As a teenager I knew that when I was a fully fledged adult I wanted to work in the theatre…or maybe be an artist…or work in film and TV. Something creative, unusual, where no two days are the same. I was unsure what the exact job would be but by aiming vaguely in a creative/arty direction things worked out and I am now the Chief Executive and Creative Producer for Creation Theatre Company. Creation are Oxford’s largest producing company, around 30,000 people see our shows in any given year. We specialise in quirky, fast paced exciting productions in unusual venues. It is my absolute dream job. In nine years with the company I have worked with children and teenagers through our weekly Drama Clubs, read scripts, sat in on rehearsals, painted sets, auditioned actors, laughed a lot and been fortunate to create shows in some spectacular settings.
20 years ago my 15 year old self would have been overjoyed with where I have ended up. My journey here though was far more luck rather than design. Jobs in the arts can be hard to come by, especially ones that will pay enough for you to put a roof over your head and food in your mouth. If arts/theatre/media appeal to you as a career here are my top tips to start you on the right path to your dream job.
1) Volunteer and gain experience. It could be ushering in a theatre, helping out in an art gallery, being an extra for free on a film set. One thing you can rely on in the arts is that an extra pair of hands is always welcome. At Creation we have a great bunch of young people who give their time to help with costume, putting out chairs or assisting with our Drama Clubs. When we have paid work going they are then at the top of the list so a few hours helping out can end up being a nice weekend or holiday job. Anything you can get on your CV that shows you have real practical experience is invaluable.
2) If you want to go onto Higher Education pick your course carefully. If you want to act you’ll be better off going to a Drama School rather than an Acting degree at a University, likewise Stage Management. I did a Theatre Studies degree which is useful at times but is by no means essential.
3) Don’t get too hung up on academic qualifications. It’s not that you don’t need them, reasonable grades can always be helpful on your CV but I can honestly say that I don’t know what GCSE, A-Levels or degrees any of the artistic teams on our shows have. They may have none and it wouldn’t matter at all. They have all come to us through seeing their work and recommendations. If you’re good at what you do and you work hard you’ll be fine.
4) Throw yourself at every opportunity. Many opportunities will come through recommendations. Even if you’re just volunteering for a couple of hours be on time, be enthusiastic and professional.
5) Take the time to really understand what the job roles in the area you’re interested are. Before I worked in the theatre I thought the jobs were actor, director, writer, costume designer and lighting; I’d never even heard of the job I now do! Working out exactly what Stage Managers, dramaturgs, movement directors, milliners, fight directors, scenic artists, composers, sound designers and facilitators do has been a huge learning curve. Go on websites, look on film credits, read the programme at the theatre and look at all the jobs listed. If you don’t know what they are look them up online and read the job descriptions where those jobs are advertised.
6) Work hard. There’s a perception that people who are successful in the arts have some natural artistic talent that has made them succeed. In most cases this simply isn’t true. The people who really do well are the ones who put in the hours, who arrive first and leave last and who do so with a smile on their face. Being good at acting won’t be enough if you don’t make the time to learn the lines and put in the long hours necessary to make a fantastic show.
7) Join youth groups and clubs where you can gain practical experience. A number of companies run film making courses and at Creation we have clubs where 13-16 year olds spend a term creating their own shows. Almost every professional and amateur theatre company you look up will have a way for young people to get involved – the adults doing these jobs absolutely love them, and we want to share that with the next generation.