Adam Milford, 26 January 2013

I called this session after doing some initial research in 2011/12 when preparing a

student conference on working in the creative industry.

This research told me that about 50% of artists quit their profession within five years,

up to 75% within ten years because they can't find regular work, are skint and are tired

of sacrificing life in the hope of work.

It led me to believe that there is a fundamental flaw in arts education in the UK: we

don't teach our artists about the business of theatre, about how to develop a

sustainable career.

Having posed the question “what do you wish you'd been taught while training which

you've learned since”? I received the following thoughts:

- Its OK to be an artist AND a business person! You have to develop both skills or

make partnerships with those who can do it for you (Corinne)

As artists and creatives, we can get very precious about the work and can feel that

making it a business is like selling out. We need to embrace the business side of what

we do make a living from it.

- Career paths don't necessarily exist in theatre. Let go of the notion of having ‘a

career path’ which can cause a sense of failure when it doesn't go to plan (Rachel)

In such a changeable, reactive and evolving industry our ‘careers’ can go in many

directions and we may end up doing something totally different to what we'd planned

at the start. Just because you don't succeed in a specific role, doesn't mean you've

failed, it just means you've moved on!

- Having back-up skills are essential to do the job, such as carpentry for set designers.

Having a ‘conceptual’ training is great, but its often ‘practical’ skills which enable you

to do the job!

- Craft and artistry in education is transferable / applicable across the board. We need

to train people to use their skills across their educational/personal development, not

just in that subject. Joined-up thinking

- Internships and on-the-job training is where you learn how to put your education to

practical use (Rosie)

Perhaps making practical application of skills taught in school would provide

on-the-job training in the classroom?

- Don't be afraid of change, of the new! Embrace it and play with it!

- Put money aside

- Stop talking about it, get on with it!

- Don't be afraid to teach yourself new skills, they can only benefit you in the long term

- Failures can be learned from - they can work out in the end

This was a popular topic and most present had experienced massive failures and

mistakes which had taught them important life lessons. Some had cost

money/reputation/other in the short term, but which had benefited them in the long


- Don't mistreat people - you don't know where they will be in future and you may need


Somebody may not be of help to you now, but in the future they could be the best

person to go to, or may be in a position to employ you, etc. If you mistreated them in

the past, they won't help you in the future.

- Understand your role as an artist, what right you have to be an artist and make work.

When you do you can be clearer about what your objectives/goals/styles etc are…

- Knowing how to find work for yourself, what options you have to make money by

using your skills.

This is something most felt they'd learned since leaving training.

- Don't work for free! (too much).

Working for free has its place in art, but you have to get something out of it - learning

new skills, untested experimentation, future possibilities, etc. However, once you've

done a free job, move on and start earning from it, don't get sucked in to repeated free

work as it won't help your career.

- be honest about who you are and what you're capable of. Not all of us can play


- Keep at it, keep trying, but keep your cool - avoid reeking of desperation!

- Develop an entrepreneurial spirit - seize opportunities, network, have conversations,

know when to quit/sell/move on, etc.

- Agents aren't the only way to get jobs. You can get work yourself, although in acting

it will expose you to more opportunities

- With Agents it is a two way relationship, a partnership. You work for each other, so

do your research and partner with the right one for you.

- You need to have a talent for having talent - having talent isn't enough, you have to

have the skills to develop / harness / focus it

- Practical knowledge about funding for the arts - how to do an Arts Council

application, seek investment, etc

Re Marketing:

Q: Did you have a class on marketing yourself/your work while training? Was it

relevant when you needed it?

16% said YES

84% said NO

- Don't use industry speak when dealing with the public - they may not know what

‘site-specific’ or ‘promenade’ theatre is!

- Its a game: play with it in lots of forums/channels and have several marketing

opportunities running simultaneously

- Let your work speak for itself

- Document everything. A project may be rubbish but with some clever use of

photography and video it can look stunning!

Whether you're a solo artist or company, promoting yourself or your work or a

production, knowing who you're talking to is vital for choosing the right language

Q: Should ‘business’ be taught alongside arts training?

100% said YES!


My response to this is that there needs to be some radical changes to arts education

in the UK.

We need to prepare our students not just in how to be an actor, dancer, designer,

director, painter, etc, but about how make a sustainable career from the skills they


Through my company, Theatre Workout, I work with thousands of students, schools,

colleges and universities every year, and in July 2013 I hope to be running a student

conference on working in the arts.

I hope to use this information and research to encourage students to start thinking

about what they want from a career in the creative industries, and to engage teachers

to think about how they prepare their students of the real world.

I will report back, but any further research and development of these thoughts will be

posted though and its other sites and forums.

Adam Milford

Actor, Theatre Practitioner


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