Archives for posts with tag: Stories

Last year I posted a blog (‘No more questions, please…’) about the fear of being asked “what’s next?” as an actor. At the time it didn’t even occur to me that I was in the best possible position to be answering that question. I was a recent graduate (who am I kidding? I still am) and didn’t have the added pressure from previous successes begging the question of how long it would be before the next. It’s become increasingly clear to me – through working with some incredible people –  that after each successful stint you have as an actor many people expect that something else will automatically follow. The questions people ask you change from a vague “what are you up to at the moment?” to “what have you got coming up next?” (sometimes with an added time frame) and I  have started to put a huge amount of pressure on each step I take in the industry as a consequence. For instance, it has taken me weeks to write this post and writing isn’t even my profession! I found that the ‘pressure to please’ following the success (more readers than I could have imagined) of my last post ground me to a halt on what was to follow. If “what’s next?” had me shying away from writing, can you imagine the amount of ‘pressure to please’ I feel when the “what’s next?” is to do with my career? I’m sure many of you can.

To add to that pressure of instant success, there are many other pressures that I know people can relate to. At the moment I’m struggling with the fact that, in an industry as small as this one (there’s only one degree of separation instead of the usual six,) it’s impossible to not be connected in some way to the people up for the same job as you. When you’ve already built yourself up for having to succeed at that next audition, a la the opening of A Chorus Line, you then add to the pressure pot by directly comparing yourself to people you know in the room. “They know so-and-so…”, “They’ve got ____ on their CV already…”, “They’ve done a West End show. Kill me now” when really this might not be the right show for them at the right time but you’ve stuffed up your chances by psyching yourself out before you’ve even started. It’s a vicious circle of ‘not worked, wont work’ that I know many of my graduate friends are in. But there are also people who’ve been there, done it, got the cast sweatshirt and are out there looking for the next job (which people are expecting them to automatically get) who are just as in need as you are. That’s why you have to remind yourself that (*CHEESY METAPHOR KLAXON*) we’re all running the same race just at different paces and with different goals in sight.

In case you’re one of the people that read the last post and are thinking “hold up, Ridout, you’ve used that one before” it’s because I had previously aimed that cheesy metaphor (I do love a good metaphor) at people wanting to audition for drama schools but I believe that the same thinking can, and should, be applied to life on the other side of training.  If anything, training is only the starting line and you’ve got a whole marathon ahead of you to pace yourself for. In addition, like in any race, it is hard to take your eyes off the people running past you and focus solely on what you have to do. It’s easy to want to give up or to expect someone else (eg. your agent) to push you along but you have to do it for yourself – cheering crowds or no cheering crowds. I’ve certainly needed reminding of that in recent weeks and I hope that it strikes a chord with people in a similar situation.

Now that the cheesy metaphor and soppy bit is out of the way, I want to be able to share with you some stories of people at different stages in the race (okay, the metaphor isn’t over, I lied) so that hopefully you’ll feel comforted that you aren’t alone. To put some of these stories in perspective, I asked some friends of mine to tell me a bit about their experience in the industry so far and if they had any advice they’d like to give. In amongst the answers there are people who waited years for a West End debut, people who walked straight into professional work, an Olivier award winner, a National Theatre original cast member and people who are still running towards these measures of success that people (or, indeed, they themselves) put on them. They’re all doing what they love though. I say they’re successful before you even begin to read what else they have to say.

On running your own race…

No. 1 (guess who)

I graduated, signed with an agent and went away with the National Youth Music Theatre to work on their production of ‘West Side Story’ over summer. Somehow, I thought that was me set (clearly because I was playing the ever hopeful ‘Somewhere Girl’). I then didn’t work until Christmas. I did a revue show at the Jermyn Street Theatre and have since been very lucky to be swing in Molly Wobbly. No, I didn’t get seen this year for the show that I  had always intended to jump straight into but, do you know what?, that’s showbiz…kid. And by that I mean that everything happens for a reason. I’ve worked with some amazing people and I’ve kept my passion, that’s the most important thing. I’m in it for the long haul. 

No.2

I don’t know why we do this. We just don’t know whats round the corner do we? Even when we are lucky enough to be rewarded with a West End contract it can quite easily be ripped out from under us.  I mean, look at We Will Rock You and The Full Monty. It’s happened to me, I was making my West End debut and we were given our notice 5 months before our contract was due to end. At the time I was devastated. I’d have stayed in that show until they kicked me out. But looking back, it paved the way for the rest of my career. If I’d have stayed in that show I wouldn’t have got my next West End show. This was certainly a high point in my career, an original cast of a high profile show. I stayed in that company for 2 years and had a truly wonderful time. I was then out of work for 8 months. This was the lowest part of my career by far. Sometimes not getting recalls, sometimes not even getting seen for stuff. I recall auditioning and getting to the finals for the tour of Guys and Dolls, I’d convinced myself I’d got it. I’d looked up the tour venues, I’d practically spent my first few weeks pay checks. I can also unfortunately remember word for word the telephone conversation when my agent called to say “It wasn’t going to work out”…. I was stunned. I actually cried, TO MY AGENT. But yet again fate led a hand and within a few weeks I got my next West End job which has led on to other jobs since. I believe that things happen for a reason.

No.3

I remember being offered a Christmas show at the Tabard Theatre one year. I spoke to my agent who told me about the money, which wasn’t bad for a fringe venue. I could probably pay my rent but not much else so after careful consideration, I called my agent back to say I couldn’t afford to do it. I said I could earn more doing my reception job than the play, to which he replied, “But you’re not a receptionist, you’re an actor”. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Of course the thing I wanted most was to work in the West End. I wanted to experience the community and live in London for more than a few months without going off on tour. But the longer I waited the more I started to give up on it. The prestige of it seemed unachievable. I felt like I was the boy who would always tour and do regional theatre, not quite good enough to do West End. At my lowest point out of work, a period of about 2 years, I was blaming everything and everyone. Then I thought to myself, ‘Oh fuck, it’s me’. I literally changed my whole demeanour. I was active. I changed agent, I quit my job that was taking over my life just so I could pay my bills and took a more part time position. I made more time to go to theatre, I started hanging out with theatre people I hadn’t seen in a while. But mainly I said YES to everything. It took me 7 years to finally land a job ‘in town’. I didn’t strive for it by then, it didn’t covet it as much as when I came out of drama school. But the sense of achievement was great. You know, the way your parents can say, “Oh, my son is an actor in the West End”. If I’m honest, I much prefer regional theatre than any other kind but I had to experience West End. I’m very lucky to have done so.

 No. 4

However much people wish to acknowledge it, pressure to rate yourself amongst the success of your graduating class is intense! This industry is competitive and solitary, fuelled by news and gossip. I’ve spent too many hours trying to analyse the success of others and apply myself to their given set of circumstances. ‘Who got what agent’, ‘oh… they got to that final’, ‘I never thought they’d get that’, ‘they were always gonna do well’. This way of thinking primarily comes from fear. Fear of not getting what this dream offered you when you first signed up. You can’t control the success of others, nor what those people on the panel are going to think about you, so why bother to think about it. The only controllable factor in all of this, is you. You look, sing, dance, act the way YOU do. I’m a big believer of acknowledging what I have to offer and staying true to that.

I’ve had a decent run since college. I got my first job before graduating. I’ve gone from literally thinking the sun shines out of my back side, to trawling through items to possibly sell on eBay. Which brings me to another key point. This is a money making business and every job will have its last performance. And I cherish the times in which I’ve been metaphorically burnt by this business as highly as I do the times in which it’s brought me acclaim. Why? – the lessons.

No. 5

When I graduated I did the fringe circuit – profit shares and unpaid work – and I learnt very quickly that it’s a difficult world and it provides no living! However, one of the greatest step ups was when a production I was in, unpaid, had a paid transfer and it was the right show for me to showcase myself – casting directors knew me for it for a while. I have since slipped out the loop mind and most work has been through recommendation and I’ve had some amazing opportunities and diverse characters to play. I used to want to jump into the National or the Donmar, but the more I’ve worked the more I have appreciated actually getting the opportunity to play. That is exactly what I’m doing and making a living from it. I’ve got my whole life to work at the National, whats the rush? All I want now is to be creative, learn, make  a living and meet amazing people.

No. 6

Having graduated from Drama School last year I was in the lucky position of moving straight into acting work. Rehearsing and performing in my first professional show was fantastic and I loved every minute, although in retrospect, and using the wonderful power that is hindsight, I can see I probably didn’t appreciate quite how lucky I was at the time!  After performing and touring for 5 months, the first job finished and I began the process of moving my life into London. My first experience of moving, was the sudden realisation of how poor I was going to be. And it is completely true what they say – that we do this job for the love of it, not for the money. And certainly not for the terrible jobs actors find themselves doing between jobs. Since graduating I have answered telephones, made cold calls, poured drinks and served food all over London and that is only a few months! I can’t say I have much experience living this life yet but I can say that doing all these terrible jobs will be worth it for when you nail that one audition and get the acting job you want. I read an article recently In the stage about acting being the “long game” and I firmly believe this is true, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first!

