Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Straford-upon-Avon

A Guide to Being an Actor Outside of London by Katie Burchett

There’s a general consensus that London isn’t just the capital of the UK, but that it’s also the capital of business, fashion and (hold your horses because this is where it becomes relevant) the arts. One of the biggest questions for anyone outside of the city who wants to act is this: Do I need to be in London?

I trained as an actor at the Birmingham School of Acting and moved to London after graduating. I moved out of it in 2016 determined to prove to myself that being there isn’t the be all and end all. Whatever any Southerner tries to tell you, the world still turns beyond the Watford Gap and opportunity can be found if you know where to look. No two people’s paths will be the same, but I’ve put together a survival guide for making it work as an actor outside of London.

Competitions and festivals

14/48 Festival

14/48 is ‘the world’s quickest theatre festival’ and quite frankly the most fun I’ve ever had as an actor. Seven writers, seven directors and twenty-five actors put on fourteen plays in 48 hours. The festival is held twice a year in Leicester and Wolverhampton (and Seattle, if your commitment to not being near London is that strong). 14/48 is a wonderful opportunity to network, challenge yourself and marvel at how creativity can thrive on very little sleep! For more information on 14/48, follow: http://1448uk.com/

Monologue Slam

Most people will have heard of Monologue Slam. Run by the TriForce Creative Network, Monologue Slam describes itself as ‘THE industry showcase for actors from all backgrounds and profiles.’ If you’ve never heard of it, http://monologueslamuk.com should tell you all you need to know, but, in a nutshell, actors go head to head with their monologues whilst being judged by industry professionals. Auditions and Slams are held in Manchester, Birmingham, Luton, Leeds and Leicester and are completely free. They also hold occasional masterclasses which aren’t free to attend but do offer an excellent opportunity to work with some top coaches.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Arguably the most famous arts festival of the year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs for three weeks every August and quite literally has something for everyone. The Fringe is an open access performing arts festival, which means that anyone can apply to perform, and the festival has been the springboard for some of the biggest names in the industry today. If you can get the sufficient funding, (and various other requirements, all of which are detailed here: https://www.edfringe.com/take-part), the Edinburgh Fringe is the perfect opportunity to showcase your work to a humble crowd of 2.3 million (based on tickets sold in 2015 for the festival in its entirety).

Theatres

Email. Email until you’re sick of the sight of your own name and you know your spotlight pin better than you know your mobile number. There are so very many fantastic theatres and theatre companies outside of London. To name a few in no particular order:

  • Royal and Derngate, Northampton
  • The Mercury Theatre, Colchester
  • The Worcester Rep, Worcester
  • Birmingham Rep, Birmingham
  • Curve Theatre, Leicester
  • Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
  • Tread the Boards Theatre Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
  • Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
  • The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
  • Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
  • The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Hull Truck Theatre, Hull

Some will cast primarily through Spotlight, others have in-house casting directors, some have their own acting company and some even post casting breakdowns on their websites. If a particular venue doesn’t specify their casting process, find a contact and get in touch anyway.

TV

It’s refreshing to know that some of the biggest television and radio companies have studios situated outside of London, or are at least based in London but commission to multiple UK regions. Channel 4 film Hollyoaks in Liverpool, Emmerdale is made in Yorkshire, the BBC’s Doctors films in Birmingham and Manchester is home to ITV’s Coronation Street and, if it’s tenuous domestic advice you’re seeking, The Jeremy Kyle Show. BBC radio can also be found in the centre of Birmingham and ITV has a production office in Leeds. It’s nice to think that if you got a job at one of these places you’d be the one popping down the road to work while the Londoners make the commute for a change.

Training

Classes and workshops

With the Actors’ Centre and Spotlight being primarily based in London, keeping up your skills if you’ve moved away might seem difficult. The Actors’ Lab is based in Manchester and runs a variety of workshops, focussing on elements including screen acting, TV casting, accents, voice and classical text. Their tutors are made up of TV and theatre directors, actors and casting directors and as well as running classes in Liverpool, Manchester and Chester, the Actors’ Lab also offers qualification courses.

