How networking whilst studying can lead to a choice of industry opportunities

Janeel Brown explains how connecting with industry professionals in Birmingham theatres led to him being offered not one, but five job offers following his recent graduation from our Applied Theatre course.

Janeel Brown

One of the most important things the course has taught me is the importance of being able to network and connect with potential future employers. From the very beginning of my second year I’ve been able to consistently get industry-relevant freelance work that fits around my course commitments simply because I’ve had conversations with working professionals, and this is how I have been able to get involved in extracurricular groups like the Lightpost Theatre Company.

‘Constructed’ was a play staged at the Birmingham REP Theatre co-directed by CJ Lloyd Webley and Mathias Andre, the two newly appointed artistic leaders of Lightpost Theatre Company. The play explores the culture of working-class black men in Britain, and unpicks the challenges that face manual workers both on site and at home. The play revolves around a group of construction workers that face the prospect of yet another temporary site manager on their failing construction site.

When thousands of pounds worth of tools are stolen, relationships are strained even further and company manager Marlon decides to bring his son Ethan (played by me) onto the site as an 'undercover' apprentice. As fingers are pointed and paranoia sets in, the brotherhood of co-workers are tested to their absolute limits.

The play was in development for over a year and had to be postponed multiple times due to the many lockdown restrictions we faced which limited our ability to rehearse and perform as a company. We initially had the idea of creating a piece around Ancient Egyptian kings; our show before ‘Constructed’ was called ‘Brummie Iliad’, which was a play about the Greeks and Trojans. Then CJ was brought into the REP and commissioned to write a piece of theatre for Lightpost, and took the wise creative decision to write a first draft of a play that was completely different to ‘Brummie Iliad’ and that was more relevant to modern times. From this first draft of the script, we had multiple research and development phases where we would improvise to develop both the narrative and characters that featured in the play.

Lightpost Theatre Company was formed by former Applied Theatre graduate Philip Morris after getting an internship at the Birmingham REP after graduation. In 2015, Birmingham Repertory Theatre took part in an initial pilot scheme Up My Street, a partnership project funded by Mind, to help strengthen mental health in young black men through theatre. This scheme was developed in response to statistics that showed young black men in the UK are much more likely to develop serious mental illness than any other demographic group. Motivated by the scheme, the participants formed Lightpost Theatre Company. Addressing the effects of racism, discrimination, negative self-image and invisibility, Lightpost Theatre Company helps to strengthen the mental health resilience and wellbeing of those involved, improve self-belief, raise mental health awareness, assist personal development, and encourage inclusion and friendship.

With three years' funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, Lightpost Theatre Company has since welcomed hundreds of participants aged 18-26 from across the West Midlands who have gone on to create their own productions, perform to sell-out audiences, gain employment and training within the industry and create new leaders for a new generation of members. I joined Lightpost in the beginning of 2019 during my first year of university, as a result of talking to Philip after watching a play that he performed in.

Due to the pandemic I was really worried about finding and securing industry relevant work after finishing my studies. However, since finishing university I have had a total of five job offers – four of which I’ll be taking on – from people in my professional network who have been waiting for me to finish university so that I have the time to work on their projects. Most of these opportunities have come from my involvement in Lightpost Theatre Company and the Birmingham Rep. In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be running a summer school for Year 3-6 students at a primary school, and create a piece of theatre with them. I will also be taking a more leadership role in a strand of Lightpost called ‘Lightbearers’, which is a series of workshops to be developed by black mentors, working alongside teachers in mainstream schools to jointly articulate their experiences and create a strategy for change. I am also working as an Assistant Producer on the research and development phase of a performance piece called ‘Platform Tales’, looking at how the railway system serves us as the people who use it, and we are looking to hopefully get the funding for the performance to go ahead next year for the Commonwealth Games 2022.

I intend to maintain my connection with the Applied Theatre course at RBC so that I can advise current students about the endless opportunities that are available within the industry when they graduate.

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