Monday 26 October 2015

2 inspire Network Men's Special Profile: John Byrne - Theatre & Entertainment Industry Careers Advisor

John Byrne combines his own successful career as a writer, artist and broadcaster with his work as Entertainment Industry Career Advisor for The Stage newspaper, helping a wide range of actors, singers, presenters and artists develop their careers. In addition to his Stage work he runs Actors Business Plan workshops and one to one sessions across the country. He is associate director of New Wonder Management a talent agency representing a diverse range of established and emerging artists as well as a tutor for the London Art College, and is also a huge draw (pun intended!) at festivals nationwide with his Learn to Draw Cartoons Live show. 
Image by Kirstin Reddington

What is a typical working day for you?
I’ve always been an early riser, so it’s good to get the creative work done at the least ‘distraction heavy’ time of the day. I’ll usually start the day with a short period of prayer and meditation, focusing both on the day ahead, but also on what I am grateful for from the day just gone. You can always find something, even in a difficult period, and when you do, you start the new day on a much more positive and hopeful note. I tend to divide my day between mornings where I work on my own projects, which might range from Journalism for The Stage or Cartoons for Private Eye and other publications, as well as more long term script and book work.  Afternoons are the time when other people’s projects and careers are more the focus. There are often theatre shows or events to attend in the evening, so I try to take some time out around lunchtime to go for a walk, as having your bum on a seat all day is never a good thing!  Not every day is typical, but probably the one thing I have learned in almost 30 years of self-employment is that keeping to good routines and systems as much as you can is pretty essential.

What made you start the business and what steps did you take to start operating as a business?
I realised I was spending as much time consulting with other people on advancing their arts careers as I was working on my own. Economically, I had the choice to either focus solely on me or to try and make the advisory side at least cover its costs. I set up a website as the ‘Showbusiness Life Coach’ (Cringe!) in the early days of the net, and got a surprising number of clients…but in working with them I realised that what arts people need most is not big ‘lifecoachy’ visions and ideas (they are already good at those) but very practical business advice and support to make a practical plan and stick with it until they see results.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
As I have been advising and mentoring for almost two decades now, the best feeling is being able to feature successful performers in my Stage column whose stories can inspire others, knowing that I may have once given those people their first press coverage or helped with their own original career plan.

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
The biggest challenge is doing business ethically in the entertainment and arts industry and making it work-you can quite easily create a business ripping off people who have acting, singing or writing dreams-they will pay huge amounts of money (often way outside what they can afford) for workshops, seminars and ‘secrets’ most of which are of no practical value. I don’t want to be yet another person who takes advantage of that. In addition to offering quality support, I try to make my service affordable to people who are on a low budget. That can involve creative thinking whether it is linking up with government training organisations or industry events (so that they fund the work and the clients can access at low cost) or doing the occasional ‘pay what you can’ day of one to one sessions.

John with recent participants at an Actors Business Plan Workshop held at Spotlight in London.
What are your future plans for the business?
I’m keen to explore using the power of the net and social media to reach more people, but without losing the ‘human touch’. The arts can be a very lonely business and often it is contact with just one other person who is actually on their side which actors and singers-even very famous ones- most need.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Interesting question-when I started off as a cartoonist and comedy writer in Ireland, there was no internet so I had to physically come to London to find work. If I was starting now, I often wonder if I could have stayed in Ireland and worked from there. I love Ireland, but I have met so many wonderful people over here that I certainly don’t regret having had to make the move.

What’s the best compliment you could receive in business?
While most of the work I do is helping people to achieve goals, occasionally performers have decided not to do something, even to the extent of turning down what on the surface have been financially attractive offers, because I felt the jobs were ultimately not in their best interest.

One person even turned down a major prime-time TV spot because I felt it was setting her up rather than building her up. I am always really grateful and humbled by that level of trust.

Why is it so important to inspire the next generation to follow their dreams?
Hard work is important, but it is hope which inspires hard work. So many young people are told ‘somebody like you can never achieve something like that’. Without playing down the work and sacrifice which might be involved we need to reassure them that though not everybody starts with equal opportunity, everybody has equal value and the right to our support in creating more diverse opportunities to even that balance. 

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?  It is neither easy nor impossible. It’s both an art form and a business and to succeed, your time and focus needs to be divided sensibly between being your best at both.
What or who inspires you in business and why?  My wife Lola Williams is going to say I am only picking her because she is my wife, but that’s not true. She is an excellent actress who has juggled her talent, her work as a high level programme director and the needs of the family for years, and who, as the director of the New Wonder agency is hugely and genuinely committed to supporting other artists in developing their own careers, based on the lessons she has learned building her own.
She can also work late into the night to finish a project, and then watch her favourite crime shows, which as a morning person who is fit for nothing but dreamland by 11pm, is a constant source of wonder to me!
John and his wife Lola Williams at the National Television Awards
What is your favourite inspirational quote? 
It’s not really a quote as much as something I occasionally hear God whispering to me whenever I realise that I’m not half as calm, positive and in control as my ‘public’ self likes to pretend: ‘’Relax…I’ve GOT this.’’ God probably has to whisper this quite often-it’s just that I usually have to get to the end of myself to be ready to listen.
Contact details:
John’s performing careers website:
John’s cartoon website:
New Wonder Management Website:
Twitter: @dearjohnbyrne
The Stage newspaper
John Byrne is originally from Dublin Ireland, and his work in the arts encompasses regular journalism and cartooning for a wide range of publications such as The Stage, Private Eye, The Guardian, Media Week, The Bookseller and many more. He has authored over 40 books for publishers ranging from Random House to Harper Collins including Writing Comedy (now in its 4th edition) and Learn to Draw Cartoons which reached 12 editions. Broadcast work has included on air and behind the scenes roles for BBC, Nickelodeon, Five and Virgin, while theatrical work has included Opera, Comedy and Musical Theatre. In John’s careers role, he regularly speaks at venues ranging from The Guildhall, Portsmouth University, University of Cumbria, The Brits School, Stanmore College, NSDF, Surviving Actors, Perform and The Edinburgh Festival, often in conjunction with Drama UK, Spotlight and other industry bodies. Hi ongoing work for The Stage involves regularly interviewing successful performers and industry leaders across the domestic and international scene (currently 1200 plus and counting), as well as contributing to publications and broadcasts ranging from Young Performer magazine to the Actors Podcast and the popular In Anything Blog.

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