No. 7

After drama school I had 18 months agent-less & miserable. I did do 2 small jobs – a musical in Pontefract & then an unpaid musical at The Union (from which I signed with an agent). I took a full time job with Halifax on their phones, but then landed the BIG ONE – the West End contract that was the game changer. I had massive success, and then afterwards… For about 12 months, not much at all. Things have been steady since and I’ve ticked some things off my list. But everyone told me I’d be a superstar by now… But I’m not. Depends on so many things! (And depends on what you class as ‘superstardom’) I do believe a little bit in what will be will be and that we all have a path to tread, but that you also have to go out and make it happen. My 30th birthday is getting closer and I can say now, that life is about so much more than just booking the next job. I am a very happy lady (and Mama); still performing, and loving it.


When I first told people that I wanted to work in Musical Theatre I was told by my choirmaster (yes, my choirmaster) that a girl who attended the choir before me went into the industry and spent 5 years waiting for her big break. She may have waited 5 years but she did it, she got there, and is now doing famously well – and I mean famously (I’ve kept everyone else anonymous so I’ll keep this one anonymous too, even though it might be killing you). Since knowing that I’ve been determined to wait as long as it takes to do what I love but, sometimes, I need to remind myself of that when my self-belief starts to slip. Knowing that my friends have, and are, going through the same thing as me makes the rejections, the auditions and the waitressing in between jobs so much easier to handle. But not everyone likes to admit they are struggling (understandably) so I hope that in putting this out into the world some people gain some of that comfort they are otherwise scared to seek.

One last addition to the metaphor (I know, I’m sorry): ‘The Wall’. In a Marathon, runners attest to the existence of an invisible obstacle which makes you body and your mind want to give up near the end of the race. Many people experience it but it doesn’t have to be there at all. Research has shown that if you train and race intelligently you may cross the finish line without ever having to “hit the wall”. You need to find your pace and your target and stick to it. Apply that to your career and I think you’re onto a winner. Happy running your own race!

“My friends you have to run run-a, run-a, run freedom, run away!”

– Rebecca Ridout

Three days ago I was sat in a coffee shop comforting my friend following his unsuccessful drama school audition. He was keen to hear any advice that I had to offer him and my obvious response was “everything happens for a reason”. I did have to laugh at myself though as three years ago, when it was me in his place, I wanted to scream every time I heard someone say “everything happens for a reason”. It’s the last thing you want to hear when you feel like your reason for living* is being thrown back in your overly-enthusiastic full-out-performance face. But it’s now a phrase I find myself using daily and it’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learnt in my three years of drama school training – and I learnt it the hard way.

*cheesy phrases like this appeared in my personal statements c. 2010-11 – isn’t hindsight the best?

I am probably the most confusing drama school graduate you are likely to meet. The usual audition small talk of “where did you train?” is instantly regretted by the questioner when (where normally a 3-5 word answer would suffice) I answer with a short monologue. In brief: I trained part-time for a year at Arts Educational, full-time for a year at the Guildford School of Acting and finished with the most intensive one year imaginable at the London School of Musical Theatre. If you’d told me three years ago that that was what was in store for me I probably would have responded: “don’t be ridiculous, I’m not even going to get into one school” or “THREE SCHOOLS!?” and fainted shortly after. It certainly wasn’t what I had intended to do. I envisioned getting a BA at a CDS (Conference of Drama Schools) accredited institution and failing that I would have followed my ‘back-up’ plan and read Economics at university. The path I took, whilst rewarding in numerous ways, was also incredibly testing. I had three years of  ‘no’s (from schools that I was incredibly emotionally invested in) with the odd ‘yes’ thrown in to keep me biting. That’s what gave me my thick skin and my understanding of the phrase “everything happens for a reason” and now, sitting here as a graduate, I am proud of my pick ‘n’ mix path into the industry.

I was once told that training can be thought of like a necklace and you can only fit on so many pearls of wisdom – you have to pick which pearls work for you to make the perfect, individual necklace.

(I’ve also been told to think of training like a buffet but that is far less glamorous.)

