Make it in showbiz

Fortune Favours. Photo: James McLaren

Last updated: 05 February 2009

There's no business like show business, but if you don't know the business there'll be no show at all!

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions from young performers vying for their moment in the limelight.

Do I need an agent?

An agent's job is to find you work. The bigger venues deal only with agents and not performers directly.

Good agents work for commission, typically 10-20% of what you earn. They should not charge you for being on their books. You employ them, remember.

Don't take on an agent without a written contract. If an agent doesn't find you a guaranteed amount of work in a fixed time period, find someone else.

How do I find a good agent?

All good agents should belong to a professional body.The Agents' Association or the National Entertainment Agents Council are the largest and oldest accrediting unions for agents. Always ask your agent which professional body they belong to and check their credentials.

If you have problems with your agent, use these professional bodies to investigate the agent's behaviour. If you are unsure about the union they belong to, check with Equity.

Agents are listed in the industry bible Contacts, or have a look on the agent finder in the Agents' Association site.

What is Equity and should I join?

Equity is the British union of professional entertainers, affiliated to the TUC. Members are singers, dancers, actors, musicians and performers of all kinds.

Equity will protect your employee rights. To join Equity you will need evidence of a professional, paid performance. Find out more at equity.org.uk.

Should I study professionally?

Applications for singing, drama, acting and dancing degrees increase every year. At many institutions you can take combined courses or specialise.

Unless you know exactly what you want at a young age and have a considerable amount of money, it is probably inadvisable to replace regular schooling with theatre school. However, nearly all professional actors go on to attend drama school, and most stage singers in musicals are also professionally trained at degree level.

Professional institutions put you in touch with a social group who can help you find work and may be part of your future. A lot of boy and girl bands in particular are picked from entertainment degree courses.

Most Local Education Authorities do not cover the costs of theatre/entertainment courses and the fees can be very high. Don't worry if you can't afford it. Individual and original talents, songwriters and musicians often develop outside professional institutions.

How do I secure and survive auditions?

Anyone can attend open auditions. Expect the standard to be high and always prepare your audition piece thoroughly.

Think about the kind of show you're auditioning for. If it's a musical, investigate the character. Choose a piece that demonstrates your best chances, and prepare a CV that shows what you've achieved.

By all means put yourself through auditions for the experience but don't go for roles you're obviously not suited to. You'll be wasting your time and theirs.

Auditions might be advertised in the local press. The industry newspaper, The Stage, is also a good place to look. This is where Simon Fuller put out an ad looking for Spice Girls. Expect your agent to secure you auditions that are not open.

How do I find work and what about a normal job?

Performers spend a lot of time out of work. If you're applying for an audition, role, or entertainment job, you'll need a different CV to the one you use in the real world!

Any tips on writing a CV?

Spend just a few lines on your school and degree experience. Categorise work experience by themes such as musical, acting, variety and pantomime, and not by dates. A list of chronological dates will only emphasise how long you've been out of work!

Bring to the fore the work that is most relevant to the part or audition you are in. Keep your CV short and sweet and attach a covering letter. The letter should state your ambitions and give the interviewer/panel the flavour of your personality.

Does it help to take employment in the entertainment industry?

Yes, it can be a good way in. Develop organisational and office skills so you can work behind the scenes in theatres, clubs and the media. Many agencies employ performers, and some agencies work as co-operatives.

Consider volunteering to work for a venue in your spare time, and be prepared to do anything from serving drinks and selling tickets to booking talent. It pays to be around the scene and to make connections.

Should I ever turn down work?

It's normally a bad idea, unless you're asked to do something you feel uncomfortable doing. But be warned - the paths to stardom are many, and some of them aren't pretty!

Don't be discouraged, and keep persisting. You'll need to work hard to get anywhere. However, don't be coerced into compromising your beliefs or doing anything against your will. It's unlikely you'll be asked to, but there are unscrupulous people in every walk of life, and the entertainment industry in particular can take advantage of younger people.

Think creatively when you're looking for work. Don't dismiss cruise ships, holiday camps, educational theatre, pantomimes, revue shows, clubs and karaoke competitions.

Do something to promote yourself. Sites such as talentspotuk.com can provide opportunities, but it will cost to register.

There are arguably more opportunities in light entertainment than ever before and each experience will teach you something different about the business. So there's no excuse not to go for it!


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