Leaving the UK, To Pursue My Musical Theatre Dream in New York City

Sarah Venners shares what it was like leaving all that she knew to live in New York City for a year, after being awarded a place at The NYFA Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre

So then, hello! Guest blogger over here ready to write about my experiences over the past two years. One being during training, and one being after.

As the end of third year was approaching and we had drama school auditions coming out of our ear lobes and stress coming out of every other crevice, I made a rash decision to audition for one of New York City’s top Musical Theatre conservatory programmes. Little old me was NOT expecting to get in, so the possibility has not even crossed my mind that I could actually up sticks and transfer my life across the Atlantic for a year, to a country I had never even stepped foot in. But, alas, 10 days before my 21st birthday, I woke up to a life changing email offering me a place at New York Film Academy’s Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre. The audition process was pretty simple, the casting team travelled to London and watched me perform 2 contrasting songs and a monologue, these were filmed and showed to NYFA’s MT team. They then made the final decisions on places and scholarships. I was lucky enough to be part funded which took the financial stress off only slightly.

Attending drama school in New York was terrifying, expenny, exhausting and bloody hard work. HOWEVER, it is something I will never regret doing. The big DS is tiring no matter where you attend, and it is only just the beginning. I found that despite ‘living my best life’ for a year, I was going to have to work even harder as the Broadway scene is run very differently to London’s West End, with everything from headshots to the audition process, I had to adapt to both. Striking a balance between pleasing my tutors and doing what I know I needed to do pre-returning to the UK was difficult. Throw in a few personal issues and 14-hour days, 6 days a week, and you’ve got yourself a cocktail for weekly sit-down showers crying about why I didn’t listen to my Mother and just do something bloody sensible and a hindsight easier to get work in.

HOWEVER, those sit-down shower moments pass, you get up, get a grip and get your wallet out for your Spotlight Membership, headshots, voicereels, showreels, masterclasses, singing lessons, acting workshops etc etc etc…and just pray your hard work and determination to beat the masses pays off. People often ask why I didn’t stay in New York, my answer is always the same; Visa’s lol, and New York just didn’t feel like home to me. I loved it and my time there, but London has my heart.

Upon graduating, you need to make sure you keep creative whilst doing what you need to do. I change nappies by day and do my ‘actors admin’, work out and sing by night to keep my creative brain happy. This was tough at first, but two of my teachers, Broadway veterans and all-round good eggs taught me about my ‘tool box’ and it’s probably the best advice I’ve been given as a creative. We as actors have a mental tool box, full of our ways of building a character, accessing our what’s where’s and how’s and how to channel that into a 16-bar cut during the first open call the West End has seen for 6 months. (yes, really.)  Little tools like this keep me thinking and my rep fresh, even during what seems like a never-ending dry spell. Once you have everything you need aka headshots, reels etc, that’s when the real hard work begins. You nag your agent, self-submit, perfect the DIY tripod for self-tapes and keep reminding yourself ‘everyone is in the same boat and I will get there even if it means eating beans on toast until I’m 35.’ If Olivia Colman can clean houses until she’s 30 and then finally make it then so can bloody I.

I’ve compiled a quick list of key points to surviving life as a new grad:

  • KEEP WORKING AT IT: Workshops, Free online tutorials (a la Natalie Weiss Breaking Down The Riffs etc), Gym/Home Workouts, STRETCH!!!, meditate (this sounds wanky, but it does wonders when you’re stuck on the central line in rush hour, running 10 minutes late for an audition and then bump into your ex-bf in a fluster), search for new rep, self-tape to self-critique etc etc. You never stop learning until you die and even then, you probs learn from the beyond. Soz for being morbid.
  • Your vibe is your tribe: Something that has got me through my first year in the professional industry is my friends. Most are also MT actors, and nothing cheers me up more than us all getting together and moaning about how shit the industry makes us feel sometimes. But then you also get the high points of watching your pals perform in their first professional gig and THAT is something special. It’s also lovely finding friends that couldn’t be further from the MT bubble, my boyfriend works in sport and the only musical he knows is from when he did Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat in Year 6 and honestly, it’s refreshing.
  • Never, ever compare: Iyanla Vanzant is quoted, “Comparing yourself to others I an act of violence against yourself.” Every flower blooms at its own pace and yes, that person may have had 5 professional jobs post-graduation, but it does not mean you are not good enough/talented enough/pretty enough/hard working enough. Nuff said.

Thanks for listening to my rambling’s folks, and I hope some of this helps!!

If you want to hear more from Sarah, you can find her on Twitter and Insta @sarahvenners

Sarah is an Actor/Singer and a dancer only when shots and Beyoncé are involved. (Post Uni means this happens even less frequently). Sarah graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with a first-class BA (hons) in Music Theatre back in 2017 before moving on to Drama School in New York City to study Musical Theatre intensively for a year, returning to the UK in 2018. She now runs after small toddlers and plays dress up at a Nursery to pay the bills whilst pursuing her dream of conquering London’s West End.

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