Staying Motivated and Surviving the Industry
We spoke to ALRA alumni Martin Edwards (ALRA South MA Professional Acting 2017) and Liam Jeavons (ALRA South BA (Hons) Acting 2012) about their careers after leaving ALRA and how they keep the faith and stay motivated during difficult times.
How do you stay motivated, connected and engaged with the industry in down times?
As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it’s also made things more accessible with many opportunities available online, including great theatre.I was able to watch Gillian Anderson’s stellar performance in The Young Vic’s production of Streetcar Named Desire.Thanks to Spotlight, I was able to have a one-to-one with Andy Morgan (the casting director for many primetime TV series including Luther) who gave me some invaluable advice on my showreel. I also have an accent webinar coming up later this month.I’ve also taken part in several play readings of original new work over Zoom. Though not a substitute for being in a room of other actors and trying things out in the space, it’s nonetheless been nourishing having the chance to flex those performance muscles.Ross Grant runs actonthis.tv runs regular webinars with leading actors, casting directors, agents and producers and they’re always fantastic opportunities to stay connected with the industry. My agent’s also been great at getting me self-tapes over lockdown!
Having a life outside of acting is something that will help with staying motivated. This last year has made me question that when the whole arts industry pretty much shuts down and acting is taken away, what else do I have? What else do I enjoy doing? So my advice would be to find other things that you enjoy. It could be things like making sure you have a social life, seeing friends, going out for food, getting stuck into a good book or TV series... anything that gives you life and keeps your mind off the fact you haven’t had an audition in a while.
As for staying connected and engaged with the industry, just go and see stuff. Watch a new show, go and see a new play, and more importantly than that, go and support your friends' work. You don’t need to be going out every night of the week spending hundreds of pounds, but keeping up to date with what’s on and seeing shows every now and then is important. I’ll also say that the most important thing, when times get hard in acting, is to look after yourself and keep a check on your mental health. The Calm app is the best thing I’ve ever bought. Try to eat healthily at least a few times a week, get good sleep, get some fresh air and exercise, all of which may sound boring and obvious, but over the years I’ve really realised how important those things are. If you’re not feeling your best, mentally or physically, how are you going to give your best in an audition or meeting?
Are you still connected to your ALRA network?
I have direct and regular contact with one or two people in my year group. The others not so much, although through various degrees of separation we all seem to have a rough idea of what everyone’s being doing.
100% yes. I still speak to many of my ALRA classmates on a daily basis. The friends and connections you make at ALRA are for life. Naturally you’ll keep in contact with some people more than others, but you’ve all been through 3 years of incredibly intense training, you’ve shared the stage with each other, and you’ve probably seen each other at your most vulnerable, so there’s this connection that will always be there. I think something that’s important to remember is that your colleagues and teachers and everyone you meet at ALRA should be treated as friends rather than ‘professional people I have to network with’. A lot of the work I’ve got is because I know that person and we get on, not because I tried to ‘network’ with them and tell them all about my CV and skills, but because I was myself and I treated them as I would anyone else. And finally, attending press nights for shows and getting your face out there to people you don’t know is important, but don’t forget about the people around you. The friends you make at ALRA are the future of the industry, whether that’s in acting, casting, directing, anything, so don’t take those connections for granted. Be kind, be yourself, and be supportive.
Image by Lisa Hounsome
In what ways did your ALRA training prepare you for the industry?
Having undertaken some drama school training previously, I already felt pretty prepared for the profession and what to expect. However, having the opportunity to complete my training, perform in the showcase and land my first agent gave me a sense of properly entering the industry. Completing drama school training and gaining agent representation was a vital step towards feeling professionally validated.
The acting techniques you learn at ALRA and all the knowledge you gain from working on different styles of text, really set you up for when you enter the industry. Also, having camera lessons from day one was something that was hugely beneficial; it meant when I stepped onto a professional set for the first time, I’d already got over the whole “Oh man, is that what I sound and look like on camera?” which is inevitable when you first watch yourself back. Also, being familiar with termology like “rolling", "sound", and "set”, and having a basic understanding of the technical side, allowed me focus more on the acting when it came time to film. I also feel ALRA does prepare you as much as it can for the reality of the industry. Not everyone is going to walk straight out of third year and into the new hit Netflix show. Some people will, and that’s the best part of the industry; you never know what’s around the corner. But if Netflix doesn’t come knocking right away, there are other jobs for actors out there that might not be as glamorous but they still pay the bills, and educating you on those is something I feel ALRA did well.
