Following up from Lesson Eight – Getting an Agent, I want to talk about another thing that causes a lot of stress among actors fresh from drama school. Networking.
Whenever I heard the word ‘networking’ I instantly pictured an after show party full of people who didn’t really want to be there, insincerely stroking each other’s egos in the hopes of making ‘that friend’ who will give them a leg up to where they need to go. The image horrified me. That’s just not who I am.
Not only that, but I also didn’t see how I was even going to get into that party in the first place. I was comparing myself to other graduates, some of whom had family connections in the industry, some of whom had the money to go and see west end shows every week, many of whom had studied in London and had made a lot of contacts simply because of their location. In comparison to them, I felt at a massive disadvantage.
This isn’t the point at which I say ‘but it turns out, that stuff doesn’t matter’. It does. Contacts are important, contacts open doors. And those who have more contacts will certainly have more opportunities at their fingertips.
What I am going to say is this: there is no point in comparing your situation to that of your contemporaries. There is no point in the ‘but my talent should be enough, it’s not fair that others have an advantage just because they know this or that person’ line of thinking. This industry isn’t like that.
The fact is, networking is important. And if you have the time, money and opportunity (as well as a personality suited to schmoozing) then you should absolutely go out there and schmooze.
But if you don’t, well, you just have to accept that fact. We all have to start somewhere. If you’re feeling like you’re lagging behind, that doesn’t mean that you won’t catch up. Your path is your path. It may take you longer, and you may have to work harder, but once you have accepted that fact, then the only way to go is forward.
You do not need a bulging black book of contacts to get your first job. Or your second, or third, or fourth. And that is when you start to build contacts. Simply by working with people. A part of me did question whether I was doing the right thing, touring abroad for the entirety of my first year out of drama school. How was I going to network? But through this job I have met several actors and directors, all of whom work in England, and many of whom I now consider my friends. Just by being myself, I have managed the first step in networking – hurrah!
That being said, making friends and networking are two different things. You can’t just simply rely on people liking you in order to get work. Making genuine friendships with people in the industry is great, but you are responsible for maintaining the business side of those relationships. The good news is – this is achievable without being an insincere opportunistic parasite. This is how you do it:
1. Pay attention to what people are doing. You probably already know what productions your actor buddies are in, but find out what the directors you know are up to. Find out what the stage managers you know are up to.
2. Show interest. Obviously the best way to do this is to go and see other people’s shows. But if location/time/money gets in the way, just drop the person a message asking them how it went. Try and keep the lines of communication open. Stay on people’s radar by being friendly and inquisitive.
3. Don’t be afraid to use these connections you have made. This is made a hell of a lot easier if you follow steps one and two. I hate bothering people. I really hate it. And I REALLY don’t want to be that person who only gets in touch when they need something. But if you have been in touch just to say hi, or ask how a production is doing, then you shouldn’t feel afraid to move on to the ‘know any work going’ question. If you have kept a sincere connection with the person, they won’t have any problems with helping you. In fact, they will want to help you.
And that’s it. Essentially, all you have to do is keep your ear to the ground, and be nice. It does take some organisation, but it’s not as hard as you might think. In fact, if you keep it genuine, networking can actually be really lovely. And maybe, once your network has widened through these methods, you might find that you get invited to that party (and better yet, you might actually want to be there).