11 Things to Keep You Busy While the Industry Sleeps

Actorum members have come together to offer fellow actors some ideas of how to keep busy while our industry sleeps. Here they are, introduced by lead agent Amy Loughton.

“Our industry has offered an unexpected pause. It’s a frightening one that’s left us all a bit wobbled, but I wanted to share the resilience I’ve seen, within our co-op but also within our industry. It’s the same resilience that we learn as freelancers, lurching from job to job, finding a way to make ends meet, keeping our focus on a long term end goal whilst battling through the day to day. The truth is, we, the artists, we the flexible workers, we the ever-adaptable, have the strength for this. We can take each day at a time and keep our eye on the prize, that glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes this is expressed in the wonder of costume friends making scrubs, puppeteers using 3d-printers for making visors, the spreadsheet lovers among us setting up mutual aid groups, people creating art from their living rooms. Sometimes it’s seen through the strength of getting through the day, dealing with your own mental health as gently as you can and supporting those you care about. We can do this. Take it easy. Take it day by day. But if you’re bored and fancy a focus, take a look below for some ideas to keep you busy…”

1. Start a culture club

The premise here is very simple; gather some friends and come up with something you’d be up for listening to / reading / watching and do just that, then discuss and review it at an agreed later date. (The inclusion of bevs and snacks at the discussion and review stage is greatly encouraged.) This could be a great time to challenge yourself by going for something you wouldn’t usually when it’s your turn to choose the focus. Go big and stay home, as they say. The broadening of your cultural horizons will no doubt serve to make you a more rounded artist.

2. Organise an online play reading

Stretch those muscles of yours with a play reading with some mates in the Zoom auditorium. Obviously it won’t be the same as standing on stage opposite other actors but you’ll still be connecting playing, and most importantly feeding yourself some soul food. It doesn’t have to be for anybody except yourselves, but it could be if you wanted. You could invite an audience along to the same online meeting for them to have a listen to the fine performances you’ll no doubt come up with.

3. Get your teeth in to some new monologues

Generally for castings we’re asked to prepare something from the script of the piece we’re auditioning for but sometimes a request for an unrelated monologue comes in, and totally catches some of us off guard. Now you’ve got some time on our hands you could do some reading and start working on some fresh audition pieces remembering to always tailor your selection to the types of characters you could play right now. Don’t know where to start? Ask a colleague whether they have any recommendations for you, and be ready to return the favour.

4. Music

More and more theatre castings require us to have a song or an instrument up our sleeves and for may actors this can be a source of dread. Why not consider using this time to research and learn a few new songs, or dust off that oboe that’s been lying under your bed for the last eighteen months? YouTube is full of instrument warm ups and there are many music archives online to delve in to for ideas for pieces. Unless you’re an MT whizz auditioning for a fully fledged musical, keep your musical offerings simple. This will mean you can really feel secure in what you’re doing and totally own it in the room. And maybe even enjoy it…

5. Physical Exercise

Not only will a consistent bit of exercise generate some much-needed endorphins, it will improve your physical strength and stamina. There are a host of resources online catering to different ability levels, time-constraints and varied mobility. This is all about keeping yourself moving and taking ownership of your own body and doing what you can to enable it to best serve you.

6. Listen to some podcasts

Hearing industry insights and the experiences of different actors is empowering, enlightening and inspiring. Many podcasts give voice to our industry and its creatives and are available for free, so why not take advantage? There include The Honest Actors Podcast, The Spotlight Podcast, The 98%, and the National Theatre Podcast. Platforms for these include Apple Podcasts, Spotify and BBC Sounds, but if you search online for one of the titles you should have no trouble accessing them. If you heard a goodie, why not share it with a colleague or two?

7. Keep your tools sharp

This is our craft we’re talking about, let’s not let our tools go blunt. Perhaps now is a time to consider which area needs attention. Does your breath control go out the window when you have to sight read Shakespeare? Read a sonnet a day, out loud, and challenge yourself to be as economical as possible with your breath. Does the idea of working with a camera make you anxious? Set aside an hour a day to practice your camera technique by filming something – anything – on your phone and, crucially, watching it back. How’s your eye line? How’s the lighting? Is the performance at a levels that’s appropriate for screen? It might be uncomfortable at first but what you’ll be doing is empowering yourself to improve by subjectively assessing your skills as they stand right now.

8. Make a voice recording booth

From Chris Porter: “I repurposed a linen cupboard into a voice recording booth, the sheets and blankets are great for deadening unwanted sound and echoes. The trains passing on the other side of the garden fence are an intermittent and unsolvable intrusion at the moment…”

9. Stay inspired

Ask yourself if there is one thing you could be doing every day, one style of work you could be creating every day, what would it be? Maybe there’s a particular company, director or practitioner who’s work lights you up. Once you know the answer then seek it out on the platforms available to you now. If it’s theatre, The National, Chichester Festival Theatre and The Royal Court are just some of the institutions opening up their online archives to us for free at this time. For screen, the BBC, ITV, All 4, Netflix, Amazon, the list goes on! Ask yourself what it is that lights you up and find it. Maybe it’s BBC Three mockumentaries, or epic physical theatre, or sitcoms, or political theatre. It’s all there to be had and the key here is to be as specific as possible.

10. Get on top of your marketing and admin

Does your Spotlight CV need a clean up? Do you have a website that needs an update? Do you know who’s casting or making the work that you’re hungry for and can you tailor your CV and marketing focus to reflect your skill set in this area? The more research you can do in to the companies you’re keen to work for, the better enabled you’ll be to promote yourself in a way that’s appealing to them because you’ll have a better idea of what they need. Do you have a database of who you’ve met, who you’d like to meet and who has seen your work? If not, now is the time to create such contact lists! Find those theatre companies or film makers who chime with you artistically, dig deep and learn more about them. It’s not all about lining up the next job, it’s just as important to equip yourself, find your voice and your people.

11. Tax return

Do it now! Your future self will be so grateful (and a bit smug) come January.

We hope that what we’ve offered above may be helpful but our final thought is that this could be an ideal time to zoom out, as Amy explains, “It’s a weird time, no one can really argue that at the moment, but this could be an ideal opportunity to take your foot off the gas. As actors we’re often scrabbling to keep up, to keep competing, to keep ourselves permanently ready. This could be a great time to sit down with your personal goals and have a nice in-depth assess of where you are and where you want to go. Why do you want this career? What stories do you really want to tell? It’s just as important to check in with yourself as it is to action action action. Never forget, this is a marathon not a sprint.”

Empty Theatre - Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash