An Oxford dictionary definition:
1. An event that shows someone’s abilities or good qualities in an attractive way.
2. A box with a glass top or sides that is used for showing objects in a shop, store or
Despite first hand experience, I am still at times confused as to which of these definitions applies to the acting showcase that we all must pass through like a burning ring of fire at the end of (Hons) Acting. The last time I checked I did not have a glass top and sides, but there were certainly times during the BA3 when I felt more like an object in a shop than a professional showing their good qualities in an attractive way.
“It’s easy, it’s just a two minute speech,” said the Head of Voice. “THAT’S THE PROBLEM,” the BA3 acting class shouted back (by this point with excellent vocal support). “We’ve spent the last 3 years doing naught but mooing like cows, spinal rolls, crying about our childhoods and singing Les Misérables – and now you’re expecting us to be ready to define the trajectory of the rest of our careers in two minutes?! In less time than it takes to do a POO?!!” The Head of Voice sighed (magnificently) and left us to it – and somehow a few weeks later on the Royal Court stage it happened and we all survived. And so will you. Here are some handy tips we stumbled upon in the weeks and years that followed:
I know you were born to play Hedda Gabler. I know your performance of Jean Valjean in your second year musical project was described as ‘life affirming’ by all who witnessed it. But you are a fresh and new, cool, young, hip person. And like it or not, when you graduate, if you are very lucky you will be given a window to play the ‘fresh and new, young, hip person’ roles. Nobody else can play them like you. That is who you are. If for any reason you don’t feel you are a ‘fresh and new, young, hip person’ but you are perhaps instead a ‘suave and dangerous silver fox’, same thing applies.
In your international multi-award winning career you will have many chances to contort yourself into many different facets of the human form. An acting showcase is probably not the time to try all of them at once. It is an opportunity to show the industry who you are and where you could fit in all this. Find something that is written for someone who is your age, your casting bracket, your vibe. If you aren’t sure what your vibe is, then ask a tutor for some guidance or look up other actors who you are similar to and see what work they have done. I think Aisleyne in Big Brother 7 hit the nail on the head when she exclaimed to Nikki Grahame: “You better know yourself, little girl!” Wise words, indeed.
Do your research
Everybody in the third year wants an amazing agent. Everybody in the third year wants an amazing job after drama school. I think we should all just take a little minute in the middle of all of this to remember that not every single person in the theatre that day is going to be the right one to catapult your career. Some of them may have just wandered in to use the loo.
Know the people you want to be represented by, know the people you want to work with. I would narrow in on people a little more nuanced than ‘Meryl Streep’s agent and all of Hollywood.’ Write to the people that interest you, say hello and tell them what it is you like about their agency specifically. Invite them along. Offer baked goods upon arrival.
On the flip side, it is important to know those you don’t want to work with. Your relationship with your agent is one of the most important of your career. Think of showcase as a little bit of agent Tinder. If they have exciting plans for you, make you feel like Titanic-era Kate Winslet, and have a website filled with happy clients who trust them, then feel free to swipe right and make it Facebook official. If for any reason they make you feel a little bit weird and/or sad, I’d take that as a sign and maybe do a little “it’s not you, it’s my career” side step on that one.
Remember: no agent worth your time and talent will ever charge you a fee to be on their books.
Remember: this is not the Hunger Games
Ok, so I haven’t seen The Hunger Games (alright, calm down!). I just looked up the synopsis though and it whiffs of the fortnight after showcase. The hysterical mass panic every time someone’s phone goes off, the whispered phone calls in toilet cubicles, the hissed conversations in dressing rooms, the alarming amounts of side-eye. I would not have been at all surprised at times to see Katniss herself running round the halls, mowing down anyone in her casting bracket who had a meeting with Curtis Brown.
You are going to spend the rest of your acting career in competition with your peers and this is a GREAT opportunity to learn early on how to deal with it. Someone in your year is going to get loads of meetings. Good for them. This doesn’t mean their life is sorted forever; but it does mean that you should probably still try to be a bit happy for them and not spit fiery acid or hiss “YOU GREEDY TALENTLESS OAF” whenever they walk by. Someone’s phone may not ring. They might feel slightly rubbish about it for a minute. This doesn’t mean they have failed at life. It just means you should probably be kind to them and not whinge at them about the terrible time you are having choosing between Independent and United.
Someone else’s success is not your failure and vice versa. Have we got it? Good. Now let’s all go to the pub and forget about it.
There is more to life than your showcase
I admit it; during the spring of 2010, I got a very intense case of showcase fever. In the lead up to the event, my entire world and thought processes consisted of headshots, invites, outfits, hairdos, contouring practice and agonising over whether the speech I had meticulously chosen really was ‘me’ enough. And then on the morning of the big day itself, I awoke to a phone call from my Mum telling me that my Grandad had died. Whilst I do appreciate this attempt to encourage me to think about other things, I still maintain this was quite a harsh way to go about it. Cheers for that one life, you absolute COMEDIAN.
Obviously, I gained some pretty sobering perspective on the whole debacle after that call, but if you can find it without the loss of a close relative, I think that would probably be less traumatic all round. Your showcase doesn’t define you. It is not a mark of how talented you are, and although it is a great opportunity, the rest of your career does NOT depend on those two minutes. No matter what happens on that stage – as long as you didn’t actually kill anyone – it’s probably going to be ok in the end.
(Just FYI: Brian Blessed, Alison Steadman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jo Joyner and Antony Sher all graduated from drama school without an agent – and it didn’t turn out too badly for them, did it?!)
On the day of my showcase I got to stand in a spotlight, performing a monologue I had picked for myself and loved, with all my friends around me, in the middle of the Royal Court stage. I’ve not been back on that stage since (I know – a travesty). When it came down to it, the whole thing was pretty joyous actually. I was really proud of us. And I’d go as far as to say I really enjoyed it. And then somehow afterwards life carried on going. And everyone was ok.
BREAK LEGS, EVERYONE!!!
Katie Elin-Salt is an actor, singer and musician from Bridgend in South Wales, now living in London. She trained at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and has done some nice bits of work over the last few years that she’s chuffed with. Aside from this, she’s most commonly known as Princess Elsa on weekends, and has also starred as Peppa Pig and Supergirl in various children’s parties across the UK. You may also recognise Katie from working in the returns section of Ann Summers Cardiff during Christmas 2010. Series regular of Judge Judy (playing ‘person watching it on the sofa whilst once again not in the gym’.)