Network is Important, Community is Essential
Feeling part of something is key for everyone but what if you work in one of the most competitive industries in the world? How do you work towards and finally feel like you really belong? Actor Katherine Kerman shares her story and advice.
By Katherine Kerman
As a London based American actor, I know a thing or two about stretching beyond comfort zones – which is why I’m here today to challenge you to push out of your own comfort zones to do more to nurture and grow your artistic network.
Let’s be super clear, networking has never been my strong point, but it is something that is essential as an actor trying to get your name out there. Before moving to the UK to get my MA in Classical Acting at LAMDA, I studied acting at The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago where I spent years honing an incredible network and community of like-minded artists. I was just starting to feel like I belonged, when I bit the bullet and moved abroad.
If we met in person, I’m almost certain you wouldn’t believe I’m an introvert – or that I struggle to network. Perhaps it’s the American in me, but I tend to feel the need to strike up conversation and fill the empty space with loud booming jokes – mostly a façade for being uncomfortable with silence. But moving from Chicago to London meant that I’ve had to really focus on creating a new community – which has made me realise the importance networking plays in making an artistic home for yourself.
It wasn’t easy leaving behind the city where I’d built all my hopes and dreams. At first, it felt like an adventure coming to a new country. Buying a one way flight to London, saying goodbye to people, packing… it felt a little bit like a game of chicken. It was exciting and people looked at me differently – and then all of a sudden I had been run over and was in another country.
Because of all this, I know how important it is to create community – and it’s for a variety of reasons, not just for getting to auditions.
For the times when the creativity isn’t flowing, and perhaps the auditions and call backs aren’t coming in, the right community is a lifeline for support.
Community is vital
Being around creative and artistic people feeds your own personal creativity. The arts community is the environment in which our own inspiration can thrive. Ideas are created through experience, many of which we share. There’s a chemistry to being around the right group of fellow artists. It’s both inspiring and life giving.
The right community is comfortable and intimate. And from that intimacy, creativity thrives. Ideas are supported and self-driven projects are born. In the right community, art doesn’t just come along in the form of auditions and attending performances. New ideas are birthed through bouncing off each other and the mutual will to bring creativity into the world.
For the times when the creativity isn’t flowing, and perhaps the auditions and call backs aren’t coming in, the right community is a lifeline for support. Life in the creative community can be hard, it requires patience and perseverance. Fellow artists share this position that people with more traditional careers simply don’t see (shout out to my husband in his cushy 9-5 job). As much as he tries to support me, there is still a special role played by my artist friends who continue to support me.
Reach out in person
It’s important to remember that looking someone in the eye is a very different experience to sending them a tweet. Having a drink with someone and discussing what you want out of your career and where you’d like to be in five years isn’t just a moment of networking, you’re taking a moment to bond. You’re creating a concrete memory in their mind by being vulnerable and open about what you are most passionate about in this world.
The best networks are built on genuine relationships. Networking can be this forced task of getting your face out to as many people as possible. And that does exactly what it says on the tin, it gets your face out – but it doesn’t give reason for people to connect with you. If you give stiff rehearsed answers, you’re not really presenting yourself as a living breathing artist, you’re presenting as a mere snippet of your CV. Connecting with people genuinely gives them the information they can’t get from your CV, it gives them what you’re like as a person, the way you express yourself, the way you pay attention and take note. It doesn’t just put a face to a name, it puts a person in mind.
Social media is great at getting to the face to face – but it’s definitely not the be all and end all of networking. It provides a quick way to learn about what is going on in the community, the different shows and workshops that are available, but it won’t do the next bit, getting yourself there!
There are a variety of groups and meet ups out there for you to explore. If you’re not sure where to start – search through Spotlight Contacts for places to take classes, or sign up for one of the free Spotlight Open House workshops. Get involved with your local Equity branch – depending on the branch, many host get togethers for members to get to know one another. A lot of Facebook groups will put out notices for scratch nights and events – show up, even if you aren’t performing. Be a supportive audience member, and grab a drink with everyone afterwards. Try and strike up conversation with someone new at every event you go to - the more people you connect with, the more events you’ll hear about!
So here is your actor challenge for the day – reach out to that actor, director, casting director or playwright that you follow on twitter. Ask them if you can buy them a coffee. Today is the day to start creating the community you’ve always dreamt of.
Katherine is an American actor, writer and comedian currently based in London. Her most recent credits include Alice in Pizza Man (Etcetera Theatre); Katie, in Girl Scouts Vs. Aliens (Etcetera Theatre); and Abigail in In Thanksgiving (Union Theatre). While working on several writing projects, she has also been using her experiences as an American living in the UK to create short comedic pieces on her Youtube channel.