Relocating to the UK as an actor is a wonderful and tremendous experience to work towards, but it is not one that should be treated lightly. As an actor who is gearing up to move from Sydney to London myself, I thought I’d share my thought process and planning structure with you here in case you are considering a similar venture…
“Fortune favours the brave”
I tend to agree with this sentiment, but as my wise friend quoted to me the other day, “there is a difference between confidence and bravado”, (Judith Weston) and being brave without a plan can end up just being foolish!
So first up- you’re considering a move. Awesome. Congratulations. This is a major step in one’s career and LIFE, (life- you remember that old thing? That thing which exists notwithstanding the success of your career? Yeah, don’t forget about that, especially while we’re thinking about this subject).
The UK is an incredible destination for those pursuing a career in the performing arts. With its theatre scene, film industry, acting community and its proximity to Europe, it doesn’t get much better than the UK for actors. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Being the magnet that it is for actors and artists, you can guarantee that you’re not the only one considering or to have made this move. So in order to not become one of the many people lost in a faraway land without a North Star to head towards, you need to get clear about a few things before you go.
There are many factors you need to consider with relocation, so for this article I hope to provide you with some answers, but also some questions you might like to consider or add to your to-do list.
Structurally, I’d like you to consider the following three areas in the preparation phase of your move:
- Your Mindset,
- Thriving (Not just surviving) and,
- The Process
So, let’s dive in. First up:
Your mindset and mental preparation for your move are some of, if not the most important factors to consider. There is a reason why relocating is a big deal! It’s a risk, it’s a step into the dark, a step out of our comfort zone and into the big unknown. It is a daunting task that can lead to some pretty serious feelings of overwhelm, stress and loneliness once you’ve arrived overseas if you haven’t prepared effectively and fortified your mind to the challenges you’ll face.
Consider if nothing else these two areas when it comes to mindset:
- Your Attitude
- Your Awareness
So, your attitude. Consider upfront why you are making this move. What is your intention? Is it to get away from problems you are currently facing? Is it to strike gold and hit the big time in an industry that will “understand you better”? Is it simply for a fresh start and a pursuit of curiosity? There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question, but I’d argue that there are reasons to move which are more or less healthy and sustainable. Reasons for moving that involve getting away from or avoiding issues you currently face are worth dealing with head-on because I can tell you, those issues aren’t going to disappear with a location change.
I’d suggest writing this intention down, and condensing it to one or two sentences. Make it clear and achievable at the outset, and stick it to the wall somewhere you’ll be able to read each day.
It’s worth thinking about what behavioural shifts you may need to make to increase your chances of success in a foreign country. My offering for your attitudinal approach to relocating is simple, and one you’ve probably heard before: Adopt a beginners mindset. This mindset, (As opposed to a closed mindset) focusing on a desire to learn and develop yourself by embracing challenges, learning from criticism and finding inspiration in the success and wellbeing of others, is surely going to put you in a better place than landing in a new place with a fixed approach, not allowing yourself to learn and adapt to all the new experiences which await. To find out more about adopting a beginners mindset, head here.
Next, your awareness. By awareness, I mean the fact that you know yourself better than anyone else does, and you know what you are going to need to keep yourself sane while you’re in the deep end. Let me be specific. In the lead up to my move, I have developed a list of 9 items I can turn to if I’m feeling the blues or a lack of motivation once I’ve arrived in London.
Now, I’m a ‘write a list and everything will be fine’ kinda guy, so this approach may not suit you. The most important thing to ask yourself is “What am I going to need to sustain my mental health”. (I know this is getting pretty deep here people, but stick with me!)
A simple place to start with this is by comparing the similarities and differences of the places you’re moving between. Let’s take Sydney and London for example, one of the main differences which I am bracing myself for is the weather. What is going to be my substitute for a run on a sunny afternoon to clear my head? Considering these differences and figuring out your plan for digging yourself out of a hole when times get tough is essential, I can’t stress it to you enough!
So, to summarise, at the very least you should think about the following:
- What is your intention with the move? Make it clear and actionable.
- What is your attitude towards the move and your career, will it be sustainable?
- What are you going to need to stay energised in the long run?
Answering these three questions is a simple but effective way to preempt and prepare for some of the subtler challenges we may face when we’re far away from home!
Now… Moving on.
How to Survive as an Actor in the UK
Let’s talk admin. Let’s talk planning. Let’s pause the sound of bagpipes ringing in our ears and talk brass tax. What do I actually need to do in order to live, (truly live!) in the UK? Aiming to thrive rather than just survive is an important distinction.
You’ll be able to find many websites offering you tips for living on peanuts to survive in the UK, but whilst we’re in this planning phase, I believe it’s in our best interests to set our sights higher than this.
