Drama school is a wonderful time. It’s unlike any other experience we’ll have in life. Its exciting, daunting, challenging, emotional, turbulent, enlightening and FUN. Graduating from drama school, however, is a whole other kettle of fish. We’re no longer supported by the walls and timetables of our acting institution, no, now we’re out in the big bad world all on our own. What do we do now?!
Your Post-Graduate To-Do List
Graduating from any degree brings with it fear and uncertainty, but graduating from a drama school brings with it that little extra dose of mystery that can be hard to navigate. Trying to make it as an actor is a challenging pursuit! There’s no two ways about it. It’s a wonderful thing to pursue, that’s for sure, but unfortunately we are robbed of most postgraduate support which other career paths are able to provide their newbies. But- fear not. Here at Stagemilk, we’re here to help. I’ve compiled a to-do list for you; 9 things which I think will give you some great clarity and momentum for the beginning of your career. Let’s go!
- Say ‘Yes’
- Keep Practising after Drama School
- Watch Everything You Can
- Invest in Yourself
- Avoid Comparison
- Update Your Acting Profiles
- Plan Your Post-Drama School Career
WELCOME to the industry. It’s a place filled with wonderful opportunities. If your drama school experience was anything like mine, then I’m guessing that your exit from that institution was probably the most challenging and turbulent chapter. That’s ok, that’s totally normal. Unfortunately, graduating from drama school can bring out some bad qualities in people. Insecurities will rise, your classmates might’ve experienced jealousy or resentment at their lack of success or the success of others. The uncertainty of success in this industry floods through the doors of drama schools around time of graduation – a harsh reminder of the reality of the industry.
What’s most important right now is that you stop for a moment and take a breath. Now is the time where you begin. It’s the most wonderful place you can be. You now have a toolkit from your training as an actor, you are well prepared to do the job you need to do – but now you get to begin learning what is required from you as an actor to have a career. You’re a beginner, and you will never be a beginner in the truest sense of the word again. Being a beginner isn’t a bad thing – quite the contrary. It’s the best place you can be, and accepting the fact that you are a beginner once you have graduated is an incredibly healthy thing to do.
I’m often caught writing about the importance of actors adopting a ‘beginners mindset’ in their careers: a mindset which is all about growth and curiosity rather than rigidity and needing to ‘know’ the answer to every situation. A beginners mindset is really hard to adopt as an experienced actor, because it feels nice to feel like we know everything. I’ve been there. What’s great for you is that you are a beginner. You just need to allow yourself to be a beginner and you’re immediately placed for growth in your career.
Practically speaking, your beginners, (or growth) mindset means the following: You embrace challenges, rather than avoid them. You persist in the face of setbacks, rather than give up. You see effort, work and process as the key to mastery, rather than looking for shortcuts. You learn from criticism rather than ignore or deny it. Finally, you learn and find inspiration from the success of others, rather than feeling threatened by their success or comforted by their failure. This mindset is the bedrock of your career, and will allow you to grow and learn exponentially and reach ever higher levels of success in your career.
#2 Say ‘Yes’
You know that Jim Carey film, Yes Man? Yeah – be that guy. It’s been ages since I’ve seen that film and I have no idea if it has stood the test of time, but the principle still holds fast. As a recent graduate of drama school, as a beginner, it’s time to say yes. Say yes to any and every experience which comes your way. I know you may turn your nose up at this idea, it’s not always an easy thing to do. Some jobs might seem beneath you or not worth your time, but the reality of your position right now is that you don’t know what you don’t know. There are experiences to be had, lessons to be learnt and people to meet from even the least exciting of opportunities.
Say yes to everything which is in line with your goals as an actor, and say yes to the opportunities which aren’t. Try everything at least once. Earn the right to say ‘no’ later in your career. It’s a great feeling too…
Saying yes leads to more opportunities to say ‘yes’. Saying ‘no’ has a lot of value, too, don’t get me wrong. But a ‘no’ should come from a place of having options and deciding where our energy is best placed, what we wish to give our time to. At the beginning of our career we need to get the wheels turning and get those opportunities rolling in – there’s no use choosing to do nothing over choosing to do something, even if it’s coming from a hope that something bigger will be around the corner.
