Making it

Journalism Course LondonCarving out a career in the creative industry can be a long and winding road, but at the end of it lies a job like no other, writes Gareth Martin Royle.

“The analogy I always use is that it’s like being in an abusive relationship,” says theatre director Derek Bond. “You always feel like you should be leaving, you should be doing something else. And sometimes you feel like your art is letting you down somehow, that it’s holding you back. And yet you keep on doing it.”

Bond studied drama at university, and ten years after graduating, he is directing his first full show at a major theatre. The abusive relationship metaphor is one he employs to describe a lifestyle that often asks for far more than it gives.

To continue the comparison, it’s a relationship that can be very one-sided. Illustrator Karolin Schnoor took the risk of going freelance immediately after graduating. She says: “It can be quite isolating, and there’s no real sense of being part of the creative industry as such because you’re on your own.”

But there’s something about the creative industry that keeps people coming back, despite the knocks they invariably receive.

“I know some people who think of it as like a calling, a vocation,” says Bond. “Like they’re a monk, or a priest. Like it’s something that you get called to do and you can’t not do it.”

It’s a view shared by musician Sean Harrington. After many years in the music industry, including a stint as bassist for nineties punk rock band Pillbox, he is enjoying success as one half of a covers duo. When he reached a crossroads in his life, it was music that he turned to. “I came back from a year in Australia and thought: what is it I really love doing? And the answer was: playing music,” he says.

For many, however, the quest to realise their dreams barely even begins. Bond talks about the fate of some of his fellow drama students: “Everyone wanted to be an actor or a director. I’d say only about 10% are working professionally in that area.” Some, he explains, have gone off in loosely related directions like teaching or television, while others have left the world of theatre behind completely. “It’s just a case of how determined you are,” he says. “Some people try for a couple of months, or give themselves a deadline. Then they go and do something else.”

Cruelly, as Harrington’s experience demonstrates, your definition of success may change according to the parameters set by ‘real life’. “When I was in Pillbox, I felt like I was successful,” he says. “But how successful is it if I’m not making money from it?”

So what is the secret to a life of creative fulfilment and financial reward? For Bond, it is about perseverance and confidence – the belief that you are good enough.

Fortune, of course, also plays a part. “I was lucky in that I got a job on a Nokia campaign right out of university,” says Schnoor. “It paid well, so my immediate financial pressure wasn’t too great.”

Those who do make it would not have things any other way. Harrington says: “To be able to do something that I love, and make the most money I’ve ever made – yeah, it is like living the dream.”

Schnoor puts it succinctly: “The best thing about being an illustrator is that I love what I do and it fulfils me.”

But perhaps the most pleasing assessment of a career in the creative industry is provided by Confucius, whom Bond quotes during our conversation: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

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Derek Bond is currently directing Lost In Yonkers, which opens at Watford Palace Theatre in September.

Sean Harrington was bass guitarist for Pillbox, and now plays in several bands including the covers duo Never Mind The Bongos.

Karolin Schnoor’s illustration and design portfolio includes work for Nokia, Royal Doulton, Computer Arts and Creative Review.