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Skill up for entrepreneurial survival

Drama Studio London students at work. DSL’s new degree course includes teaching about arts funding and actor’s finances.

 Every drama school graduate needs to know exactly how to self produce. Otherwise it’s just a question of sitting passively by the phone and waiting for it to ring which it probably won’t. “The Lord helps those who help themselves” as my grandmother was wont to remark.

I recently saw Tanya Holt’s entertaining one woman show Cautionary Tales for Daughters – it was at Jermyn Street Theatre and is now touring nationally.  A day or two later I interviewed Tanya Holt who is also half of the cabaret duo Shooshoo Baby with Anna Braithwaite. Somehow, and she chuckles about it herself, Holt, who did not go to drama school or university, has made a living for 20 years in the entertainments industry.

The secret lies, she thinks, partly in becoming multi-skilled and she tells me that she meets many young people who don’t seem to have grasped that basic facts – even after three years of full-time training. I talk to a lot of drama students and young actors too and to an extent I agree with her.

There is so much more to acting (or singing or dancing or all of the above) than, well, acting. Every performer is a one person business capable of collabarating and creating work independently. To do that successfully you need to be a scrupulously efficient  administrator who courts and books gigs, manages the budget and answers emails – among many other things. You also need to know how to market yourself because it you don’t sell your creation no one else will. All of these are skills which can be learned and practised.

Holt tells me that she set herself up as a children’s party entertainer which included making a personalised CD for each child. That turned her into a “reasonably competent” sound engineer. You need to be able to run a good website too. The more skills you have the more successful you are likely to be.

Most good vocational training courses now include modules on business management and producing but I still meet – and clearly Holt does too – starry eyed youngsters who don’t seem to be able to see beyond the dream of auditioning for and being offered a plum role in someone else’s show. For the majority of hopefuls the industry just isn’t like that, however good your agent is. But there is an alternative to the call centre and feeling of failure.

Create work and take it out on the road – and give it 105%. This industry thrives on perspiration as well as inspiration. And get as many skills under your belt as possible. Then you might, for example, design your own flyers or make your own costumes. At least at the start, the fewer things you have to pay others to do the better.

Any drama school or college which still isn’t teaching students this, deserves to be given a wide berth.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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