UVic alumni offer their advice on how to break into the theatre industry

Culture Theatre
Photo by Truly Hunter

If you’re in the arts, you’ve probably heard how difficult it is to find a job in your field. More often than not, a nine to five is required in order to pay the bills while you toil your nights away for your artistic passion. Honestly, graduating sometimes sounds terrifying — like some nebulous grey blob in the future beyond any plans (if you’ve even planned out your life beyond school). 

So once you graduate, what happens next? What is the best strategy in order to succeed?

Several graduates from the Phoenix Theatre shared their perspectives on what to do in the creative field of theatre, including acting, directing, stagecraft, business management, and puppetry. Most importantly, they explained how to be successful in something that you love to do, even if it isn’t in theatre.

The first piece of advice that’s important to keep in mind is to create your own opportunities. 

“I made my own work,” says Britt Small, a director of the Atomic Vaudeville troupe and Phoenix Theatre alumna. “We started our own company, and started producing because it’s impossible [to start working in Victoria]. It’s all contract work, working project to project.” 

In a situation where there wasn’t a lot of work available, Small took matters into her own hands.

Theatre, even from a playwright’s perspective, isn’t a solitary industry. It takes lots of  people to get together and make a production, from directors to actors, set designers, stage managers, and everything in between.

“If you write something, it can sit in a drawer and you can hope that someone will give you a call one day and you know [say], ‘I hear you have a play in a drawer!’ That’s never gonna happen. So you might as well put it on a seat and ask people to pay money to watch it,” says Janet Munsil, a playwright, former artistic director for Intrepid Theatre, and current UVic professor.

Ingrid Hansen, an actor, puppeteer, and  co-founder of SNAFU Dance Theatre, spoke about the realization may artists have that there isn’t someone that’s going to sweep you off your feet into stardom. 

“It’s a really freeing, empowering realization that no one is coming,” Hansen said. ” It’s up to how you frame things how you pursue want you want and how you attack your work. And the same thing when you’re making or producing a play or a TV show, a series or anything, if you don’t invite people, nobody knows about it. Nothing’s going to magically go viral.”

Networking is also an important part of creating your own opportunities. Jim Leard, who has many roles in the local theatre scene including founding Story Theatre Company, emphasized the value of making connections and networking, whatever form it may take. 

“It’s great to have contacts with [your] professors and the teachers,” said Leard. “But it’s who’s working in the profession that [can give you a contact] and then you can go off and … use that in someway to create a job.” 

Networking for the first time seems daunting. But thankfully, there’s a cheat to that: your past, present, and future classmates.

“Remember that the people who you went to school with are the peers you are going to have in the industry,” said Matthew Payne, founder of Theatre SKAM. Former classmates in the theatre industry can always be future collaborators.

In order to develop as an emerging artist, you also have to be willing to take any job you can get early on, both to establish yourself in the industry and develop your skills later on. Sometimes, Leard said, it’s not about if you can do something but how quickly you can learn to do it.

Sometimes, things don’t necessarily work out the way you planned.

“[Auditioning] was really rough,” said Sam Mullins, a writer and performer, about hitting the audition circuit for the first time. “It was just so demoralizing.” 

But to all students about to graduate: Your dreams are possible. It takes a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, and there will be several times where you will doubt yourself, especially near the beginning of your career but your dreams are possible. Just keep going. Don’t stop making art, remember to self promote, remember to build a community, network like crazy, and always look for an opportunity. And remember, it never ends. Just because one project ends doesn’t mean you’re done forever. 

To help you on your way, check out “Making your Life as an Artist” by Andrew Simonet, a free book that you can find online for some extra tips, recommended by Ingrid. Another good read is Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.”