Again, we’re talking about an approach that will be energising for us, not just bearable. The pursuit of a career as an actor is mentally and emotionally taxing enough as is without the added stresses of financial difficulty or an unstable living situation. Use your time before the move to prepare effectively.
Plan consciously and specifically. Take a look at the following list of admin-based considerations and see if you’re missing anything:
- What are your goals for how you want to live in the UK? Be specific about this. The clearer you are about understanding exactly what it is you are moving towards will be of great value to you. – For me, what has been of great value to remember is that a move like this is about experiencing the world, not just sticking my head in the sand trying to get work as an actor, (News flash: more interesting you = more interesting actor). My goals are both about my career but also about what I want to experience as a human being from the moment I step foot on that plane.
- What is my budget? There are many resources online to assist you with structuring this, but this is an area you simply need to deal with. Financial pressure or a lack of awareness about your financial situation will cause you to give up or compromise before you’ve achieved what you need to achieve. Think about your budgeting over different time periods, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, for example. From what I’ve read, a minimum of £40 a day will be necessary for living in London. And that is just a survival budget, not allowing funds for classes or theatre shows.
Check out this website for the cost of living expenses for London, or use the search function to find your specific destination.
- What is my VISA situation, and what do I need to enter the UK? Here is a UK VISA guide which you’ll find very helpful.
- Is COVID-19 going to impact my ability to get to the UK, (or my ability to get back on short notice?) Here are the current COVID-19 updates from the UK Government.
- Where am I going to be based? There are many locations within the UK that might offer artistic prosperity. London and Edinburgh, for example, are two of the many popular locations. But go that step further – which suburbs are going to suit your needs best? Look up online forums or use services like Gumtree for information regarding places to live and information on different suburbs.
- Where am I going to keep my money? As a Harry Potter fan, I’d love to just be able to store my earnings in Gringotts – but a more practical approach may be necessary.
- What do I do in case of an emergency? We can take for granted these important things when we’ve lived in one place for a long while. What is the health care situation in the place you’re moving to? How do you contact the authorities in time of need? Who can you contact for help? Everywhere in the UK will have an online service outlining this information to you. If, like me, you’re London bound, check out this website.
- Place, phone, bank account. These three factors were the most important to my friend who recently returned from two years studying at a theatre school in Paris. A roof over your head and the security that brings, an ability to contact your friends and family in a cost-effective way, and a simple and trustworthy method of accessing your money, are all priorities for living abroad.
- How am I going to get around? (Hint: in London, you can’t go wrong with buses. They are the cheapest method by far. It’s a simple consideration but one you’ll be dealing with every day.)
How to Thrive as an Actor in the UK
All those points above are going to assist you with surviving in the UK. Now, let’s take that additional step: how do we thrive in the UK? I know that I’m a better actor when I’m feeling energised, excited and inspired about what I’m doing and the world around me. A lot of that inspiration comes from acting work, sure, but I need to identify ways of finding inspiration before I’ve managed to secure a role.
With that in mind, the following few points and ideas might help:
Forming a Community
Finding like-minded people with like-minded goals is crucial. There are plenty of ways to do this including:
- “Meetup” – a service designed for making like-minded friends
- SpareRoom.co.uk is a great site for finding places to live in.
- Check out this blog post for more ideas
- Going to the theatre, markets, pubs and other social places will land you with a higher chance of meeting people and making friends.
The UK has plenty of cost-effective, (sometimes even free!) museums, art galleries and events. Become a connoisseur of a good deal. See as much as you can. Add to your experience of life with art and culture and even if you’re experiencing a lean time with your career as an actor, it will do you good.
The UK, (certainly more so than Australia in my mind!) is on the doorstep of the rest of the world. With easy access to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, you have limitless opportunities to explore and experience the world. If you find yourself sitting and waiting for the phone to ring, ask yourself how you could be better off spending your time. Is there a cheap deal for a flight you can find? (If you’re reading this in 2021 please take COVID-19 considerations very seriously).
If your budget is strictly limited, then don’t be afraid to explore within the UK and the surrounding areas of the city you’re inhabiting. The UK is a treasure trove of history and you don’t have to go far before finding or experiencing something new. Don’t believe me? Check out this list of travel recommendations within the UK.
Yes, your career is important- but when you move, plan to thrive there, not just survive. Casting directors can smell desperation in idle actors, and sponging up all the experiences the UK has to offer and being truly grateful to be there is only going to make you a better person to be around and increase your chances of success as an actor.
This being said, let’s talk shop.
You’ve landed in the UK. We’re now in pursuit of establishing a career as an actor. This is exciting stuff! First port of call – have you identified specifically what your career goals are for your time here? Being as clear about this as you can be will increase your chances of success. (Noticing a theme here? Goals, people. The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get it.)
