Everywhere you look, you see actors making their own incredible work. I now find the idea that I wouldn’t make my own work strange, but I haven’t always felt like that, particularly as I never had any intention of being an actor-writer.
Apart from a few pretty emo poems tapped into my phone notes here and there, I had never really written anything in a committed sense, and when I went to drama school, I thought I was just going to act.
Look, I was young. And when I left drama school unrepresented by an acting agent, I was adrift. I was, and still am, incredibly lucky to have good people around me, and some opportunities did come my way, but after a while and with nothing happening on the audition front, I didn’t know what to do.
So I started writing, just as an outlet. I honestly had no idea what I was doing on a ‘constructing-something-dramatically-satisfying’ level, but I kept going. Eventually, I took a leap of faith and applied for the brilliant Soho Writers’ Lab, which, incredibly, I got into, and spent a year experimenting and gradually writing my first show, Get Happy, which won a playwriting award last year (wild) and which I’m starting to look towards staging. Along the way, there have been other writing prospects which a) if you had told me would be happening three years ago, I would have never believed it, and b) have brought me so much joy and creative satisfaction.
For me, it’s early days, but finding this avenue of creativity has helped me feel as though I have a rudder on my ship. Other friends of mine have started writing, producing, directing, or movement directing, whilst still acting, and I encourage everyone to give something other than acting a go. Here’s why;
Keeping your work alive
Embracing these other creative avenues doesn’t just keep you busy whilst you’re not acting. It makes you a better actor, and more creative. When you write, you’re constantly thinking about character throughlines and intentions that enrich your writing and make you a more empathetic and thoughtful actor. Directing does a similar thing. If you produce, you’re doing everything you can to make sure good stories reach audiences, and are told truthfully – again, helping you connect with the story, and reflect on your own practice as an actor.
All of these things mean that the next time you come to a part, you have a fresh, developed understanding of what the work is. Naturally, all of these things increase your skill set that you can put into your own work, and increase opportunities to get your acting out there. If you’re unsure of how to do something or need feedback, the people you have around you are your best resource. What you can do and make with your friends is frankly incredible – and the beauty of this industry is that it’s full of creative, warm people who all want to make stuff, and bring their own unique perspectives and skill sets to work. It can be deeply frightening to share your work with people, but it gets easier over time, and it helps so much; and sometimes, you discover that these other creative practices are the thing you’d rather do than acting – and that’s brilliant.
More important than anything technical, is that exploring other creative avenues can help you realise the stories you want to tell as an artist. Some of the best advice I ever got around creating my own work was its power to tell people who you are, instead of being told who you are.
Several years on from drama school, I’ve found that writing has not only helped me continue to sharpen my understanding of being a performer, but I know myself better. I’m more assured of what I do and don’t like, and why. More to the point, I know the kind of parts I can play really well, and the kind of stories I’m passionate about telling. Connecting with all that sharpens your instinct, makes you braver, and reminds you that only you can tell your story.
If you want to show what you’ve written, or edited, or produced to as many people as humanly possible, that’s amazing.
But if you don’t want to do that – if you want to make something just because – frankly, that’s also amazing. There’s so much emphasis on selling what we do, that we can lose the joy of just creating things for ourselves. There’s huge importance in that. I firmly believe that having a creative outlet that’s not related to your work or sense of productivity is fundamentally healthy. We don’t have to have a plan for everything we create. If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that everything is fallible, and having a creative outlet to remind ourselves of who we are and what we hold dear is a good, nurturing thing.
So maybe just make some stuff, just for you. A few weeks ago, I started pottery. I’m terrible at it. Properly terrible. I made a tea light holder that looked like a foot. But I had an absolute blast making it. Connecting with the joy of making stuff away from the industry helps you to remember how joyful and how fulfilling it can be to make something from scratch, whether that’s a script or a terrible bit of pottery.
Joseph graduated from LAMDA in 2017. As an actor, he has performed at the Pleasance Theatre London, the Tristan Bates, The Bunker, and the Arcola, as well as working in audio drama with Sony Entertainment Radio. He also completed the Soho Writers’ Lab for 2018-19 and was then part of the Soho Writers’ Alumni Group for 2019-20. His first full-length play, Get Happy, won the Carlo Annoni International Playwriting Prize for 2020, and he has written on commission for the Oxford School of Drama and Drama Studio London. He’s also a board member for the LAMDA MishMash Festival.
Headshot by Michael Shelford