Being Hungry for a Career in Theatre

There is a continual bug bear that I need to scratch, and it may just be that I am a workaholic and I’m continuously working on several theatrical projects (either playwright, director (sometimes even performer) and also as tutor) simultaneously. I am increasingly bewildered by the lack of hunger the next generation of performers seems to suffer from. THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM! In my capacity as director and tutor in performing arts, I witness daily how the students (who supposedly want this as a career more than anything) are disinclined to try new methods of working, exploring new dramatic arts and genres, practitioner styles and techniques. How they are often dragged kicking and screaming into the possibilities available to them as actors/actresses. This worries me.

You could argue that I am sweeping in the above observation. But… I have been working with students for five years, and have been seeing a decline in ‘hunger’ and wanton desire to excel in the performing arts. In that five years, I have had contact with and been privy to the work ethos of some 1000 students across a range of disciplines, and while that research sample is small by comparison to most studies, there is a definite trend that has grown over those years in my experience. That trend is that students expect the industry to just ‘come to them’ and that they need not apply any more than what is given to them in their studies.

But These Students Are Paying For It!

Now I agree that they are now paying more for that qualification than in recent years, but that should not mean that they believe it is all just going to be given to them. Working in theatre and, indeed, the wider ranging work opportunities in the performing arts industries requires more than learnt skill. It is vital that the fired up enthusiasm; endlessly striving towards achieving new skills and greater abilities in skills already procured. Determination, dedication and an unerring WANT to demonstrate how good you are, rather than just feeling that you are good and that should be recognised. It may work that way for a select few, but that is certainly not the norm.

Continuous desire to achieve, working on a range of theatre projects and with a range of styles firstly advances skills and maintains a drive that is necessary for survival in the performing arts. Sometimes, this drive is actually more important than finely honed skills as the drive itself exemplifies your practices as a worker. Reliable, consistent and always aiming for success.

My Humble Experience

When I was undertaking my performing arts training, and I do acknowledge here that I am possibly an unusual individual, I was hungry to achieve. Always. I was often working on six or seven projects at the same time all meticulously planned to overlap and not interfere with each other. When I wasn’t in a studio working with my trainers/tutors, I was in a studio rehearsing a role or directing a scene. When I wasn’t in the studios, and usually because I had been kicked out, I was in my room writing something new (not necessarily good). But the point is that I was constantly developing and practicing my art. I wanted to be the best possible, and striving for continued development is the only way I could do that.  I still made time to enjoy my student experience – the social aspects with peers, the taking time out to enjoy all that the student bar and campuses had to offer, the relationships, the obligations for earning money etc all took their place, but at the forefront of my mind was the hunger to do something in performing arts.

I worked hard. I played hard. I went hell for leather for the career in theatre I so very much desired.


It IS My Responsibility

I am so appreciative for my tutors and lecturers during my drama training. They inspired me, taught me to see the world of theatre in so many different ways. I didn’t agree with all  of them, but I saw the value in what I was being shown. I grew as both an academic and theatre professional. BUT, and this is a huge BUT, I knew and understood that while they would give me fine tuning and new experiences, the time available through any funded course is limited (especially as I was one of the first of the SLC trained crowd). To continue my progression I needed to work independently – develop skills myself and apply them in everything I could to then receive the necessary feedback from ‘those in the know’. Playing and practicing with my art built my confidence with skills and also shaped the style that I wanted to be in theatre. My own work was essential.

It also meant I was perpetually prepared and eager (hungry) in rehearsal, and in my taught lessons. And it was all in my own self-development as well as class development. My course averaged 20 hours per week, but I worked a minimum of a further 20 hours per week on my own development myself. These days, the average course is twelve hours per week – so why are students wishing so desperately to break it onto the West End or in some prolific theatre company not working for at least 28 hours more outside of their taught classes? I reel every time I ask that question, and receive the answer that it is the job of the lecturers to provide them with the skills. YES! But, it is the students’ job to explore them further, practice them and use them as a spring board for growth in a wider range of artistic and theatrical styles and mediums.

Working in Theatre is Difficult

Nobody can deny that the performing arts is a cut-throat career, and that it is vicious in its ability to make or break you. But, then the same can be said of all careers. Providing you work hard and demonstrate potential and independent growth in ability, then you can still make a fantastic career for yourself that often flies in a multitude of directions without ever giving up on ‘the dream’. But, the hunger must be there. A good starting point is to come to rehearsals prepared and enthused, eager to work hard and show the extent of your own consideration of your part (no matter how big or small) and show real application of your skill each step of the way.

If you want it in theatre, you have to REALLY WANT IT. Which means taking personal responsibility for getting it. BE HUNGRY FOR IT! SEEK IT OUT! And when you get the slaps in the face (which are a regrettably unavoidable regular occurrence in the performing arts industry), dust yourself down and show to even greater extent just how HUNGRY and professional you are. It is hard work, but that is the nature of the industry. Time to consider just how much you REALLY WANT IT!