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OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – The Pro-Active Performer

Annemarie LewisThis week I’ve been struck once again by the number of (paid) jobs that are having to be re-advertised time and time again, simply because there are seemingly no performers out there wanting/needing work.

I was always taught (and have gone on to try and instil this philosophy into my students) that it is better to work than not. A simple ideal, that of course has seen me been involved with a couple of dubious shows during the early years (or as we like to call them….unmitigated flops), but also an ideal that has created contacts and work opportunities that I continue to enjoy to this day. Lots of those ‘unknowns’ turned into a ‘someone’

I’ve touched on this before, but surely these jobs are being advertised so often because there is a breed of performer that is holding out for that ‘special’ job? We are in an industry where 98% of our profession are unemployed at any one time, yet there are paid performing jobs with established companies, desperately looking for trained people?

It makes no sense.

Similarly Phillip Joel, a member of my faculty created an event called ‘Dancers Pay It Forward’. According to his blurb he had noticed an increasing number of professionals getting despondent with the lack of opportunities to be seen for jobs etc. So he managed to get a group of professionals together including a casting director and agent, who would conduct Q&A’s, dance teachers prepared to provide a free class, he’d gone around different companies arranging discounts for various things from headshots to dance classes. I mean a spectacular resource for those people who are out in the industry feeling unsupported…and most importantly of all it was FREE. Everybody had donated their time to create Phil’s vision. The MTA had donated the college premises, so that the event wouldn’t incur any costs at all. He advertised it in all the usual places on FB AKA The Hustle.

Now the killer sentence…he was having to ‘sell’ this day? That’s right, he wasn’t inundated with applications, he wasn’t having to worry about the logistics of having too many people. He was having to work hard to get people in to take part?

I mean, what’s that about? People should have been knocking down his door?

What is this culture that you can moan and moan about how unfair life is and yet take no responsibility for the constant in it all e.g you! Over the years I’ve had graduates moan to me that their agents ‘aren’t putting them up for stuff’, then call me as soon as they’ve got an audition to moan that they don’t want to go as they’re not interested in that particular job??

I’m sorry but some performers need a reality check – in the early days of your professional life, you should be snapping up opportunities to hone your craft. I refuse to believe that any decent drama college is pedalling the dream that you’re going to go straight into the West End and then stay there until Broadway snaps you up!!

Of course once your career is established you then carefully forge a career for yourself, which will involve turning down work, as you slowly work out the path to better rôles etc.

It’s not rocket science is it? If you’re working (&getting paid for it) you are bound to be in better shape, ready to snap up the next opportunity that presents itself to you. Why opt to be a waiter/waitress, work FOH etc over actually doing what you’ve spent thousands of pounds to train in?

At The MTA our 2nd years spend a week in their final term with cabaret legend (in his own mind) Paul L Martin, learning how to craft a cabaret set. Too many performers just throw a few songs together and expect a paying audience to fundamentally watch them doing their singing practise live on stage. However crafting the perfect cabaret set is such an art. I’ve worked for a number of years with another legend of the cabaret scene, Howard Samuels, who spends months collating the perfect set, and then works on every number within an inch of its life. The results speak for themselves. A simply stunning cabaret set that keeps the audience interested from start to finish. Under the tutelage of Paul (and usually Jamie Anderson too) – the students start to learn the very basics of the craft, and put together their first 20 mins spot.

I put this component in so that if the students were getting despondent being out of work for a while, they had the skillset to create their own work. In other words – if nobody else is hiring you, get off your backside and create an opportunity for yourself.

The bottom line is this – I have never heard of a performer sat at home randomly responding to a knock on the door…and on answering it, finding ALW or whoever stood there offering them their dream job. If you’ve chosen this difficult profession be proactive and grab opportunities. Most importantly of all stop bloody moaning. Your negativity will radiate out to all those tempted to hire you.


I was reliably informed that on the Dancers Pay it Forward Day, in the end just 45 of an expected 53 performers turned up. The eight no shows only notified the organisers around 12 hours before. I’m sorry but I think that this is indicative of the industry at the moment. Performers really do need to take a good long look at themselves before complaining about how unfairly the world is treating them.

To the 45 proactive people that did bother to show up – I really hope that you found the day useful and it has inspired you to remain proactive. I am ashamed to also add that I found out this week that two of my ambassadors had pulled an equally stupid stunt this week and failed to turn up for an audition, giving the organiser no time to fill their places. This is in spite of me banging on and on about how rude and ridiculous the current trend is.

My two were banned from any ambassador classes/perks until the New Year. While I clearly can’t stop them being like the masses, I can take action to ensure that as a college we are not supporting it. Both were told that if they pulled a similar trick ever again they would be stripped of their ambassador status.

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.