Trained Actor, Still in Training – Lesson Six – Longevity

Keep Going - Image: Andy Wright (shared under Creative Commons License)

I am now half way through an eleven month long tour, and I am really starting to feel it now. Before which I had never been in a show that ran longer than a week. Most small-scale theatrical tours in England only last around three months. As far as acting jobs go, this is pretty tough stuff. So I think now might be the time to talk about longevity.

When I found this job on Casting Call Pro (now Mandy), the length was a huge selling point for me. I was fresh out of drama school and feeling pretty terrified about the instability I had been warned of. To have a job for almost a year felt like a great way for me to transition from the safety of the education system into the unpredictability of the professional world – but at the same time, it is a huge adjustment to make.

The thing I loved the most about drama school was the sheer amount of projects I was able to take part in. I was kept so busy with workshops, devised pieces, and graduate year shows, I didn’t have a chance to get bored. This job is totally different: while there are many aspects of touring life that stop it from feeling too routine, like dealing with the challenges of being in a different space every day, there is no hiding from the fact that ultimately I am doing the same three shows, with the same three people, five days a week.

Every now and then I just wish I could get in a time machine and skip to the end so that I can sink my teeth into some new material. When you also add into the equation the fact that I am in a different country from my friends and family, and that I often have no one around outside of my ensemble who can speak the same language as me, you can understand why such a job takes a certain level of emotional stamina.

I’ve been trying to think what the key is to maintaining that stamina – a lot of the things I have talked about in my previous posts come into the mix. My advice from months ago to always keep playing becomes more important as the tour goes on. Making sure you look after yourself and keep at bay the feeling of isolation is vital too. But I think the most important thing when it comes to longevity is maintaining a balanced attitude to your job.

When I started these plays they took over my life. Outside of rehearsals I was expending most of my mental energy into getting underneath the texts and finding my place in the imagined worlds. It’s a great feeling, when you start a new project and all of your focus and attention becomes devoured by it. It’s something I have really started to miss, because as time goes by that level of focus becomes unnecessary on a tour. You become comfortable in your roles and the work becomes almost effortless.

In many ways, this is a wonderful thing. It means you can turn your attention to other things and start to look forward to new projects further down the line. But it is very easy to slip into a ‘grass is always greener’ state of mind. If you allow yourself to become bored with your work, you will become impatient for the tour to end and that impatience will make it feel like it’s dragging.

So whilst in some ways it is a good thing to allow your job to feel like, well, a job, and therefore allow room in your world for other things, it is so important that you still feel connected with your work. Otherwise you simply won’t want to do it anymore. Luckily, in the theatrical world, there is always someone to help you with this: the audience.

When you’ve been doing the same show for a long time, it’s easy to switch to autopilot. But when you do, you are doing yourself, your team-mates and your audience a disservice. Never forget that for them, this is the first (and probably only) time they will see this show. Remind yourself that you are about to unfold a series of surprises right in front of them, that the story you have told so many times is about to fall on fresh ears. If you think about this, just for a moment, before each of your performances, it will remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing, and stop you from becoming indifferent.

Then, after that, go home, watch a film, read a book, go for a walk, write a poem, do whatever you need to do. Having just found a way to make the one-hundred-and-twentieth show feel fresh again – you’ve definitely earned it.