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10 tips for Theatre Design Graduates

Posted by Matt Humphrey on 17 Apr, 2019

What do I do when I finish my studies? How do I get my first job? What type of work should I look for? What about my personal projects?

These are all very common questions when you are coming to the end of your studies – don't fear, you are not alone. Curtain Call recently assembled a panel of experts to talk through all of this at NTU Leap – here are our top 10 takeaways. 


There are a few general pieces of advice that probably suit everybody at some point in time, so even if you are not a design or theatre student, read on...

One of the main threads of our discussion was on making good impressions on people, and how they will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said or did. Maya Angelou said it better, but you get the gist.

That one's for free, and below are the other main points that came out of our panel discussion.


1.  Keep a diary or notes on who you've met

"I know I've met you somewhere, but I can't think where..."

We've all been there, and it can be slightly embarrassing too. What would be better would be to say "I actually saw you after the show of X production – and I thought your work on it was excellent." 

The point is, you should be keeping a note of who you met – this could be in a diary, or notes section, or notebook, or on your phone. It doesn't really matter where, but when you walk into an audition or meeting or room, and you can immediately connect with someone there, they will be impressed.


2.  Think laterally

So your dream job is not out there, or you don't have quite the right skills for it just yet. Don't worry...

Think about what IS there, and what the opportunities could be if you were to go for that job. It might not be the right work, but it is in the right building, or with somebody you really admire or respect. Sometimes the exact right opportunity that you are looking for is not necessarily going to be right in front of you. If you can think of a way that it could be of use to you it is still worth going for.


3.  Creative pestering

Important: Not stalking....creative pestering....

This phrase came out of the discussion we had on the panel where we all agreed that a little amount of creativity could be welcome when reaching out to people. We don't want to be too prescriptive with this – do something that feels right, and that they may remember you for. Think outside the box.


4.  Say "YES"

You never know where it will lead. Surround yourself with positivity, and others will see you as somebody that they want to work with.

Be that person, it is so much easier, and the opportunities will literally just keep opening up. Books have been written about this way of approaching most everything in your life, and even if you just do it for a day, you will note the differences.


5.  Assist, assist, assist, assist, assist...

Be prepared to work hard, and gain experience.

For design, technical, and creative graduates, this is SO important. Look at any of your idols or people you respect who are doing the shows that you dream of working on. They all started out assisting, and working their way up. You will not get there straight away because you actually need the experience. It is vital. So suck it up, and keep learning. 


6.  Take a risk

Some decisions are harder than others. This is because they push your comfort zone.

These are actually the exciting times when you put something on the line and you don't actually know how it may turn out. 

If it doesn't work out, turn it into an experience you can learn from


7.  Talk to people - no matter what their background

Just start the conversation, get talking, and reach out. 

It doesn't matter whether they are in the same business, discipline, background. You might be a designer, but that doesn't mean just talk to other designers. We've said this before, Theatre is the most collaborative artform, and relies on people from all manner of backgrounds and disciplines to work together. You'll definitely learn something too.


8.  Stay positive

Keep an open mind, and focus on what could be.

It's easy to say, and sometimes hard to act on, but try to remain positive even when things are not going your way. 


9. Work on your own projects

When you are not working on a job, work on your own projects. Make them up, and go with it.

This also gives you something to talk about when you do get an interview with somebody and they ask you what you have been up to. Employers will like to see that you keep your creative juices flowing, and are not idle – but also that you have passion to do what you love, even when you're not getting paid for it.


10.  Find your tribe

This is important on a number of levels. Work is so much easier when you are doing it with people you get on with, and who see the world the same as you.

Logistically it is also important as a designer to have a number of directors that you work with. Your involvement on a project is important but it is unlikely to be a commitment for the entire length of the run of the play. Mike Lees says that as a Designer, you should be looking to work with 5 Directors, and may have at least a couple of projects on the go at once. 


With thanks to Caroline Heppell and Mike Lees for joining our panel, and to Nottingham Trent University for hosting an incredible and inspirational day - #NTULeap.




Other articles you might like:

Why Theatre is the most collaborative artform

How to survive as an actor

Top tips for first read-throughs

Top tips for learning lines

The golden rules of auditions

Top tips for resting actors

Top tips for Actors on Social Media

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