Never Properly Born: Do artists have to follow the industry model?

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“Is this really what I want to be doing?” As an actor not six months out of drama school, that is the question I was asking myself at the start of this year, although perhaps not for the reasons you might be expecting. I was well prepared for the rigours of the industry. Drama school had force-fed me the image of a Withnail-esqe existence and I was ready for the challenge (lighter fluid and all). I wasn’t thinking about giving up. I was considering the path before me and asking “is this the only route an actor can take?”

Five months ago I was where the majority of young actors find themselves: the road of drama schools, agents, castings, the day job, doing some work and of course eventually superstardom and lots of Dom Perignon. I was tiptoeing along that course and building up the old CV in the hope of impressing some people who apparently could offer me something. I was on a quest for creative fulfilment, but quite frankly I found the industry wanting.

This was around the time that Simon Stephens and others were scrutinising the industry for being too “conservative” and “taking fewer risks” (an argument recently revived by Dan Rebellato). I looked at what I was doing and I couldn’t help but agree. It all seemed so pointless. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. I was merely doing work for the sake of doing it and WHY? To appear ‘busy’ to those gatekeepers who supposedly hold all the opportunities.

Instead of squandering my youth trying to please people who need not be pleased I made the decision to go my own way and make things happen. In what feels like no time at all I started my own new writing company – Never Properly Born Theatre Ltd. I stopped going to auditions, dragged some trusted colleagues together and poured all my spare time/resources into the company. We then clarified our ideas and defined an aim:

To manifest the lives of our audience, and ask questions about the world we live in now and where we’re going in the future.

Before we could even walk I approached the Tristan Bates Theatre about staging a new (unwritten) play at their venue. To our collective wonder they said “yes.” As a company, we’re now creating a new piece of writing that explores themes of greed, belonging and security, as well as asking what it means to be young and part of our world in the twenty-first century.

In the future (as early as September) we want to accept unsolicited scripts from young people who have something truthful to say about our place in the world right now. We then intend to develop one script later this year and give it a full professional production.

Essentially this is my plea for young artists to consider the industry we’re in and not to unthinkingly accept the path that’s set out before them, because, let’s be honest, is it really the most artistically rewarding approach? Are we being made reliant on people we shouldn’t be? Do great things really await us if we just stick to the ‘yellow brick road’? Or, as Dorothy and her friends found in Wizard of Oz, is there an inconvenient truth waiting behind the curtain?

It seems relevant to end this blog with a recent quote from Dennis Kelly. In his opening speech at Stückemarkt he said:

“I believe young theatre makers need a very healthy dose of ‘go fuck yourself’. I think it’s useful for a young theatre maker to look at the things they’re being told, to think about them, assess them and then – if necessary – say ‘go fuck yourself.”

In many ways, I took a long look at what the industry model had to offer and after much consideration I decided to say ‘go fuck yourself.’

This is an open invite for you to do the same.

Written by artistic director Ash Rowbin. Shelter, the company’s first production, will be staged at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe from 6-11 August.

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