but all in all I think they make a good list of things to think about as someone who is just starting out.
Be honest with yourself.
Check up on yourself and evaluate how your work is actually going. It’s ok to be proud of what you have achieved, and it’s ok to feel like things aren’t quite working out yet. It can be very easy to lie to yourself and those around you about how well you are doing – especially in our twitter/facebook filled lives where everything we do is coated in glitter and made public. Social media can be the most useful tool, but is a nightmare when it comes to self-evaluation. We judge ourselves on how we are doing in comparison to how it is going for our peers, and it can make you feel like you’re really far behind everyone else, or that you’re making the wrong choices. This obviously isn’t a great mind set to have when you have lots of difficult decisions to make and lots of hard work to do.
Being honest with yourself about how things are going, and how much or little you have done is great – it puts things in perspective and helps you realise the things you should congratulate yourself on and the things you really should get better at. It can also be very handy to notice that other people doing well isn’t to your detriment. It’s highly unlikely that the good fortune of others will have any impact on your journey, unless you both happen to be applying for the same job, in which case you’re well within your right to sabotage everything they do in the future.
Don’t ignore money.
Money is your best friend and your worst enemy. You will never have enough of it and trying to get more of it is arduous and frustrating, but the last thing you should do is ignore it. In an ideal world there would be copious amounts of free rehearsal, workshopping & performance space, flyers and posters would design and print themselves and our bank balance would miraculously grow each month. Alas, this is not quite an ideal world, so we have to graft for it.
It’s good to remember that everyone is in either one of two boats when it comes to starting out. The first is the ‘not a penny in sight’ boat, which is fairly self-explanatory but basically means that you haven’t got any money of your own to contribute towards getting your feet off the ground. If you’re in this boat - EVERYTHING IS OK. All the people you have ever admired have started somewhere, and they managed it one way or another. Asking for money from the network of people you have around you isn’t begging, it’s investment. In asking people to help fund your projects you are demonstrating that you take yourself seriously and that you mean business. The chances are that there will be people you know that want to help you out, not because they can see you struggling, but because have faith in you.
But don’t panic if there’s no one around to help – there are other ways. A bit of research can help you find all sorts of funds and monetary opportunities to apply for, you just have to be willing to do the work. And there will always be under paid, long hour-ed pub jobs that you can resort to while you’re putting other things in place.
The second boat is the ‘I’ve always been very good at saving/I have a large amount of inheritance/I just stumbled upon £50,000’ boat, which is basically the boat where you have stash of money sitting in an account somewhere waiting to be spent on a car or a house, or another boat. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. After all, if you don’t think your own work is a worthy investment, who else will?
Ultimately, money will likely always be an issue, even the big wigs have to apply for funds and creative revenue to keep afloat –so just accepting that it will take work and being prepared to let it monopolise some of your time will save you a lot of stress.
I personally don’t like working with people that care only about themselves. I can’t imagine many people do. It’s a common misconception that you have to claw your way violently through a pile of other actors, directors and writers to get to the top. This just isn’t true. If you’re nice to other people, they’ll probably be nice back.
While the theatre industry has a bit of a reputation for being full of bitches and divas (and there definitely are some), in reality most people just want to work amongst nice people, doing the thing they love. It’s good to be a bit selfish sometimes, but don’t be one of the divas.
Being kind to yourself is another good one. It’s not productive to beat yourself up about your failures. Some things just don’t work out; sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s not, but worrying about things that have already gone wrong won’t get you anywhere. Give yourself a break.
Realising something and putting it into practice are two very different things - I’m still trying to apply the above things to my way of working. The phrase ‘easier said than done’ springs to mind when it comes to these sorts of idealistic guidelines, but when you’re self-employed you have to set your own rules. So if you can incorporate these things into the way that you function on a day to day basis they might make the difficult process of becoming a practicing theatre maker slightly more manageable.
Silent Faces are at Brighton Fringe with their show ‘Follow Suit’ from May 27th-30th.