How do I get things moving as an actress and writer?

My dream job is to become an actress of stage and screen and also a writer. I am in the early stages of a writing career, but due to unfortunate circumstances and money I have had to put my acting career on the back burner for the moment, as I have to take part-time work in a school. 

I have been at my job for a while now and am desperate to move on. I have applied for work in the theatre but been unsuccessful. I am reaching 25 and feel trapped in this job and don’t know what to do to move forward into the creative career I desire. 

I do write in my spare time and have self-published a poetry book, which I have put on a website to be sold, but sales are moving very slowly. What can I do to be noticeable in my writing and/or more employable to the theatre? I don’t know where to start to get things moving and get out of part time work.

— Helen Yates


Expert answers

Pauline Tambling CBE's reply:

I’m making an assumption that you’ve either just left Drama School or are a new graduate. It makes sense to combine writing and acting as it’s unlikely in the short term that you’ll be able to make a living out of either. Both need talent, tenacity and a lot of luck. Most actors, even successful ones, supplement their acting with at least one other job.

As an actor you’ll need to work hard to get noticed. You may have been involved in a graduation show and if you were at a Drama School you will have met some casting directors and agents. It can be really difficult to get an agent and you will probably have to do a lot on your own anyway.

You need to be clear about your offer: do you sing and dance as well as act? Are you willing to take any work that comes your way? Are you free to travel anywhere? Would you be as interested to take, say educational work, as work on stage or in film? Is acting a real passion?

There is plenty of advice around. Try Ideastap (www.ideastap.com), Drama UK (www.dramauk.co.uk), Equity (www.equity.org.uk) and perhaps most importantly Spotlight (www.spotlight.com) as well, of course, as Creative Choices (www.ccskills.org.uk).

You will need strong networks: get inside the theatre world, go to shows on the fringe, get to know young directors who are putting things on in small venues (probably as profit shares without much profit), sign up for relevant workshops or seminars and, if you can find an outlet or blog, offer to review shows. Above all get some experience and develop strong networks so you’re available when the opportunities come round.

Becoming a writer will be a longer project and I’m guessing that you want to write for the theatre. More broadly across all new writing it’s probably easier than ever before to get your work read through self-publishing and online, but harder to get paid to write. For theatre you obviously need to know the basics of writing scripts and again there’s plenty of advice online and lots of courses. Workshops are very useful because you get a chance to write and to get your work reviewed by working writers and peers.

More broadly have a look at www.offwestend.com who have a lovely ‘Adopt a playwright’ scheme or look up New Writing South (www.newwritingsouth.com) or Writing West Midlands (www.writingwestmidlands.org). Get to know the theatres and companies that specialise in putting on new work and see what they’re doing and what’s getting produced. And don’t forget the BBC because there’s new writing on BBC radio all the time. There’s a dedicated initiative called Writers Room. See www.bbc.co.uk/writersoom/about or follow them on Twitter @bbcwritersroom.


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