How to get seen by the right people, led by John Byrne.
John Byrne, who writes the ‘Dear John’ column for The Stage, has the enviable ability to wear his wisdom lightly, and to pass on information and tips without making the audience feel that they are in either a lecture or a nursery school. His topic, ‘How to get seen by the right people’ is clearly popular with the buzzy audience of (mostly) performers from across the performing arts world.
Byrne is clear from the start that he wants the three-hour session to be a conversation, not just him talking, and he is adept at guiding the discussion – and occasionally wrestling back control when the audience veers off at a tangent or disappears down a cul-de-sac. A lengthy discussion on the role of reality TV shows, is skilfully brought away from Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor and round to The Apprentice – because it’s about business and performers need to recognise that what they do is a business. Byrne’s advice is practical and applicable; you can’t magically make a career, but if you keep hold of the things that you can control, then you will feel more secure about the things that are outside your command. As he says, “You can’t make a plan until you know who the right people are… and they will be different for everyone.”
The “right” people then, are whomever you need to be seen by in order to progress. It used to be a (relatively) simple triangle of audience, industry and agent, but the rise of social media and free self-promotion online has changed the way the world operates. Byrne leads an intelligent discussion on the pros and cons of having an agent in an age when some have blogged or tweeted their way to success. “The good side is that everyone can do it; the bad side it that everyone can do it.”
Byrne shares a template for a business plan and urges the audience to make one. It is a useful suggestion, and one I’m sure many people will go home and make use of – of course, sticking to it is a matter of personal will-power and circumstance – but it’s another tool to be used when needed. The discussion turns to the paraphernalia needed to “get seen”; headshots, websites etc. but as Byrne rightly points out that for performers, your body is your equipment, so looking after your own health and wellbeing is the more important thing.
Getting seen by the “right people” requires each person to decide who those people are, and Byrne brings the conversation round to notions of success: what would success look like for you? How will you know when you have succeeded? Thought-provoking questions, and ones I have been turning over in my mind most of the week.
There is a focus on pooling the information in the room. Byrne is refreshingly ego-free and keen to encourage his audience to share their experiences and advice too. He shares his expertise, and is gently but persistently persuasive. He not only takes questions from the floor but also allows the audience to talk to each other, building a sense of camaraderie in the room – more a sense of community and less of competitiveness. He also has a nice line in personal anecdotes and self-deprecation.
Byrne never says “this is the right way”, he is open to ideas and to reminding people that there are lots of options. Navigating the tangled path to success is about being armed with the tools to choose what’s right for you at each junction. These ‘How to’ sessions seem like an excellent way to prepare yourself to pursue a career in this frustrating, wonderful, unstable business of ours.
Eleanor Turney is a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter, and Web Editor of A Younger Theatre. She will also be Press and Marketing Manager for C Venues during this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.