For the girl who started youth theatre because she was acutely shy, networking as an adult actress 18 years later can be the stuff of nightmares. It’s something I have tended to avoid in the past, but I made the decision a couple of months ago that this avoidance was holding me back. I will never meet someone who might be able to give me a job behind my sofa of an evening – that really would be taking the Casting Couch analogy to a disturbing level.
So, last night, I bit the bullet and went to an independent films networking event. I kind of cheated in that I went with a friend (safety in numbers) but figured that was allowed as there was no alcohol or nibbles to hide behind…
These are my top tips for anyone who also hears the word ‘networking event’ and starts to have a mild panic attack:
A fellow actress had brought her two children with her (pram and all, amazing – please let me be like this when I grow up!), and whilst the baby was asleep her nine year old daughter started the networking off with aplomb:
‘Hello, are you an actress and do you work with my mummy?’
‘Hello, I am an actress but I haven’t worked with your mummy yet. What’s your name?’
She introduced herself and proceeded to question me:
‘Do you do lots of films? Do you want to see my game? Would you like a cookie I baked? I’m too shy to like acting. But I like singing.’
Having my second conversation with this nine year old girl strangely relaxed me, and I think seeing someone so blatantly unafraid to be herself reminded me that I just had to do the same (sans cookies, sadly. What a way to be remembered!).
Don’t go in hard sell – especially if it’s not very ‘you’
I always ask people about themselves first so not to go straight in to talking about current projects. I ask if they know other people at the event (very helpful for when I speak to those people later), what films they recommend seeing, what they thought of the last thing I watched. It’s less cringey than straight out saying ‘I’m looking for work at the moment. Can you hire me?’ Which leads me on to…
Don’t have the whiff of desperation about you
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from teaching and auditioning people, it’s that everyone is exceedingly interesting when you first meet them. Don’t doubt yourself, and never apologise or speak disparagingly about yourself to someone you have just met. Be proud to say what you do, what you’re working on, what you’re passionate about. You never know what that might spark in someone else.
Don’t disregard someone else because of what they do and what you think that means
I did notice a few other actors not talking to me very much once they learnt what I did, and honing in on the directors and producers straight away. I might not be able to directly offer them a job, but I do get asked to recommend people for projects every week and have got a fair few people work already this year. A writer I chatted to also directs. An actor I spoke to also produces in the US. Remember: everyone is connected, people wear different hats, and no job is higher than another in many creative industries.
I was pleasantly surprised, having planned to stay for just 45 minutes, to realise I had been there for nearly three hours. The event flew by and I only left as I had hungry people at home waiting to be cooked for. I think I’ll do this again soon.