Career Coach: Theatre and Performance
I caught up with theatre professional Nick Field for a bit of career advice.
What led you to pursue your passion for performance and creating theatre?
Lots of things have inspired that. I started out as a playwright, because I was interested in stories and characters and the craft of writing plays. Alongside that, I started performing short theatrical pieces I’d written, and through that I gained access to exploring other theatre and performance forms other than text or narrative based theatre.
I’d always loved performing, but hadn’t seen myself as an actor – I realised that there was the possibility to develop a career as a contemporary performer and theatre maker.
Theatre for me is a very direct and immediate way to take audiences on a journey to ask questions about the world around us. The scope of what theatre is has really opened up, and I’m fuelled in making my work by bringing different forms and performance aspects – like comedy and music – together in my work. It’s also really important for me that I can bring a queer perspective and experiences to places where it usually wouldn’t be seen or audiences who wouldn’t usually encounter it.
Did you undertake any study or qualifications, or is it something you can learn on the job?
I studied theatre and creative writing at university, and that was really good in terms of experimenting with ideas and methods. It gave me a grounding in making theatre and led to my early career as a playwright, and has been really helpful in giving me a background understanding of what I’m doing and where it’s come from. It also gave me access to lots of queer work and perspectives that I hadn’t had before.
One of the most important things as an artist though, is to have space and time to try things out, fail, and try again, and discover who you are and what your work is. I teach theatre practice at universities, and that’s something I really encourage students to take the time to do. That’s where a lot of the work begins, and that can still be achieved outside of formal education.
There are lots of skills I’ve developed since that are pretty necessary in terms of being an independent artist. Skills like producing, marketing and promoting the work, and managing teams are all part of the job, and things I’ve learnt on the go. But without having a clear sense of the work I wanted to make and who I am as an artist, none of that would have been possible. I think that has to come first and takes time to figure out.
Was the reality of working in theatre like what you had expected?
It’s been tougher than I expected in many ways. There’s a lot of personal resilience you have to find, just to get the work off the ground and bring an idea to life. There’s a world of rejection, funding issues, and logistics to get across before you can even start writing a show. It’s not an easy industry to work in, and carrying a whole production can be really hard. But equally, when I’m on stage and working with an audience, none of that really matters anymore, I just love it.
It’s really exciting to put together a team and make the work happen, and there’s definitely a lot of artistic freedom in making your own work, and scope to bring a queer perspective to the work that otherwise might be overlooked or excluded in other types of theatre and performance.
I probably hadn’t realised how all-consuming making a show is, or how long it can take. But I think I feel a lot more relaxed, and have more of a wider perspective on it now my career is a bit more progressed. I just don’t worry so much about things that used to stress me out totally when I started.
I made and performed two shows this past year, and I’ve kind of accepted that despite all the challenges it’s pretty much a compulsion for me.
What are some of the skills or attributes that you need in order to build a career in theatre?
There are lots of ways that someone could enter into the theatre industry, and they all have different aspects. But, in general, having a sense of excitement about the potential of theatre as an art form is key. Theatre is always a collaboration – even if you’re a solo artist – so, being able to communicate and work with teams, and loving being part of a collaboration is very important.
In terms of being an independent theatre maker like myself, I think being a self-starter is probably the biggest attribute you need, outside of developing skills as a performer and writer. There’s a lot of knock backs before there’s a step forward, so being able to stay on your feet and positive when that’s happening is vital. I always try and turn a no into a yes in someway when I’m trying to get a project off the ground, even if that’s just keeping a door open for discussing future projects with a venue. But, being an independent artist also means being an ambassador for your work, being a tour booker and producer, a fundraiser, and a PR agent, so there’s a lot of angles to manage.
If someone was thinking about pursuing a career in theatre, what advice or guidance would you give them?
See lots of stuff. See lots of different kinds of stuff and get a really good sense of what the scope of contemporary theatre and performance is, because that knowledge will be really useful. Get out and meet and talk to people about their work, and find as many ways as you can to get experience and document that experience, so when it comes to meeting people to talk about your work or projects you can show them visually what you can do. I’ve found that really useful in helping people who might want to offer support or be involved in my work, bridge the gap between the ideas I’m offering and what the realisation of those will look like.
What are some of your goals and aspirations for the months ahead?
Last year I made two new shows, it was pretty hectic! Unicorn Party is a new solo, and Paid Fantasist is my first on-stage collaboration with another artist. So, my goals are to see them both have a future life and find ways to take them further and perform them again – for example, by touring them.
Music has become a really significant aspect of the work I make, I just love it. I’m thinking of ways I can make music central to what I create over the next few months and how I can weave that more into my performance work. Exciting new adventures ahead!