Is there more than one way to be an actor? Well, yes!
Speaking personally for a moment, when I (Sarah) left college at 18, I wanted to be an actor in every traditional sense of the word. It wasn’t until I’d paid a small fortune in audition fees and train travel to various drama schools that I realised I wanted something more. Spending hours sitting in crowded rehearsal rooms surrounded by hopeful teenagers, all clambering for attention, gave me a glimpse of what my life could be like, not just at drama school but after that – fighting for an agent, for auditions, for work – and it wasn’t for me. I know that my fellow Filskit ladies will agree with this.
The three of us all took gap years before gaining places on the European Theatre Arts Course at Rose Bruford. I should point out that E.T.A. is not your traditional acting course; we focused heavily on ensemble work, devising and European Practice, including a three month placement abroad. There was no big showcase for agents and not a Shakespearean monologue in sight.
Whilst we have fond memories of our time at Rose Bruford, even on our course we were subject to a high intake of students. This is something that Susan Elkin addresses in her blog “Are there too many Drama School Places?” Being one of 60 in a year can at times make you feel unnoticed and even question whether you are getting your £3,000 a year’s worth of learning (of course that figure has now, in certain schools, gone up to an eye-watering £9,000 annual fee).
We believe that this is where our ‘do it yourself’ attitude began, as my fellow Filskit lady Katy wrote on Twitter, “the large numbers on E.T.A. that year made us self-sufficient!” So, in a roundabout way, I guess we should be grateful for this reality check as it ignited our passion to make our own work and create our own opportunities.
Our decision to form our own company and devise our own work was born out of the fact that we are all stubborn, fussy and opinionated on the type of work that we enjoy to watch and make. We often joke that we can’t act or perform if we don’t agree with creative or artistic choices, and the fact that we can’t just get on with it probably makes us bad actors. To echo what Katy wrote on Twitter, we formed Filskit because we wanted to create work that we wanted to perform in. We’re far too impatient to wait for the phone to ring with an offer of work that we don’t feel passionately about. And it is this hunger and love for what we enjoy doing which keep us ticking.
Of course, forming your own company and making work is no good if there is no-one to programme it or see it. This is where we had to begin to build up other skills such as marketing, web design, how to write a business plan and (in anticipation of actually making some money) accounting. Through a willingness to succeed and out of necessity we have moved from being solely actors, to being devisers, directors, designers and business women. We would love to say that we left drama school fully equipped with these skills and ready to brave the big bad theatre world, but, in truth, we didn’t. We had to find a way of learning these skills ourselves. Luckily for us there were free courses available that you could take if you could find them, but as with so many things, due to lack of funding these opportunities are now few and far between.
This puts even more pressure on drama schools to prepare their students for the acting world as it is now and not as it was 50 years ago. True, it has always been a highly competitive arena, but we are now in the midst of a recession. The increasingly bleak cloud of debt that engulfs you after you graduate has to be combated somehow. In order to avoid working a soul-destroying day job whilst willing the phone to ring with news of an audition that you might not even get, we think you need to be so much more than an actor – you have to be an entrepreneur. Is this something that can be taught?
Interestingly, in another blog by Susan Elkin entitled “How Entrepreneurial are you?” she mentions Red Thread, a new course being set up by Jeremy Stockwell (RADA) and colleagues “to develop both work creation and business management skills alongside acting technique so that… trainees leave equipped to manage themselves and their companies as businesses.” This is music to our ears (although we do wonder how much money a course like this is likely to set you back and what funding options are available).
It is our belief that if you wish to succeed in this industry you need a passion and a fire in your belly. Even if you don’t want to form your own company, business management skills are still invaluable. Make a plan to stick to, think about other performance skills that you can sell – market yourself. Could you branch out into teaching, theatre criticism or design? In 2012 there are so many different ways to be an actor and use your training; you just have to find the one that suits you. We learnt to be team players and pool the skills that we’ve accrued from our studies. But if nothing else, don’t be passive!