Less "What's next?" More "What now?"

By Bethany Tennick

I’m writing this behind a bar. A local pub holding an eclectic mix of working men (Bud John- who
only drinks Bud, Charlie- with a cat he named Bastard, and Ponytail Adam), and students from the Conservatoire across the street (Louisa, with her highlights and LuLuLemon leggings, Trumpet Stacey, and Samir- with his fancy camera and theories on why Wes Anderson is ‘just, like, the best’). These people- these friends, regulars, former peers- have one question in common;
“What’s next, Beth?”

Well, Bethany Jean, what the heck is next?
The pub, my family, everyone who cares about me is asking. They don’t mean to cause anxiety,
they really don’t, but they do. Each time someone asks me what’s next my soul leaves my little
blonde body, and I make some joke about being a starving artist, and living la vie boheme.
Everybody laughs, and I go about my day. Jokes aside, I feel like these people only really want to
know whether or not I’m on the West End yet. An upsettingly common definition of success. They
don’t want to hear about the all-female profit share musical I’m doing at the Edinburgh Fringe, or
that the thing I’m most excited about right now is flying to a small Scottish Island next month to
devise a new piece of music theatre. I’m not going into Les Mis. Or Mamma Mia. Or Hairspray.
These things I have that excite me are small, and my Granny can’t sing along to the soundtrack
after a glass of sherry, so my non-theatre family and friends remain uninterested.

What’s next, Beth?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’m about to have two months of solid performance work, more than a lot of people get the summer of graduating from drama school. I came down with a mild case of ‘right place, right time’, and I am riding my miniature wave of success as long as I can. The only thing is- I’m petrified. And I’m not the only one. Everyone I graduated with, even those with work right now, are scared. Scared of that inevitable break in work, that bout of unemployment, that little voice in your head that says “if you were good, you’d have more work”.

What’s next?

My good friend Emma said to me “It’s almost like your life is buffering until you get a job and that
can be okay if you find things to keep you going, like when Netflix is on 99% for ten minutes”. The
summer after graduating from drama school is the ultimate buffering moment. A pause in time. A
raised hammer. A sharp inhale.
She’s right. (Emma’s always had a way with a simile.) Life is buffering, and that doesn’t mean
anything’s broken, or the next chapter in the series isn’t worth waiting for, it just means you need to be patient.
So maybe the question isn’t “What’s next?” but more “What now?” When a film or episode is
buffering, I make tea. I message friends. I send ugly double-chin snapchats to my boyfriend (ah,
the true test of love). These small things don’t serve too much purpose in the long run, but they
make me happy now. This meantime happiness gets me through the seemingly never-ending
buffering, and with this in mind, I’ve discovered a small list of things I can do (as well as some
things suggested by my performer friends) to make the most of my buffering phase.

1) Watch things.
Theatre. Films. Netflix. Your cousin’s new girlfriend’s daughter’s dance show. You could
save up for that West End show you’ve been dying to see, or you could pay a fiver ad
support your local AmDram society. Remind yourself what you’re passionate about, what
you like to watch, and what you want to do.

2) Find a hobby again!
It can be sugar-honey-iced-tea when you wake up and realise that your only hobby has
become your job, and it’s not even a job you’re currently employed in. (It happens to the best of us, friends.) Finding someone you love that you feel no pressure to be good at (I personally am a terrifically bad watercolour portrait) can be a saving grace when you want to fill some time, clear your head, or be creative without the pressure of a paycheck.

3) A social life? Never heard of it.
See your friends and family! This is the time! You’re not in tech, you’re not on tour. In
between auditions and gigs, see the people who matter most to you. Try to see this break
from work as a gift. Time to sit with you mum, or best friend, or flatmate over tea and
actually talk, not just fling a quick life update at each other as you rush to the next
rehearsal. Help your sister plan her wedding (something I’m doing now and have about
forty Pinterest boards dedicated to). Help your flatmate rearrange her room. Get some
cocktails with your old school friends. These are the things that you wish you had time for
when you’re in a show or film, and these are the things that can often get forgotten.

4) Keep skills alive. (Sounds boring- doesn’t have to be.)
If you’re a dancer, take a class. If you’re a singer, learn some new music. Fork out for a
lesson once in a while. Practise your instruments. (Even if it’s that stupid clarinet you
thought would be a good idea. You’ve done it now, Beth. Commit!) Read plays and keep
searching for monologues. The last thing you want is to get an audition and feel like you’ve
forgotten how to do that thing you spent years training to do. Be ready, keep on it, an don’t
forget how skilled you are.

5) Make your own work.
Write, direct, film. There are a million facebook groups looking for actors and creatives for
new work. Spend your evenings and weekends doing what you love, and make something
you’re proud of. Who knows? Maybe it’ll get picked up. The next Rent, Spring Awakening,
Come From Away. They all started out small. You do you, boo.

6) Get a B Job you like. Or at least doesn’t make you want to cry.
I thrive on my bar job. Taking to people. Being in control of the music. I’ve even used it to
make some friends who live in the area. Friends! Real ones! It’s not where I want to end up
in life, but it’ll do for now. Find something that’ll do for you.

7) Don’t despair. Please.
This period can seem the loneliest of your life. And I feel you. My parents and siblings live
in a different country, almost all of my closest friends moved city after graduating, I was
close to broke, and for the first three months after grad I was in a long-distance relationship.
Loneliness and boredom was something I started to associate with my daily life and I hated
it. I was living and waiting for the next audition. Waiting for a text. Waiting for a shift at the
bar. For my friend to facetime. For anything, really. But I don’t want to wait anymore. I want
to live a fulfilled little life- whether I’m a working actor or not.

At the end of the day- I’m twenty years old. I don’t have to have a fabulously blossoming career
just yet. I can enjoy a bar work, get pinterest-obsessed, write and rewrite my poems and songs and scripts. I can have a beer, a sneaky fag (don’t tell my old singing teacher), and do Justin
Timberlake karaoke. I can laugh along to the ‘starving artist’ jokes. I can casually deflect the
questioning parents and grandparents, the ‘pay us back when you’re famous’, the comparison to
my apparently more successful peers. I don’t owe anything to anybody apart from myself- and
neither do you.

Bethany is a Scottish performer, writer, and very successful waitress. She has an accent that just won’t quit, has dreams of writing the next generation-defining album, and has just graduated from drama school. She runs a Glasgow-based performance company called Renfrew Collective, and in between sending emails and trying (failing) to come up with witty tag lines, she loves to listen to The 98% podcast to keep her sane. Almost. 
Follow her on twitter where she tries to be funny- @BethanyTennick You can find her as 'Bethany Tennick- Music' on Facebook if you want to hear some tunes.