I like to break down my career into three areas. Practice, Business and Opportunities. Let’s work with these three areas for this conversation.
Sharpening the saw, iron sharpens iron, just simply getting a bit better at acting – whatever you want to call it, training and practising your craft is essential. It helps to grow your network, increase your opportunities and keep your head in the game.
The UK has many training facilities for long and short courses in acting. Head to our guide for UK acting classes/training institutions.
When you’re thinking about practice, again, consciously apply yourself to the process. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve?” Are you in acting class because you’re seeking validation, (we’ve all been there) or are you genuinely working towards getting better? The way you practise is going to be critical in separating you from the needy and the desperate.
Additionally, have a think about what skills you need to develop before heading to the UK. My approach to this point is primarily about my voice and accent work. Being an Australian, I don’t want the roles I go for to be limited because of my natural accent. I am currently working on a weekly basis with an accent coach to have the ability to blend in if I feel it is necessary.
Have a think about your strengths and weaknesses as an actor. How can they best be built for the UK market?
There are a few business considerations that are unique to pursuing an acting career in the UK. The biggest one to tackle is Equity. A similar organisation to SAG-AFTRA in the US, becoming an equity member in the UK is essential for those wishing to pursue a professional career. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, unfortunately, in that it’s an important factor for getting work in the UK, but to become a member you need at least 4 or 5 professional credits on your CV. If you’re just starting out, it might be worth considering getting some notches on your belt before you head to the UK. If not, make sure your business plan deals with this issue upfront. Head to their website for more information.
Once you’ve figured out an Equity plan, it’s time to start thinking about the other factors of your business. Are you going to approach agencies for representation? How will you do this, and who will you target? As with applying for agencies anywhere in the world, being specific and personal with who you approach is essential. A cut and copy cover letter sent dozens of time will only end up in spam mail. How can you be specific? A good place to start is by looking at the actors already signed with that particular agency. If you like the work the actor has done or their style of acting, that could be a good place to start. Many UK based agencies have multiple agents working for them, so identifying the individual agent will be useful for you, rather than just sending a mass email to the whole company. Persistence and resilience are key with this pursuit, folks!
Also, make sure your actor’s profile is in check. Have you got high quality, up to date headshots? How’s your showreel looking? Do you have any recent self-tapes on hand to send as extra material? Cover as many bases as possible to make the interview process with agencies as straight forward as possible. The UK is one of the main actor destinations in the world. With a high supply of actors, demand for them will be low, so don’t let something within your control like a headshot or a showreel be the reason you aren’t considered.
Whether you’ve secured representation or not, there are still ways to cultivate opportunities as an actor in the UK. Figuring out how to take control of your career by seeking out opportunities rather than playing the waiting game could be what allows you to stick it out for the long haul. There are several ways to do this:
- One of the main platforms to get your head around is called Spotlight. Spotlight is a popular casting platform in the UK that is seriously worth checking out. Read: How to Get on Spotlight
- Theatre. The UK has so much live performance. Getting yourself to the theatre, seeing shows, (both mainstage and independent) will increase your inspiration and chances of meeting people and increasing your network. These people you meet may have leads for projects which are holding auditions or connections to make.
- Producing your own content. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve found, (and intend to use myself) is to land in the UK with a film or theatre project ready to produce. Writing and making a short film, for instance, will force you to meet people, make connections and work artistically with strangers. Take the power into your own hands and be the instigator for the projects you’d like to be a part of. Read: How to Make Your Own Work
One final point on cultivating opportunities: Take action before inspiration arrives. Many of us feel that we need to wait for inspiration to motivate us to take action, but it’s actually healthier to see this progression as cyclical, rather than linear.
If you’re sitting around waiting for divine inspiration to take hold and give you the courage and strength to get outside and meet people, you may need to rethink your approach. I’d suggest for you to firstly, take that step outside, go and engage with one of the many amazing things that the UK has on offer, whether it’s cultural, historical, social or whatever. You take the first step, and I assure you that inspiration will follow.
So! Here we are. We’ve identified a BUNCH of stuff to think about here. But don’t worry, by reading this, you’ve taken the first step in the journey of preparing for your adventure:
- Consider your mindset (attitude and self-awareness)
- Make a solid plan
- Cultivate your own opportunities
Take your time to think about what you need to do to best prepare yourself, then take action. Develop self-awareness about what you need to stay healthy, make effective plans to support yourself, and cover off on as many career areas as you can. There are many factors that are out of our control as an actor, (i.e getting the job!) but by focusing on the many things within our control, we can become more resilient and able to truly achieve our dreams.
Go get em’!