Bursting the Drama School Bubble: Life After Graduation with Thea Butler

Thea Butler talks to us about life after graduating from drama school

My first audition after graduating was an absolute abomination, I was so embarrassed and upset that I immediately wanted to quit. A few months and a whole lot of auditions later, the same casting company that witnessed my first audition offered me my first professional job.
Thea Butler

We’ve all heard a variation on the phrase, “drama school is a bubble”. We spend years surrounded by a group of people that know everything, and I mean everything, about, living in our own little creative world with relatively no consequences. Our ‘safe space’ is the studio where nothing we do is ‘wrong’, merely a learning curve. Every class and project builds our skillset up to use in our final show or showcase, where we can finally stand out as an individual and show those agents and casting directors what we’re made of!

But what happens then? What happens when the bubble bursts? My first year as a ‘Drama School Graduate’ has been a whirlwind of incredible highs and lows and I’m often asked for tips and advice on the topic. So, I approached Spotlight with an idea. I’d love to share what I’ve learned over the last year with you all. I don’t promise to know everything there is to know, but I hope I can help you take the scary leap into the unknown!

The POP

Every college has a different system in place for their final year students once they’ve finished their final show/showcase. Whatever the case may be with your school, the first few days feel a bit odd. You’ve gone from a daily packed schedule to waking up whenever you want, opening up Netflix, and waiting for your shiny new agent to call you with news of your first audition. It’s weird. Aside from those who took a gap year, it’s likely that you’ve spent your whole life in some form of educational institution where, no matter how independent you feel you are, you have always been told what to do. This was, for me, the first major shock. The realisation that this isn’t a holiday, this is now my life, and I wallowed in denial of this for too long.

This leads me on to my first piece of advice: prepare for the nothingness! If you already have a weekend job, check the date of your final college class and then book yourself into a couple of shifts during the week. This will make the change more like slowly stepping into a cold swimming pool to ‘acclimatise’, rather than jumping in head first. If you’ve been too busy with training to have a muggle job during your final months of third year, start looking for one straight away. You will NEED something to occupy your brain during this time. We performers have very active imaginations and are prone to anxieties. These will fester and grow if you go from being the busiest you’ve ever been in your life to just sitting at home waiting for something to happen. If you’re living in London, I highly recommend looking into promo work. There are various Facebook groups advertising promo shifts on a daily basis and quite often don’t involve a long interview process, meaning you can start working after an online application or quick phone call. I had no idea that these companies existed until about two months after I graduated, and since discovering them have worked consistently and on my own terms for many of them.

Making A Move

If you trained at a college outside of London, your first thought upon graduating may be to make the move into the big smoke, and this can be massively daunting. Everyone’s situation is different with this. So I’m going to cover a couple of different things I’ve come across.

Firstly, it really is not a necessity to live in central London. Unless you have already secured a central London-based job and want the relative ease of getting to and from work. Otherwise, it is unlikely that you will be needing to travel into the centre on a daily basis, and paying high rent just for the luxury of a quick tube to the Strand is going to quickly wear off in novelty. Trust me. There is a very real stereotype attached to being an actor or performer that says that we must all live in the South-East in order to be readily available for castings and rehearsals, but in my experience, most of my castings/rehearsals have been on the outskirts.

For those of you already living in London, moving house/flat is expensive. If you’re comfortable in your student home, there’s no shame in staying there! Plus, you’ll avoid jumping through hoops with estate agents trying to prove that you are able to pay your rent, despite being a self-employed performer. They don’t trust us.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid of moving away from your college chums. You think you know who you’ll see the most and who you’ll stay in contact with, but I guarantee that you’ll be surprised by who you actually end up meeting with the most. People you would sit and have coffee with between classes every day may become an occasional tweet, or an obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ post on Facebook. There is nothing wrong with this. People grow apart naturally and discover new passions and start new paths. No one can keep up with an entire year group of people, so just do your best - that’s all you can do.

The First Audition

You probably already started auditioning during your training. It might have been panels of casting directors came to your college, you signed with an agent early on, or went through mock-auditions to prepare you for the industry. However, there’s still something different about the first audition you do as a graduate. All of a sudden you don’t have the safety blanket of going back to school for your Wednesday morning ballet class and venting about all of the things that you think went wrong. You just have a tube ride back to your flat and a podcast to distract your thoughts.

Just know this, if your first audition didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, you still did it. You. On your own. You found out what worked and what didn’t, meaning next time you can try something different. My first audition after graduating was an absolute abomination, I was so embarrassed and upset that I immediately wanted to quit. A few months and a whole lot of auditions later, the same casting company that witnessed my first audition offered me my first professional job. Be kind to your own mind because you never know what a panel is really thinking, even if you think you do!

So there it is! Three of the initial things to think about during your first few months as a graduate. There is of course so much more, but the initial jump into these three are what I, and many of my friends, struggled with the most. I hope you’ve been able to get something helpful out of this, stay positive and stay motivated.

Thea is a recent graduate of The Guildford School of Acting. She has spent her first year out of drama school working as an Assistant Choreographer for The British Theatre Academy. Last summer she was seen performing in Give My Regards to Broadway - Upstairs at the Gatehouse, and is currently working on various short movie projects.