‘Dear Class of 2020…’: A message to new drama graduates – Part Two

Graduating from a course or degree is always a momentous moment of change – but with the world in grips of a pandemic and the theatre industry almost entirely shut down, the Class of 2020 face additional challenges.

Here, in Part Two of a special two-part blog post, we asked some celebrated theatre-makers (and NHB authors) to offer some words of encouragement to all those now setting out from drama school or university. Read their thoughts below, and read Part One here.


Anna Jordan: ‘you have already achieved great things’ 

You are already amazing. You have already achieved great things. Getting to the end of an acting/theatre course at a drama school is no mean feat. It’s a test of your mental and physical ability, your spirit, your tenacity, your bravery and openness. I did it nearly fifteen years ago, so I remember (just!).

To do it in the face of COVID and all the challenges that it has brought is nothing short of exceptional.

A career in the arts is not easy. It was never easy and it’s going to be even harder now. You will have to do other things to supplement this. There is no shame in that. Find an additional career that doesn’t kill your brain, but is more reliable than acting/working in theatre/TV/film. Take time to cultivate it. Be creative and resourceful. Try to live a balanced life. I’m not saying make theatre your hobby – but understand that sometimes it might be your passion rather than the thing that pays the bills. It is possible to have two careers.

Surviving in the arts is bloody tough, but it can be the most rewarding and magical job in the world. Enjoy every moment. Wishing you love and strength.

Anna Jordan is a playwright, screenwriter, director and acting tutor. She won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2013 for her play Yen, which was subsequently produced at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, the Royal Court Theatre, London, and in New York. Other work includes Chicken Shop (Park Theatre, 2014),  The Unreturning (Frantic Assembly & Theatre Royal Plymouth, 2018) and Pop Music (Paines Plough & Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 2018). As a director she has worked at venues such as Theatre503, Soho and The Shed, National Theatre, and has taught, directed or written at numerous drama schools including Italia Conti, ArtsEd, RADA, LAMDA and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her screenwriting credits include Succession (HBO) and Killing Eve (Sid Gentle/BBC). 


Nathan Bryon: ‘hopefully during this time, we will have moved forward’

Don’t worry – it will all be back to the ‘normal’ crazy industry soon-ish – and hopefully during this time, we have moved forward in many ways and, as an industry, we’ll start reflecting the world around us.

Until then, jump in ya PJs, watch some PROPER trashy reality TV (Selling Sunset on Netflix is FIRE), order some fried chicken, put some prosecco on ice, get yourself a Nivea rehydrating face mask, and pat yourself on the back because YOU MADE IT!

Nathan Bryon is an actor, playwright, screenwriter and author. As an actor, his credits include Some Girls (BBC), Benidorm (ITV) and one-man show Mixed Brain (tiata fahodzi and Paines Plough, Edinburgh Fringe). He has written for critically acclaimed Cbeebies’ animation Rastamouse, BAFTA Award-winning Swashbuckle and on all three series of Cbeebies’ BAFTA-nominated Apple Tree House, and has written plays including Mixed Brain (Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2017) and Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency (Paines Plough & Theatr Clwyd tour, 2019). He is also the author of a series of children’s picture books, published by Penguin Random House; the first book in the series, Look Up!, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.


Declan Donnellan: ‘we have never needed you so badly’

You know this already but…

At the heart of making theatre is acting.

Acting is not just a job; it is also an art.

Acting, live acting, is increasingly important in an increasingly commoditised world.

For the actor says to the audience: ‘Sometimes I act being me, but sometimes I also act being someone else’ – it reminds us of a very important fact, that we are all many different things. Accepting this can keep us all a bit saner.

In fact, whenever in your life you feel a little bit fake, don’t feel alone or ashamed, it’s often the most precious part of you in revolt.

Only the ad men and politicians want you to believe you should be one thing.

None of us is.

Your job is not to tell the truth. Your job is to make illusions. You will make them as well as you can and you will try not to lie. You will end up lying but you must forgive yourself and try again better, tomorrow. In fact, if the illusion you share is good then it may help people to destroy delusions.

But art like love depends on equality, so we will not make good art if we place ourselves either below or above the audience.

Above all, hang on to your common sense and develop it. It is a better friend to you than logic ever will be.

Keep wondering what is the difference between acting and pretending.

You are not a luxury.

Acting and art is our way back to reality, away from a delusional world.

We have never needed you so badly.

Declan Donnellan is a director, adaptor and author.  With his partner Nick Ormerod, he is the co-founder and joint Artistic Director of Cheek by Jowl, for which they have created over 40 productions, performing in over 400 cities, across six continents. Other directing credits include work at the National Theatre (including the original premiere of both parts of Angels in America) and in London’s West End, as well as numerous international productions. He has received awards in London, Moscow, Paris and New York, including four Olivier Awards, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his work in France, the Charlemagne award (shared with Craig Venter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). He was awarded an OBE in 2017. Declan’s book The Actor and the Target, published in the UK by Nick Hern Books, has been released in more than fifteen languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, Romanian and Mandarin.


Andy Nyman: ‘before you know it, the business will be back’

Well, you definitely win the ‘weirdest graduation ever’ award.

Yes, you are entering a business that appears to be in freefall. Yes, the life you have trained so hard for will undergo changes that none of us can quite conceive of yet, and yes, it feels more unpredictable than ever.

But understand this: before you know it, the business will be back – and you and your phenomenal energy will be needed to keep it motoring with a fierce new vigor. So take this respite to stay physically and mentally fit and ready, because, trust me, you have a lifetime of fun and adventures ahead of you in this brilliant, insane business.

Andy Nyman is an actor, writer, director and magician. His screen credits include the TV series Peaky Blinders, Campus and Dead Set, as well as the films Severance, Death at a Funeral, The Commuter, Judy and Jungle Cruise. Stage credits include Hangmen (Wyndham’s Theatre, West End), Abigail’s Party (Menier Chocolate Factory and West End), Assassins (Menier Chocolate Party) and Fiddler on the Roof (Menier Chocolate Factory and West End; nominated for Evening Standard Theatre and Olivier Awards). He is a frequent collaborator with Derren Brown, having co-created TV specials such as Russian Roulette,The System, The Heist and The Event, as well as co-writing and directing most of Derren’s stage shows. Andy’s play Ghost Stories, co-written and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson, originally premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse before a transfer to the Lyric Hammersmith (both co-starring Andy), and has since seen enjoyed multiple West End runs and productions around the world. It was also made into a hit film in 2018, co-written, co-directed and co-starring Andy. His books The Golden Rules of Acting and More Golden Rules of Acting are published by Nick Hern Books.


Danusia Samal: ‘this is a time to take back control’

Congratulations! You’ve made it through three years of hard work, creative and personal challenges, and spine rolls. You’ve worn black clothes every day, spent every waking moment with the same people, been ripped apart and put back together, and now you are free!

Oh no, wait. There’s a global pandemic. Sorry about that.

I’m not going to lie. This is a hard career. The years ahead will be very hard. But with dark times also come positives. Drama schools confronting institutional racism and inherent discrimination? Artists and organisations uniting instead of competing? Actors asking each other ‘How are you?’ instead of ‘What are you working on?’ These didn’t feel possible before. And they are welcome changes we need to hold on to as we build a new normal.

Art has always adapted. In times of crisis it often flourishes and grows, especially at a grassroots level. This is a time to take back control. What is your story? What do you care about? What do you want to make? Question yourself. Question this industry. Find people to collaborate with. Your peers are your most valuable creative resource. Try something new. It might just work!

And do all this knowing, some days you may not be able to get up. And that is totally okay.

You are more than your last job, the agent you signed with, how many casting directors you know. You are uniquely, and brilliantly, you. Break a leg x

Danusia Samal is an actor, writer and singer. As an actor, her stage credits include work at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court, Shakespeare’s Globe, Soho Theatre and Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Her screen credits include Tyrant, Ghost in the Shell and The Great. Her play Out of Sorts won the Theatre503 International Playwriting Award, premiering at Theatre503. She also wrote and performed in Busking It – a gig-theatre show inspired by her experiences as a London Underground busker – which was commissioned by Shoreditch Town Hall and co-produced by HighTide, going on tour around the UK.


Antony Sher: ‘welcome to a beautiful and mad way of life’

Coming into this profession has always been a tough challenge. It requires enormous reserves of power, resilience, resourcefulness, inventiveness, calmness, patience, and, of course, talent. (A bit of good luck won’t go amiss either.) And that’s just what it’s like in normal circumstances.

For the Class of 2020, it’s all of the above, plus some. Well – good. If you can conquer the present obstacles, you are going to emerge very strong indeed. Not just in your career, but as a person. So, welcome to this beautiful and mad way of life – making theatre, films, TV – and wear your special badge with pride: ‘I belong to the Class of 2020.’

Antony Sher is an actor, author, playwright and artist. Much of his acting career has been spent with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he has played Richard III, Macbeth, Leontes, Prospero, Shylock, Iago, Falstaff and Lear, as well as the leading roles in other plays including Cyrano de Bergerac, Tamburlaine the GreatDeath of a Salesman. Other stage credits include work at the National Theatre, London, Almeida Theatre, London, in London’s West End, Theatre Royal Bath and Crucible Theatre, Sheffield,  for which he has received numerous awards including two Olivier Awards for Best Actor.  His screen credits include The Wind in the Willows, Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love. He has published novels and a book of his paintings and drawings; his books Year of the King, Year of the Fat Knight, Year of the Mad King, Beside Myself and Primo Time are published by Nick Hern Books.


Thanks so much to all of the NHB authors who took the time to be part of this blog post, and to those who contributed to Part One.

From all of us at Nick Hern Books, we wish all of this year’s graduates the very best of luck in their future careers, and hope that normal times and opportunities return as soon as possible.

Birth of the ‘Rules’ by Andy Nyman

Andy Nyman

illustration © Jemima Williams

Andy Nyman’s The Golden Rules of Acting offers real-world advice on how to be an actor – written by a working actor with over 25 years’ experience. In irresistible pocket-sized paperback, packed with short, punchy bulletpoints and illustrated in colour throughout – it certainly gets the message across in a totally memorable way. In the words of actor and comedian Simon Pegg: ‘Christians have the bible, now actors have this book. At last, everyone is happy.’ Here, Andy – currently starring in Abigail’s Party in the West End – explains why he had to write the book.

I’ve wanted to be an actor ever since I was a boy.

That feeling was confirmed for me when my Dad took me to see Jaws at the cinema. I was 13 and the experience of that film shook me and awakened me to a couple of key facts:

  • Films aren’t just for watching; when they are great they can be a visceral experience. The jolts I suffered that day shaped a taste for dark material that has stayed with me throughout my career.
  • Seeing Richard Dreyfuss up there on the big screen allowed me to dream in a whole new way. As a stocky, glasses wearing, curly haired Jewish teenager, I was looking up at a stocky, glasses wearing, curly haired Jewish actor playing one of the leads in the most exciting movie experience I had ever had. Could this be true? Did this mean that if you weren’t a tall, thin, impossibly beautiful man you could still play leads in films? My world changed.

I pursued every acting opportunity I could. Amateur dramatics at Leicester’s excellent Little Theatre, drama classes with the teacher my brilliant Mum found, then off to do Drama A-level at Melton Mowbray college before getting into the Guildhall School of Music & Drama to do the 3-year acting course.

In the 30 years since doing those amateur shows my enthusiasm for acting has never waned, not once. I think I am blessed with a genetic make-up that means my default outlook is positive; I love what I do so much that the very pursuit of it keeps me excited.

My passion for acting borders on obsession. From the very earliest days I wanted to know what an actor’s life was like. I bought every book on acting I could lay my hands on. But something struck me as I read them. Whilst there was an abundance of material on how to act, how to create a character, the different schools of thought on methodology, styles of performance etc etc etc, I couldn’t find anything on what I really wanted to know: what was it like to actually be an actor? How did one survive in the business? How did one sustain a career?

When I finished drama school and entered the business there was still nothing that represented a real handbook of advice on actually existing as an actor – and I craved one. It suddenly felt more important than ever. I was now in the business and I wanted something that would hold my hand, guide me and tell me some of the potential traps that lay ahead and how to avoid them.The Golden Rules of Acting

The desire for that book never subsided, and over the ensuing years it simmered away in the back of my mind. In 2006 I jotted down a few thoughts I had on acting. I have always been inspired by books of quotes and often carry a pocket-sized book of quotes with me. I scribbled some bullet points down on the inside front cover of the quote book I had with me – it felt like a sensible place for them as I looked at the book so frequently. After a few days a couple more thoughts occurred to me and I noted them down in the same place.

I soon found that the act of noting these thoughts down had become habitual. Within a week I had started jotting down thoughts on a regular basis. Instead of using the inside cover of the pocket book, I now carried a pad and added new ones as they popped into my head. As I noted them down I began to recognise in them some of the important lessons I had learned about surviving as an actor.

Over the next 5 years I jotted, scribbled and noted thoughts as they came to me. I tried to write in the shortest, most pragmatic way I could. I didn’t want to be flowery, I wanted to cut to the heart of what I wanted to say. I kept being as honest as I could with myself – after all, why lie? It’s better to be aware of the truth and find inspiration in that than limit yourself with half-truths. This was always a personal project for me, a way of reminding myself of what mattered to me about the acting business.

I have a love of quirky design and images and realised that it would help if I could find images to accompany my ideas. I knew that the right image or design could really help me remember the point I was making; it somehow ‘anchored’ it in my mind. I also added into the mix many of the quotes that inspire me. The feeling that someone else had been there before me and done it – or even been there and failed – was a real comfort. I began to think of each point as a Golden Rule for me – something to abide by, something that I needed to remember and consider.

Once I had assembled my Golden Rules I carried them around with me, in the way I had my books of quotes. This served several purposes: not only did I enjoy reading them as entertainment, I found them useful in different situations – be that an audition or a rehearsal. Most importantly they reminded me that I was an actor, I was living the life that I had always dreamt of. This was something special, something to always protect and cherish.

When I started talking to Nick Hern about publishing the book I knew that I wanted to do something different with it. I wanted it to feel like the pieces of paper I carried around with me, full of odd images, scribbles and, hopefully, inspiring thoughts. I wanted it to be affordable and real-world, something that could act as an honest friend who has been through it, who understands and always tells it like it is.

I’m so excited that The Golden Rules of Acting is being published. To think that this could help and inspire working actors, drama students or simply those who want an insight into the challenges of an actor’s life is tremendously exciting.

I hope that the book will be something that can live in your bag or pocket, go with you to auditions, rehearsal rooms, sets and locations, or simply be there for you whenever you need it, like the best kind of friend, sharing your fears and your dreams. It’s the book I always wanted and could never get. Enjoy.

Golden Rules of Acting - magnets

A ‘Golden Rules’ magnet anyone?

NHB are thrilled to publish Andy Nyman’s The Golden Rules of Acting. To order your copy with 20% off (a steal at £4.79) click here – no voucher code required.

We have a small stack of Golden Rules magnets up for grabs – in fact, only 13 exist in the world! To win one, just add your own ‘Golden Rule’ at the bottom of this blog post (as a ‘comment’). The first 13 rules added win a magnet, it’s as simple as that. But make sure to also email info@nickhernbooks.co.uk with your full address.

In need of inspiration? Check out the @GoldenRulesBook twitter feed to read some fantastic rules that have already been shared.