London is a very diverse city, open to different cultures and backgrounds, but like any other big city it has its rules and quirks, and it might take time for newly arrived international actors to navigate their way within it. Who to contact and how? Which casting websites are worth joining? How about try to produce your own show? And is your English really good enough for castings where you’re just asked to sight read? Is your CV correctly formatted and your headshots right for the UK market? If you move here having already signed with a local agent and having several industry contacts, count yourself lucky. However, if like many of us you make the big move to the city hoping to train/work here but with few connections, here are some basic essential first steps to take to maximize your chances of success…
This goes without saying, but you need to make sure you can legally reside and/or work in the UK before you move here. As a member of the EU this is fairly simple (we’ll just choose to ignore the utter mess that is Brexit) but if you come from elsewhere make sure your VISA will allow you to look for work whilst you’re here.
Finding a place to live in London is hard. Seriously. Born and bred Londoners are struggling so trust me when I say that finding a decent place to live that won’t cost you a limb will take some careful planning, lots of searching and no small amount of luck. If you have friends in town make sure you let them know you’re in the market for a room. Be prepared to make some sacrifices, get used to having flat mates again and get a map to the tube/train system asap. Facebook is a good place to make such appeals, but there are also a few other places you can look for a place to stay:
Once you’ve settled in somewhere you’re going to want to get a job asap (unless you’ve got some substantial savings in the bank or want to go broke fast). Obviously acting related employment is what we all dream of, but the sad truth is that it takes time and a lot of hard work – plus some luck – to build a steady, financially stable career in this industry. Hence the need for a day job.
Spotlight has a wonderful non-acting employment section with loads of job opportunities. If you’re a member – and as we’ll talk about below, you really need to be one if you want to get anywhere as an actor in this country – this is one of the first places to look at.
Facebook is yet again a good place to look for some work. Promo, sales assisting, teaching, translating…the list of possible requests goes on and on. There are plenty of groups dedicated to offering/finding work specifically for actors, so get in there and join as many as you can.
As an actor there is a good chance you have a wide array of skills. Use these to earn some money! You can teach or coach other actors, assist direct, help with Fringe shows, work in a theatre as an usher or front of house staff member…there are many non-acting jobs in the industry, and these usually offer good opportunities to make contacts and meet some likeminded people.
Stay tuned for a future blog where we’ll delve deeper into part time jobs for actors and where to find them!
SPOTLIGHT! SPOOOTLIGHT!….Spotlight! The fact is, if you want to be taken seriously as an actor you have to be on this site. The easiest way in is through an accredited drama school (you can check which ones are included at DRAMA UK before they close down). Otherwise you will need to show proof of some professional paid work in your home country and/or the UK. All the info you need is available on their homepage, and you can always contact them with any questions you might have. This is the single most important website to be a member of, so get on it asap.
If you have an agent the following might not be as interesting, but nowadays performers should be looking for work on their own as well as through their agents, so keep them in mind:
P2P Sites e.g. CCP, Star Now, Shooting People. These websites offer a wide array of work, a lot of it non-paid, amateurish or downright exploitative, so be careful when reading briefs and as always, do your homework and research employers. Many will also require you pay a membership fee to access calls for paid work. It’s up to you to decide whether this is a good investment or not, and it will depend on what you want to achieve by joining.
Facebook. Here it is again. Yes, the social media giant has become another great source of work for those who know how to look. Spend some time searching for groups such as BAN (British Actors Network), Actors UK, UK Theatre Network etc. and request to join as many as you like. These groups are made up of industry members and more often than not are an excellent source of info, connections, and support.
Another must, especially if you don’t know many people in town or you’re interested in making your own work (more on that next). There are tons of events happening in London every day which offer the opportunity to meet other industry people. Rehearsed readings, new writing nights, scratch nights, improve sessions, Fringe plays, Socials….again the list goes on and on. Facebook is, once again, a good place to search. Meetup.com another. Participate in as many of these as your schedule will allow. Submit yourself to take part in them or attend as an observer and then stick around and chat with anyone you found interesting or inspiring. Not just a great way to make professional connections but also to meet some friends and have a fun, affordable night out. Being pro-active in the right way can make a real difference. Actors have had many auditions and jobs from a well-timed email, or from inviting a casting director to see them in something. So don’t wait for jobs to come to you – seek them out!
Getting an agent is as useful as it is hard. Again, attending certain drama schools might help but is by no means a guarantee of getting signed with a decent agency. Generally, the best way to go about it is to invite prospective agents – which you will have chosen after many hours of research into their books and application guidelines – to come see you in something. And therein lies the catch 22. You need an agent to get work. You need to work to get an agent. This is one of the many reasons why producing your own stuff is so valuable. Another option is to target agencies and co-ops (like us!) that specialize in representing foreign talent which might be easier to approach initially.
It’s likely that making it as an actor in your home country is as tough as it is here. For all the opportunities available in London (and in the UK) there are also countless actors just like you waiting to jump forward and take their shot. A good way to stay active, motivated, and relevant to future employers, is to make your own work. You can write a show, devise it, get together with friends and shoot a short film or webseries… Again, there are many possibilities and the internet had made it easier than ever to find collaborators and share your projects with the world (not to mention finding the money to pay for them. Crowdfunding anyone?)
Finally, you might want to look into joining Equity, the actor’s union in the UK. You must apply and fulfill a certain set of requirements to be eligible, but it’s really worth it in the long term. They will not only help you with any legal issues you might encounter but will also provide you with info regarding payment rates, your rights as a performer in the UK and so on. It is also a great avenue to make your voice heard if there are any aspects of the industry you feel should change e.g the proliferation of unpaid work, the non-existence of residuals/royalties for some types of work etc.
This is a very basic list but hopefully it will help any international actors that are looking to move to London or have just arrived here, and feel a bit overwhelmed with all the possibilities and opportunities on offer. Work hard, be nice and good luck!