Today hundreds of theatre students, working professionals, and aspiring arts people swarmed the London Coliseum as TheatreCraft 2011 was in full swing. Bringing together educational institutions and real-life working environments, TC is an incredible resource for those interested in the arts as a career, and provide all the information you could possibly want about the starting steps in the industry.
Attending two workshops in areas of interest to me, I was given the privilege of listening to industry experts speak about their professions and provide advice for those of us just starting out.
‘Becoming a Theatre Critic’ was taken by Mark Shenton, critic for The Stage and Sunday Express whilst contributing to Playbill and TheatreVoice websites. Although his first response to how to get into criticism was “don’t”, he did go on to explain various routes one can go down to achieve some kind of professional standing within theatre journalism and reviewing. Although it is common knowledge that newspapers and therefore journalists are slowly on their way out, the world of freelance and online-journalism is steadily growing. This may mean that any writing you do will go largely unpaid (having written for a website for a year and now contributing to my university newspaper and indeed this blog, I can state first-hand that this is definitely the case); however, Shenton remarked that the keys to any kind of success in this business are passion, knowledge, integrity, and of course writing ability. He described theatre criticism as “the start of a conversation… not the end”, and saw it as a way to spark discussion and debate around theatre opinion, not hard and fast fact as some might try to make it. Despite a fair bit of negativity on the decline of the theatre critic, the advice given by Shenton was nevertheless invaluable as it gave us a place to start (namely Twitter and a personal blog, boxes which I can happily tick off), and provided a small amount of hope that it is still possible to make a name for yourself. Maybe not as big as Michael Billington, and you almost definitely need to have an alternative job to pay the bills, but it is still possible.
I then decided to try something new and attended a workshop on ‘Casting as a Career’, something I have never considered before but was run by Sarah Bird who started out in the contracts department of the BBC. Despite taking a rather strange route into casting, Bird was able to give us an idea of what casting directors actually do and how we can begin to develop our skills. Things like following particular actors as they develop their careers and watching the way certain directors use their casts are good ways to stretch your observational skills and begin to understand what your instinct tells you about people. As well as this, an emphasis on getting your foot in the door through internships and assisting is a sure way into the industry, which was encouraging as I am soon to apply for work experience within the BBC myself. Whereas theatre criticism is a fairly solitary profession, working alone and focusing on one’s own thoughts and opinions, casting gets you working with directors and producers, whilst building relationships with agents and maintaining a more positive interest in theatre.
One of the amazing resources TheatreCraft provides is the chance for a one-on-one chat with industry professionals. As I had some time on my hands, I settled down to talk with Jules Goddard, part of the marketing department at Dewynters. Marketing was another area I have considered looking into as it takes criticism, administration, and funding and places it in the heart of a theatre company and requires a keen eye for detail and an understanding of the relative audiences. Just ten minutes gave me further ideas about what marketing entails and answered questions I didn’t necessarily realise I had.
Overall, TheatreCraft 2011 was a fantastic day. A marketplace of stalls from places such as National Youth Theatre, various technical companies, as well as drama schools meant that you were bound to find some aspect of the industry you were interested in and gain more information than you thought possible. Friendly staff in pink t-shirts guided you around the stunning maze of the Coliseum, and helped make a successful and productive event.
Find out more about TheatreCraft and other opportunities by people like Masterclass and Mousetrap through http://www.theatrecraft.org/.