Working in Theatre in Education.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that in the past a stigma has been attached to Theatre in Education or TiE, and, undoubtedly many of the clichés do exist (actors in black roll neck sweaters walking about the stage with a CD player etc). Some of these clichés are ruthlessly exposed in the BBC comedy ‘The League of Gentlemen’ where we meet the players of the ‘Legs a Kimbo’ Theatre Company. Well worth a watch! However, in recent years, theatre in education has enjoyed a renaissance, with many companies (ourselves included) producing very high calibre work indeed. Of course the quality has always been there but unfortunately it can be very difficult for educational establishments to sort the wheat from the chaff, sometimes preferring to stay clear all together. Anyway, what does all this mean for the actor?
The fact is that the TiE sector is a great source of work for actors (although the industry tends to favour young actors for a variety for reasons that I will highlight later).
It is true to say that working in TIE rarely pays as well as a regular (for want of a better word) theatre job, but (in my experience at least) it still pays a lot better than bar work. Whilst I accept the argument that a long TIE tour might prohibit the actor from attending auditions that could lead to more lucrative work, it should be balanced with the fact the actor has an excellent opportunity to further develop their skills and network etc. Did we really go into the profession to spend so much time simply ‘getting by’ whilst waiting for the phone to ring? (Look out for my article on Positive Self Marketing).
Whilst I believe actors of all ages can learn an awful lot from working in the TiE sector, I do find it incredibly frustrating when actors write to me with phrases such as the following.
“I would love to work with your company as I feel it would prove an excellent training ground for entering the profession”.
I object to this as I think it implies that the work we carry out is in some way sub-standard. The acting jobs that we advertise are professionally paid engagements and should not be regarded as a ‘paid training ground’. Of course we hope everybody will learn from the experience, but only in the same way that you would expect of any acting job.
What can I expect?
For fiscal reasons, the vast majority of TiE tours are rarely more than four-handers and often actors will double up on roles. This is great as it provides a real showcase for your versatility. It is perhaps disappointing therefore that there is rarely an opportunity to invite agents or casting directors to see your work, since most of the performances are within schools. The rehearsal process is generally very short and intense (there is rarely the luxury of anything longer than one rehearsal week). Members of the company are normally expected to carry out many additional duties as well as acting. These generally include (although are by no means limited to) get ins and get outs, sound and lighting, van driving, workshops with the audience, and sometimes marketing. It is hard work, there is no denying it, and if you are the type of actor that likes to walk on, say your lines then retire to your dressing room then I’m afraid it isn’t for you. However, the work is rewarding, friendships are forged very quickly, and generally speaking evenings are often your own -with actors sometimes known to reach the pub by 4:00pm!
Sometimes people will approach me and ask if they are too old to be involved in TiE. As I intimated previously most actors working in a theatre in education company will be under twenty five and almost always under 35 (although there are of course exceptions to this). However, it is normally less to do with age and more to with personal circumstances and commitments. Many actors older than this age bracket often feel that they are unable to spend so much time on the road away from their families etc. From an employer’s point of view, as long as the candidate has the correct ‘playing age’ and the stamina, then I would be happy to consider them.
I feel incredibly proud to have worked in this sector over a number of years now and would encourage others to explore an area of our profession that they may have previously written off. I welcome the views of others!