Where am I going with all of this? Well, another advantage of my three years, three schools and numerous auditions is that I have met a lot of lovely people who’ve gone down alternative paths to get into the industry. So I’ve rallied the troops and have asked people from various training (or not training at all) backgrounds about their experiences and whether they were glad it happened for them the way that it did.

NB: This post is aimed at people auditioning (or wanting to audition) for drama school/professional work in the future but I do hope it is of interest even if you don’t fall into that bracket of reader. I won’t blame you if you don’t read the whole thing though. Feel free to skip ahead.

Path No. 1: ‘The one where they get into drama school first try…’

“I was lucky enough to get into my first choice of college straight from sixth-form. On reflection,  a gap year would have been nice to break up the courses and it would have given me different experiences prior to training. That said though, it’s an opportunity you can’t turn down. I was very much still in that educational mind set. My technique in acting, singing and dance had a solid base to work from and my fitness was at an optimum level to start training. I was grateful for getting in the first time because I knew other people who wanted it as much as I did, but were not as lucky in their first year auditioning. This spurred me on to work hard and value the opportunity I’d been given.”

Path. 2: ‘The one where they get into drama school first try but have to take a gap year…’

“It was actually a god send that I didn’t go to drama school when I was supposed to (I had to postpone due to funding) as it made me want it even more. I grew to love my passion all over again, when you have a knock back in your career you tend to have second thoughts, but working a normal 9 to 5 (I sang the opening to 9 to 5 the musical in my head when I wrote this) makes you realise that stacking shelves and selling TVS in Currys  is definitely not the life you want to lead. Although, the main reason I’m glad I had my year out is because I wouldn’t have met the people I now call my second family who I couldn’t live without. Fate is a strange thing. Everything happens for a reason.”

Path No. 3: ‘The one where they get put on the reserve list…’

“My situation wasn’t that easy at all. I was on reserve and was all set with my plans for a year out so when I got offered a place I was going to turn it down! So after the most confusing two days of my life I accepted. But because of all of the drama (and tears shed), I was hardly excited by the prospect of drama school, if anything in that first week I felt it had ruined my life…little did I know it would actually make my life! When I got my reserve letter, my singing teacher sang the line “some things are meant to be” from Little Women…this didn’t help, I was so upset. But he was right, ultimately everything happens for a reason.”

Path No. 4: ‘The one where they do a foundation course and then get in…’

“My foundation year enabled me to grow as a human being as well as a performer and afterwards, suddenly, somehow, I was grown up. I moved away from home, I trained in musical theatre all day every day and did that for the absolute love of the craft. Also, there’s a camaraderie you don’t get anywhere else and in such an intense environment, having friends do it with you is the best thing you can find. The year of training is also guilt-free – the pressure is auditioning and you get a heap of training in that department that you carry through the rest of your life – auditions are auditions, after all – and actually, subconsciously the displacement of pressure allows you to fly as a performer. You can do all you want to further your training without it being ‘the only training you’re going to get…’ On a foundation, it is yours. I would recommend a foundation year before drama school to anyone and everyone. I know my foundation year was the reason I got into drama school. That’s what worked for me.”

Path No. 5: ‘The one where they take a year out and try again…’

“When I got my rejection letters in the first year from auditioning I was distraught and it was only after I got my written feedback from some colleges that I realised just how much I had to alter about my preparation and presentation. I didn’t go on a course in my year out but I was lucky enough to have a great set of friends and teachers around me that offered honest guidance towards reaching perfect and solid performances. In hindsight, a year out was ideal. It meant that I could grow as a performer and save some money to help out with the fees! I was so grateful going into my course that bit older than most of my year as I knew that it was what I wanted to do and I felt really focused on the things I wanted to achieve!”

Path No. 6: ‘The one where they get in “third time lucky”…’

“I feel like my path to training has formed the performer I am even more than the actual training itself in some ways. If it weren’t for the 2 years of solid rejections then I would never have been so incredibly sure that this is the only thing I want to spend my life doing. It meant that I had the hardest times before my training even began, which made putting the pressure and intensity of drama school into perspective that bit easier. I sometimes feel like my appreciation of where I am it is on a different level compared to people coming straight from college. I also made some friends for life on our foundation course whom I would never have bonded with had I gone straight to my current drama school. If I could go back and do it all again I would do it the same, except I wouldn’t take myself so seriously and I would have had much more fun right from the start!”