#3 Keep Practising after Drama School
So you’ve finished your training! Awesome! Does this mean you stop training…? Nope. Keep going. Along with your inherent beginners mindset, what the recent graduate has above the experienced actor is fire and momentum. It’s crucial you keep that going for as long as possible.
Though it might feel like you learnt everything there is to know about acting at your drama school, chances are you’ve still got a bunch to learn. Studying acting, once the actor is past a certain level, becomes less about studying certain methods and more about working with certain coaches. Each coach will bring new insights to the craft of acting which may unlock something for you. Once you’ve graduated from your institution, you’re now free to explore the wide world of acting training. We offer a bunch of things here at Stagemilk to keep you busy, and alongside that you should seek out drop in classes and audits with coaches as much as possible.
Additionally, one of the unfortunate aspects of drama school training is that you are training in a vacuum, to some degree. It’s really important you get out and work with other coaches and train with different actors to ensure you haven’t worked your craft into a fixed routine born out of the validation you received from your classmates at school. This process can be a bit ouchie – unlearning your habitual acting patterns – but again, it’s all worth it and all in line with your beginners mindset.
Along with going to acting classes, broaden your horizons. Go to different classes! Do improv, stage combat, Shakespeare, dance, singing, fencing, sport, art, you name it! It’s one of the privileges of our career pursuit that we get to study a wide range of skills to become better at emulating another human’s life.
Finally, know and understand that you don’t have to pay someone to be able to practise. It’s now up to you to instigate opportunities to practise. Organise self tape sessions with a friend(s). Organise play readings. Do scene workshops. Do whatever you can to keep practising and keep learning.
I remember feeling the need to prove that I knew everything once I’d graduated from drama school. I didn’t need to prove that, and I also didn’t even need to know everything. I had such a long road ahead of me then, as I do now. There is so much left to learn, and all that is important to me is that I get just a little bit better each day. That’s a much more sustainable thing to focus on than trying to be the best right away!
#4 Watch Everything You Can
This one follows hot on the heels of point #3. One sure-fire way to get better at acting is to watch other actors acting! WATCH EVERYTHING. Watch movies. Go to the theatre. Go to the whacky performance-art your friend told you about. Explore the range of what is possible in performance. It can only make you better and add to your imagination and knowledge. Become a connoisseur of the cheap-ticket deal. Figure out every back-door way of getting to see shows as often as possible. Theatres are always offering discounted tickets, especially for students and industry members. There’s really no excuse for not watching a lot of acting. Again, as per point #3, watching a wide range of acting will ensure you haven’t boxed yourself into the same choices time and time again. Get out there and see what’s possible.
#5 Invest in Yourself
Your drama school years are behind you… Your wonderful ensemble of classmates has disbanded…(that is, until you decide to all be in a play together in like 3 months). Now is the time to take all that energy you were investing in the people around you and channel it into yourself. You’ve heard the analogies: the actor is both the instrument and the musician. The actor is their own business and product – all squished into one little person. Since the career of an actor is about getting better at performing, being the best person for the job and positioning yourself to get the job in the first place all at the same time, you’ve really got to prioritise looking after yourself. You’ve gotta be the best version of yourself, so you can give the performance that you need to give.
Investing in yourself means making goals and executing them in the many areas of your life. How do you invest in yourself mentally and physically? Financially? Spiritually? All these questions are worth considering and beginning to answer. Use your time now to figure out the type of actor you want to be, and start taking the steps towards that version of yourself.
#6 Avoid Comparison
Now, this is something you’re sure to experience to some degree in your time post graduation. Comparison. Woof. It’s a time. You’ll see the actors you’ve trained with or actors you know or actor’s you’re similar to auditioning and booking jobs which you’re made for. This is bound to happen, and will happen throughout your entire career. Comparison is the death of joy. As soon as you start to compare yourself, (and don’t worry, it will happen, it’s normal – you’re not a bad person) you’re not focusing on things which are worth focusing on. You’re focusing on things you can’t control, which will only lead to self doubt, resentment and bitterness. These are feelings which are really hard to shake off once they take hold, and a resentful actor is one who is difficult to cast. It really quickly becomes a vicious cycle: You compare yourself, you get resentful, you jeopardise an opportunity of your own due to that resentment which makes the resentment grow.
