Lessons Learned

We all learn from our mistakes, but this is especially true for those beginning a career in the arts. These are a just a few of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career in the arts.

There is no Right Way

A piece of art whether it be a performance, a painting or a piece of music can be created in many different ways and none of them are wrong as the piece’s value is up to interpretation. This makes studying to become an actor a complicated task, how do you know what’s right when there are supposedly no wrong answers. Several times during my early career I choose to believe mentors opinions on acting as facts as this made it easier to learn. This became a detriment to my performance as I placed un necessary restrictions on myself.

Studying Performing Arts at I.T Sligo

Learn from as many teachers, experienced professionals, mentors and friends as you can but don’t take advice as a fact, it will stilt your creativity. Over the years I have combined many techniques from my training and now I use a method that works best for me. I’ve learned that what works best for me may not work for another and vise versa and that is the beautiful thing about creating art, there is no one size fits all because artists are unique.

Get a Contract

When I began my acting career I completed several shows (paid and unpaid) without mention of a contract. I was fresh out of drama school and eager to work. Paperwork had crossed my mind but I was so grateful for the opportunity’s I was given I didn’t want to rock the boat. In those early productions there was a great sense of community and friendship. I feel this contributed to a lack of professional paperwork. It would be awkward to ask someone you considered a friend to provide a contract, it could somehow imply you didn’t trust them.

I can not speak for the entire community but I know these were my concerns at the time. This led to me being underpaid and having no leg to stand on when wanting to dispute it. When feeling awkward about asking for a contract or even asking about money I remind myself how much worse it felt to be underpaid and I suck it up. Contracts can also insure you are fully credited for your work, protect you against bullying, guarantee a safe working environment and make sure you receive adequate breaks.

Learn to Say No

At the beginning of my career (and for an embarrassing number of years after) I was terrified of missing out on opportunity’s. This led to me saying yes to absolutely everything, without considering;

  • Will this further my career?
  • Do I have time for this? / Can I give this my all?
  • Is this worth the money?
  • Is the work environment safe?
  • Will this role negatively affect my physical or mental health?
  • Will this bring me happiness? / Do I want to do this?

On several occasions I stretched myself too thin, ended up exhausted and therefore unable to enjoy the work I was doing. Working on several projects at once also meant I was unable to live in the moment, I always had the next task in the back of my mind. The fear of missing out also meant I took on roles which in hindsight I didn’t have much interest in. The job could have been done with much more passion by another artist.

Eventually I burnt out physically and mentally after working on a total of seven different jobs at once for several weeks (from day jobs to shows). Since then I’ve prioritized my health and the work I feel the most passionate about. I still work several projects at once as I enjoy each day being different but I now make sure I have the time and energy before agreeing to taking on another role. This was the hardest lesson to learn and I still have to fight the twinge of “but what if it’s a great opportunity” when I turn down a project due to time or prior commitments. But it’s not good for you or the project if you can’t give it your all.

Don’t Be Intimidated

At the beginning of my career I was so nervous when it came to interacting with other artists, especially when I moved to Galway and knew no one (except Hazel). Looking back I had a very bad habit of putting other artists on pedestal rather than viewing them simply as other humans that made art. Through my eyes anyone working was a big shot and I’d be pestering them if I reached. I’ve been very fortunate to have learned this lesson through working with those I was originally so intimidated by. I’ve discovered that often the further toward the top you go the more down to earth the people are, at the top there is nothing to prove.

18 year old me (bottom right) training in Cavan with Aaron Monaghan

Story time example ; When I was 18 I went to see a live talk with Gary Hynes in Cavan and was in absolute awe, I then became obsessed with Druid wanting to learn everything about the company and focused both my undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations on their work. Many years later I ended up interning at Druid and discovered all of these award winning artists (including the fabulous Garry Hynes) were some of the soundest, down to earth people I’d met and not so scary at all.

So don’t be afraid to introduce yourself at an event, send an email or ask a mutual friend to introduce you to another artist. The majority of my work in the arts has been secured through networking. Gaining connections through mutual friends, theatre events or through Theatre 57. Unfortunately it’s the world’s worst kept secret that it’s “who you know not what you know” when it comes to the arts in Ireland.

Every Production is Different

My first show out of college Welcome to Wonderland by The Rabbits Riot

This was a bizarre but important lesson I had to learn quickly after drama school. It was drilled into our heads to always be professional and take the production seriously. Some rules that are always consistent; always be on time, treat everyone with respect, have your phone on silent and meet your deadlines. However every production is different and will therefore have a different atmosphere. Some directors have a very strict and quiet rehearsal room while others are relaxed and encourage laughter and improv throughout rehearsal. The later was confusing to me when I was straight out of college, I viewed the behavior as messing rather than actors having fun at rehearsal. I was confused about how to act myself, I had been trained to take everything super seriously at rehearsal for years. I had to learn to relax very quickly as not to stick out like a sore thumb. I learned to gage the atmosphere at a first rehearsal and meet the director/producers expectations going forward. It’s been quite fun working on such different productions in such different ways and I’ve learned no two directors will want to same rehearsal.

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