Path No. 7: ‘The one where they go to a small performing arts school to get a performance degree…’

“I trained at a school which isn’t CDS accredited but you do get your BA (Hons) degree in Acting in 2 years. I could have gone to a well known school in order to get the recognition in the industry but  I could always do a masters somewhere later if I feel the need. I’ve learnt that you can build your CV and can have success no matter what school you go to.. Going to my school pushed me to work harder for myself as we were responsible for doing everything ourselves – writing to agents, sourcing costumes for shows, tech-ing shows, building sets etc… I’ve realised now that success and constant work doesn’t come from the name of the school, it comes from the amount of effort you put into the training. You only get out of it what you put in.”

Path No. 8: ‘The one where they go to university, get a degree and go to drama school for a post-grad…’

“I spent half of my time at University (whilst studying Geography) at dance classes, directing shows, acting in shows and singing such that when I got to my final year I was sure that there was nothing else that I wanted to do other than be an actor. That is when I decided to audition for drama school. As my course leader says it is possible to fit the training into one year as long as students are able to ‘burn the boat’ – you need to put the fact that you have a degree to ‘fall back on’ out of your mind. When you have something to fall back on you inevitably fall back – this often feels like the biggest hurdle of the process. Ultimately though being successful is about so much more than talent and I think as a postgraduate I can really use my experiences pre drama school to my advantage. Doing my degree is something completely different was still the right choice for me.”

Path No. 9: ‘The one where they didn’t train and went straight into the industry…”

“The first two years in this industry were the hardest for me. I had a plan to go to drama school and even got onto a musical theatre course but decided to take a job instead. I realise my successful start is rare and for a long time I felt a big hole where I felt my training should have been. I felt I couldn’t make any mistakes on a job because it would be recorded for all time by those who would decide future employment. That pressure wasn’t something I had thought about. However, as time went on I grew to appreciate the individuality I seemed to have developed that set me apart from others. Directors would ask where I had trained at auditions and would always be impressed by my perseverance and grounded attitude. If you don’t go to drama school you have to be prepared to put in the effort and access every resource you can and make up your own mind. I never let a month go by without a singing lesson or acting workshop. It’s part of the training you create for yourself. The pay offs to being your own boss and creator are incredible but there is much more chance of loss and heartache along the way. Whenever I am hit with a knock back that really makes me question my right to work in the industry I remind myself that we never stop learning. I don’t consider myself an untrained actor. I consider myself an actor that hasn’t undergone full time training…yet. I might still train full time one day. The moment you decide your dream is to work as a performer, you are one. Do what it takes to make yourself feel the part.”

Life’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t spend your time watching people run past you and letting that affect you – you could take them over again down the line. Just focus on your route and run your own race.

I hope that this is what all of these people’s experiences demonstrate – there is not one clear route into the industry and yours is what was/is meant for you. I had more replies and more people willing to share their stories with me and it’s such a shame I can’t include all of them because each one is individual and each one is inspiring. I wish these stories had been available to me, sat despondently in a cafe, three years ago. That is exactly why I wanted to share them now – for all those performers of the future who just need a little lift to get them through (as one of my friends brilliantly put) the bloodthirsty, incredibly pressurised and incredibly exciting arena of drama school auditions.

Throughout my training I kept log books and can now look back and read my (sometimes cringe-worthy) thoughts and track the changes in my mindset. Whilst flicking through them yesterday it surprised to see me that the biggest lesson I learnt (which I thought took me years to get my head round) appeared relatively early on in my musings. I titled an entry ‘Dooms Day’ (Dramatic? Me?) following a rejection that day and the very next entry was called “Contemplation”. In the middle of that page in big, fat, eagerly highlighted letters were the words “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON”! I truly believe that now and I hope that if you were skeptical before you may have been won round by some of these people’s stories. I certainly wouldn’t change my story for anything or anyone (too many re-writes for a start) and if you’re doubtful about yours at the moment, know that in a few years you’ll be thankful for the hurdles you’ve had along the way. Just try to be happy running your own race.

If you are auditioning (or thinking of auditioning) soon please feel free to ask me any burning questions that this post may have prompted. I’ll try to help out as best I can. After all, “When in doubt, ask Ridout” was the original inspiration for this blog!

Happy auditioning!

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Last day with my Arts Ed flatmates.

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First day of GSA: goals for the end of the year.

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Last day at GSA.

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Last day at LSMT.

“Just because you find that life’s not fair it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it, if you always take it on the chin and wear it nothing will change. Even if you’re little you can do a lot, you musn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you. If you sit around and let it get on top, you might as well be saying you think that it’s okay and that’s not right. And if it’s not right you have to put it right…”

– Rebecca Ridout