If you’ve been in this place of comparison or you’re there now, don’t worry. Good on you for noticing that. Just make the decision to begin the process of letting those feelings go. Focus on the productive things; your own learning and skill development and the success of your friends, (you know deep down in your heart you want all the best things for them.) As the saying goes, “The rising tide raises all ships”. You will only benefit from the success of someone you know, you’ll never suffer because of it, (except in your mind when you choose to compare!)
#7 Update Your Acting Profiles
Right – down to business. The next couple of points are career-oriented action tasks.
PROFILE. How’s yours looking? If your drama school headshot was anything like mine, it’s worth you shopping around for an effective update! A really useful thing to do post-graduation is to tackle all the elements of your profile as an actor which need tending to. This means a headshot update, creative an effective showreel, making sure you’re on the relevant casting websites, Pursuing meetings with agents if you haven’t got one already, putting together a voice reel for voice-over casting, updating your bio/CV, signing up for your local equity membership, to name a few.
All of these elements (unlike the careers of your classmates) are things within your control. If you feel yourself getting the urge to compare or complain, turn your attention to these elements. Make sure they are all the best they possibly can be. Take your time to ensure that all these elements are of a high quality, but shop around so that you’re not spending all your cash in one hit.
#8 Plan Your Post-Drama School Career
I’ve used the word ‘turbulent’ a few times in this article. It’s a pretty apt word for the experience of being thrust out the doors of a drama school and into a volatile industry. One thing I found really useful in being able to navigate this storm was to map out all the different elements of my career which I wanted to identify and tackle. To do this, I drew myself a model and called it, ‘The Cathedral’. Bear with me, folks.
The picture above is an outline of the shape I created to encapsulate the different areas of my career I wanted to focus on. The roof of the cathedral is where I identify my super objective – my main goal. This is best as something positive, focussed on process and attainable, rather than something focussed on result, (eg winning an Oscar). This super objective is held up and sustained by all the work which lies beneath it.
The pillars of the cathedral are the different markets you’d like to work in as an actor: film, theatre, voice over, virtual reality, musicals, you name it. In these columns you can go into as much detail as you like, listing your specific goals in this area, actions to achieve those goals, identifying your network or who you need to get in front of etc etc.
Finally, the bottom layer of the cathedral model is the foundations of your career. These elements, like all the elements of this model, need to be determined by you for what serves your career best. For my cathedral model, my foundations are my network, my skills, my profile, and my wellbeing, (encapsulating finances, relationships and health.)
This model is simply a structure for you to input where you currently are in your career and where you’d like your career to go in order to give you some clarity. I find it immensely reassuring being able to see things mapped out in front of me, it really enables me to forge ahead feeling confident I know what I need to be doing.
Finally for your to-do list, take some time to conduct a debrief on your time at drama school. It’s a pretty intense chapter in your life, and it’s worth taking a moment to ask yourself, “What the heck was that all about?!”
Personally, I love journaling. I find it really fulfilling and it gives me a lot of clarity. You might like to try this whilst debriefing on your time at drama school. Debrief on your memories, what were the glorious times, what were the challenging ones. What made you laugh yourself in stitches, what made you cry? What made you passionate? What made you angry? What made you feel most creatively fulfilled, and what did you feel you never quite got the knack of? Rifle through your experiences, write about your relationships, and begin the process of making some sense out of the whole darn thing. This process can be immensely valuable in allowing you to clarify why you went to drama school in the first place, and, (now that you’re on the other side of it) allow you to identify exactly what you hope to achieve in your career as an actor.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I’m doing a LOTR marathon on the weekend so forgive my indulgent quote above. But hey, I think it’s appropriate! It’s scary stepping into the acting industry! But oh boy is it EXCITING. I hope this has been useful to you. There are plenty of resources here on StageMilk to give you further clarity on what’s best for you to be focusing on in your career right now. What’s most important is that you take your time, look after yourself and be curious. All those things will see you well placed for a wonderful and sustainable career as an actor.