So, you got into drama school. First off, give yourself a massive pat on the back because that’s no easy feat, no matter how talented you may be – Carey Mulligan never managed it and she’s not half bad.
Now, the next 3 years (assuming you’re studying for an undergraduate degree) is going to be intense. There really is no better word for it. There’ll be highs, there’ll be lows, there’ll be friends made and teachers you can’t stand, but above all else, there’ll be acting. Lots and lots of acting. And that’s great, right? That’s what you came for – to do what you love, surrounded by people who love it too. My advice to you is to soak up every last drop of this experience and not waste a single minute of the rollercoaster you’ve strapped yourself in to.
What I’d like to talk about though, is what comes next.
Anybody who goes to study anything will at some point be advised on how to prepare for life after study; for those first few steps into ‘real grown up stuff’. I would argue that that advice is needed tenfold when those first few steps are taking you into the big bad world of the acting industry.
At most universities, the average number of contact hours per week is 12-13. At drama school you’re looking at an average of around 35-40, depending on your course. A lot of that time will be spent in rehearsals and shows. That’s an awful lot of time spent doing that thing that, as previously mentioned, you clearly love to do.
Unfortunately, once you graduate, that time is most likely going to shrink significantly. It is not unusual to graduate from drama school and not get an acting job for months, or even a year or more. I’m not trying to preach doom and gloom, but I want to emphasise the fact that, if this scary idea applies to you, you are not alone and you are not abnormal.
That said, it’s a hell of a change to navigate, so here are a few bits of friendly advice that may help you do so.
Your ‘muggle job’
That’s what I call a non-creative job, and it is not at all meant as a negative term. The truth is, your ‘muggle job’ is probably going to be something you spend a significant portion of your time doing, so make it a good one. I would recommend steering clear of big companies and corporations, as they tend to be less flexible, and instead find smaller, family-run businesses where you can build a good relationship with your boss and get the time off for those all-important auditions.
Ad hoc work can be great for flexibility but terrible for getting into a routine, so if you’re somebody who prefers to have a schedule laid out, that ‘a few hours a week when we need you’ dog-walking job may not be ideal, no matter how adorable Monty is.
Finally, and most importantly, find that thing that you really enjoy, aside from acting, capitalise on it and build that side hustle! Maybe you get a kick out of cleaning – get yourself a few extra dusters and start a cleaning business. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about Monty and his slobbery smile – find as many dog owners as you can and get a dog-walking business started. We all know that the phrase ‘those who can’t do, teach’ is a load of rubbish and should read ‘those who aren’t currently doing and would like to spend their time passing on their gift, teach’ (but it doesn’t because that’s a little long-winded). Whatever it is that gets you fired up, make it your own and run with it. Not to replace acting, but to work alongside it. There is no better way to stay flexible than by being your own boss.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to find something that keeps you going, not just financially, but emotionally. Because if you don’t, there’ll be no motivation left in you by the time that audition does come around. And it will.
You may have graduated, but the training doesn’t stop there. As actors, we are constantly honing our craft and if you don’t work for 6 months, get into that first rehearsal room, and feel out of practise – you have nobody to blame but yourself. As we all know, having just spent upwards of £27,000, training isn’t cheap. So my advice would be to set aside a certain amount each week/month that you’re going to spend on workshops, online tutorials, one-to-one sessions, or anything else that you think is going to help land you the next job you go up for. Group workshops are particularly good as they also help to build your social group and, most importantly, they get you to perform in front of others – a skill that needs to be practised in and of itself. Acting is not like riding a bike. There is always more to learn and you should never feel ‘rusty’.
Your body is your livelihood
Keeping physically fit and healthy is important. We’ve all seen a cheesy American sit-com where somebody refers to their own face as ‘the money-maker’. Well, for you that is quite literally the case, and it’s not just your face. Being an actor involves using your body, your voice, your physical being as your instrument. You don’t see a violinist shove their violin into a dusty cupboard and slam the door until they’re next required to use it. They wrap it safely in its case, and maintain it so that it always performs at its best, and therefore so do they. Why would you treat your instrument any differently?
Acting can be both physically and mentally draining, so building up a bit of strength and stamina, no matter what kind of acting you want to do, can only stand you in good stead. It also helps to keep you mentally sharp, and to build a bit of a routine. Exercise classes are a great way of meeting people outside of your ‘acting group’. If you don’t want to spend money, then go for a run to clear your mind on a sunny morning. Walk to work when the weather allows it. Whatever it is, I’m by no means suggesting that it should be about losing weight. There’s already plenty of fickleness in this industry and I’m not trying to advocate it, so do it to take care of your instrument, not because you think your instrument isn’t good enough.
Your mental health
We all know that this topic is far from simple (and something I will delve further into in a separate post), but what I’m about to say can be summed up in 7 words – it is ok to ask for help. This is going to be hard. Drama school is a bubble, largely full of wonder and delight, and that bubble has been burst, leaving you to stay afloat on your own. It’s not a metaphor that I’m using to try to scare you, it’s simply to put into perspective what it is you’re dealing with, and to show you that anybody, no matter how tough or ‘together’ they are, would struggle with that. So, lean on your fellow graduates, talk about it, and continue to allow yourself to be helped through it. You are not alone.
Ella McCready is an actor/singer/songwriter and has been performing since before she can remember. She has gigged as a professional singer for over ten years and in 2017 Ella graduated from the acting course at Rose Bruford College. Since graduating, Ella has appeared in many short films, starred as Maureen in a London production of ‘RENT’, formed various musical ensembles and played the lead in her first feature film – ‘One Four Three’. Her debut single ‘You Saved Me’ will be released on 15th January 2021. Follow Ella below: