The Struggles of Leaving Art School

Illustration by Evey Joan

Ever since I experienced the early thrills of performing in primary school Nativity plays, drama has been my biggest passion. Unlike some of my more short-lived interests (which have included taekwondo and golf), my love for acting never dwindled throughout my childhood or teenage years. So when it came to deciding what to study at university, the decision was incredibly easy. At the age of 18 I began a Drama BA at Bath Spa University, and I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to study a subject I had a genuine interest in. 

Whether it was through rehearsing for a performance, writing short scripts or critically analysing texts - my degree gave me endless opportunities to feel creatively fulfilled. I was able to collaborate with plenty of creative and talented people on my course, which allowed for heaps of inspiration and the knowledge that my own skills were improving. I enjoyed my degree to the extent that writing my dissertation was a confusingly therapeutic experience, although perhaps that was partly thanks to the endless ‘dissertation dates’ I took myself on as an excuse for a nice lunch and a flat white. 

Whilst I was sad to finish my course, student life itself had grown tiresome and I completed my final year feeling ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I didn't have anything planned besides moving home and finding a job, but my graduation left me feeling positive about the future. As soon as that sweaty cap flew out of my hands in the obligatory, clumsy spectacle at the end of the ceremony, I was proud to call myself a graduate, naively believing this generic title would be enough to satisfy me for at least a short while.

 Fast-forward just a couple of months, and I found myself in the position that so many graduates now find themselves in upon completing a degree: living back at home and getting a temporary job in a bid to save money. I live in a tiny village where our only amenity is a postbox (which mysteriously was removed and reinstalled in the last year, bringing some much needed drama to the area). Even the closest city of Worcester is small, its only notoriety coming in the form of its eponymous spicy sauce. Unlike some of my coursemates who came from large cities, there weren’t any viable creative options for me when I moved home, so I’ve now found myself working in retail - a sector that is increasingly popular with young people needing temporary work. Whilst individuals and businesses within the creative industry face constant cuts to funding and require a lot of support just to survive, our consumerist society has ensured retail jobs - even in the age of internet shopping - are one of the few consistent options for young people looking to quickly gain job experience. 

 I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to save up money for my future by living at home and working, however it’s difficult to feel a sense of personal satisfaction in a sales associate job where my chances to be creative are scarce. I’ve looked into the few local theatre productions I could take part in to satisfy my desire to perform, however they always require rehearsing at weekends, which I unfortunately work through. Whilst I’d love to gain some additional acting experience alongside working, I don’t think I can really justify quitting my job in order to play a small role in an amateur dramatics production of ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’.

 I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve experienced a huge amount of self-doubt in this transition period, and I’ve found myself spiralling down a rabbit hole of uncertainty more times than I can count. It certainly doesn’t help when almost every adult I’ve encountered since graduating has inevitably asked the well-intended but stress-inducing question: “so, what’s the plan now?”. I’ve often found myself experiencing an unjustified but unshakable feeling of embarrassment during these conversations, as I’ve then gone on to explain how I’m now working part-time in a job entirely unrelated to my degree with no solid plans for the future. Surprisingly, my dental hygienist has been an unexpected source of reassurance. As this topic came up in the mandatory small talk  during my appointment, the hygienist said to me - quite matter-of-factly - that “you’re only young, you’ve got a job for now and that’s great, I’m sure you’ll figure things out soon”. I ended up leaving the dentist’s surgery with not only the squeaky clean teeth I was expecting, but the additional bonus of a considerably clearer head.

 One thing that has helped me immensely over the last couple of months is channelling my creativity through different outlets; I run an Instagram account where I share pictures of the vegan food I make, and I’ve also started writing a personal blog. Whilst neither of these pursuits are acting-adjacent, they provide me with the much needed creative expression that I’ve been so desperately craving since finishing uni, as well as allowing me to develop some new skills. I’ve also tentatively entered the highly-competitive world of drama school auditions, and whilst I have already been rejected from two (which was entirely expected for my first audition attempt), prepping for and attending these auditions has reignited and reaffirmed my love for my craft, and left me feeling positive about my options for the future. Meeting and speaking to like-minded people at these auditions was equally as valuable as the actual auditions themselves, as it echoed the inspiration I used to feel when spending time with my coursemates. I’ll certainly apply for more drama schools when I can, but I’m also considering moving to a new city and seeking out any creative opportunities that are available to me. Whilst I still don’t have a real answer if I’m asked “what’s the plan now?”, I no longer feel the same sense of shame, but rather a quiet optimism about the openness of my future’s possibilities.

Written by Olivia Cox