Drama school

If you’re reading this as someone who’s considering acting training, don’t limit yourself by just looking at places in London, as you’re spoilt for choice in terms of drama schools elsewhere too.  As someone that trained at the Birmingham School of Acting, I can safely say that I never once felt that my acting training was anything less than of an extremely high calibre. Amongst others, BSA (or the Birmingham Conservatoire as it’s now known), Bristol Old Vic, LIPA, Royal Welsh and the Scottish Conservatoire all rank highly in the drama school league tables. One of the most beneficial things about training outside of London was having two third year showcases, one in Birmingham and one in London, allowing double the opportunity to be seen by agents and casting directors. Royal Welsh and Bristol Old Vic are also schools that give their students two showcases.

Social Media

Disclaimer: This section doesn’t include Snapchat or Tinder. For all its flaws, social media really and truly is a valuable tool. There are groups on Facebook dedicated solely to actors and performers in certain parts of the country. Groups like ‘Midlands Actors and Extras’ and ‘The Actors’ Guild, North West’ amongst others are a mixture of casting calls, contacts and opportunities, as well as being great platforms to promote your own work. Of course, not every post is going to be useful for you, but I know plenty of people who’ve obtained showreel material from short films they’ve applied for through one of these groups.

Final thoughts

Having said all of that, don’t close your mind to London. Some of the regional theatres I’ve mentioned, despite their location, hold their auditions in London, so your career will invariably take you there from time to time. London is the hub of the industry and, undeniably, is where a lot of the action happens. However, for those looking to enjoy the rest of the country whilst following their acting ambitions (and let’s face it, save some money!), I hope that this guide has given you a bit more confidence to do it. Being an actor outside of London is more than possible.

By Katie Burchett

 

9 replies
  1. Clair Haynes
    Clair Haynes says:

    A helpful article for actors outside of London. I was in London for 13 years after training then relocated to the Midlands and got more work in a year than the whole time down south. Great networks with some real talent up here. Lots to get involved in and opportunities to create new work too…

    Reply
    • Katie Burchett
      Katie Burchett says:

      Thank you Clair, really pleased it’s of some help. There can seem to be so many people only championing London but the opportunities are elsewhere if you know where to look!

      Reply
  2. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I sent my daughter to both London and Birmingham monologue slam which she loved. However, at Birmingham they asked her why she came all the way from Bristol and didn’t the Bristol old Vic offer anything. The point of travelling was to get her noticed up and down the country in front of cd’s

    Reply
    • Katie Burchett
      Katie Burchett says:

      Quite – the more people you can see the better! Sadly I think it’ll take a while for some people to come round to the idea that it’s alright to not restrict yourself to one area and create more opportunities for yourself.

      Reply
  3. Tom
    Tom says:

    Excellent article Katie, thank you.

    I can whole heartedly advise the Actors’ Lab. It’s some of the best teaching I’ve ever had. It’s also worth noting that after a year with them, you are able to take part in their annual showcase to industry!

    Reply
  4. Stu
    Stu says:

    As an actor based in Wiltshire I was interested to read this. I’ve been fighting the pull to live in London for years, and whilst I visit regularly for auditions (even if the job is in my home town – go figure!). I’m completely against how London-centric this country has become and so anything to promote the fantastic work being done elsewhere is good in my book!

    Two things are missing from your article though in my opinion. One is in TV, a huge amount is done in Cardiff at the BBC studios, including Dr Who, Casialty, Sherlock, and many many more. Secondly, I would encourage anyone to network with other creatives locally and create your own work! Give a man a fish springs to kind here… I’m a great believer in making work rather than waiting for it to turn up.

    Lastly, although a little tongue in cheek… you talk of Londoners as Southerners. I can assure you not everywhere south of Brum is London! Lol

    Reply
    • Katie Burchett
      Katie Burchett says:

      Haha I’m from Essex Stu, it was totally tongue in cheek and I’m well aware of that about London! Thanks for your feedback though, even though I touched on making contacts I did actually write a whole paragraph about making your own work as I’m a big advocate of that, but just had too much to say to fit in with how concise I wanted the rest of the article to be. Maybe next time!

      Reply
  5. Katie Burchett
    Katie Burchett says:

    Just thought I’d add a bit more information here for anyone reading the comments. Last night, someone who’d come across this article very kindly pointed me in the direction of Thinking Actors – https://www.thinkingactors.co.uk/acting-classes-workshops – who do something very similar to the work the Actors’ Lab does. They’re also based in Manchester and offer a couple of options in terms of drop in or pay and attend a whole course in one go. Again, their tutors are industry professionals and just to use what they’ve got coming up as an example, they’ve got an Introduction to Voice for Voiceover workshop this week as well as an Acting for Camera masterclass next month. Well worth checking out!

    Reply

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