Tell us about a particular highlight of your work so far
I played the lead in the UK-tour of a sports-based show during 2019. It was my first tour and the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to play the same role multiple times. Having that space to try new things, get things wrong, learn and fail better the next time was invaluable, and was easily the most I’ve ever been stretched performance-wise.
I’ve been extremely fortunate since graduating ALRA to have had the opportunity to work in a whole bunch of different types of shows, and its hard to choose a particular highlight. There have been some milestones that will always stay with me. Understudying on ‘Potted Panto’, making my West End debut, will always be special, as well as getting my first TV job and my first lead role in a UK tour and West End show ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’. I think the thing I’m most proud of is getting my first ever professional job. It wasn’t the best paid job I’ve had or the most glamorous, and it was 100% the hardest I’ve ever had to work on a show, but working on Vienna’s English Theatre’s production of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ and touring that around schools for 7 months in Austria and Germany will always be special to me. I learnt so much about the industry and about performing. It was also the first time someone had actually paid me to act, and I genuinely didn’t think that would ever happen, so it was a massive confidence boost. On the job itself we were doing our own cues, the get ins and get outs everyday - it was tough, but the perfect first job.
Can you give any advice to actors at the start of their careers who are struggling to get work?
Don’t be afraid to make your own work.It’s a great antidote to the feeling of powerlessness that can overwhelm us during the dry spells. Failing that, connect with writers and directors in your network and collaborate on projects with them. Writers and directors need actors to bring their work to life. In that respect, we’re all fishing in the same pool and need each other to make things happen.
Be patient. In many ways acting is like any other job; you have to work your way up, and over time you build connections and working relationships and eventually it all starts to fit into place. It’s really easy to forget this but be patient, trust in your abilities and trust that your time will come. There are some more practical things you can be doing to help tip the odds in your favour. Getting a good agent is always extremely helpful. I’m not saying if you leave drama school without an agent you’re screwed, all I’m saying is whatever position you’re in, securing a good agent will help towards getting TV, film, or large-scale theatre work.
You can also go to some acting classes to keep yourself active and fresh. Try to remind yourself why you’re doing this; what made you one day say “I’m going to be an actor”? Times will be tough, you will be out of work, and it will be hard for you, so make sure you look after yourself and keep yourself inspired by going to see a show or a film, or reading a book or play - whatever makes you feel good, you should always make time for. It's easy as an actor to forget to give yourself time to do something that’s just for you, that makes you happy, so always keep checking in, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep going, it will all work out!
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned through experience as a professional actor?
I didn’t really understand the importance of the phrase “your reputation precedes you” until a couple of years out of training. After being cast in one or two small theatre projects, I was soon being approached by writers and directors for other plays on the recommendation of my previous work. You’d be surprised how much people have heard things about you before they actually meet you. As far as possible, ensure people are saying the right things about you. The industry is smaller than you think; a lot smaller, so guard your reputation fiercely! It can sometimes be the difference between getting the gig and not getting the gig.
Do not compare yourself to anyone else! We all do do it, and there’s nothing positive to be gained from it. This is still something I’m working on 9 years after graduating, but the sooner you can stop comparing your life to anyone else’s, the happier you’ll be. Spending time and energy trying to control something that you will never be able to control will only put you into a bad place. The acting industry isn’t “fair” and there will be times where you think “Why didn’t I get seen for that and they did?”, but that’s just life.
You’re not actually in competition with anyone in the industry, which I know sounds wrong, because when auditioning you're literally up against other actors who are similar, but even then, you’re still not competing. You are you and no one can do exactly what you do, only you can do that, so just keep doing you, keep working hard, keep showing up, and making sure you’re as prepared as possible. You can control these things. Whatever your goal is, if you keep working at it, and keep your head in a good place, it will come.