An Actor's Guide to Getting Radio Work
Katie Redford's insider guide to breaking into radio
I really do believe radio is one of the most creatively fulfilling mediums to work in. It’s a lot of fun, you get to play an enormous range of characters that you’d never be able to in any other medium, plus you get to wear your PJs to work! (I’ve never actually done this nor seen anyone do it, but I suppose it wouldn’t cause any harm…?)
When I was little, my parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I don’t think they thought I’d take it quite as literally as I did when in one of my first ever jobs in radio, I played a t-shirt. Yes, I was the voice of a t-shirt. I was a bit thrown by the Director’s notes too:
“Yeah, we’re not feeling it. Can you sound a bit more… like a t-shirt?”
Radio is a fascinating genre and I feel extremely fortunate to currently be a part of it. It’s a medium that so many established, highly respectable actors such as Sheila Hancock, Amelia Bullmore, Daniel Mays, amongst many more, work in time and time again. When Bill Nighy was recently awarded an award for his services to radio drama, he said: “I am as proud of my involvement in radio as of anything in my professional life. Long may it provide its unparalleled service and entertainment.”
The thing is though, how on earth do you crack a career in it? It’s tricky enough to break through this industry anyway, but radio almost seems to be in its own bracket. Here a few suggestions that hopefully will help get the ball rolling for you.
This sounds screamingly obvious, but it’s surprising how many people who want a career in radio don’t actually listen to any of the output. I used to think radio drama was only for the older generation (my nan, basically). I didn’t think it would have much for me, however, when I was involved in the audition process for the Norman Beaton Fellowship, I listened to tons of it and I honestly fell a little bit in love with it. Not all of it, but most of it. There’s something incredibly intimate about listening to an actor telling a story and it feeling as though you’re the only person they’re telling it to. There’s something quite magical about walking home via the crowded streets in the pouring rain, whilst your mind, due to the help of the sound effects and characters, manages to escape to a tropical destination…
Listen to an afternoon play and get a feel for what you like/dislike. What is it about the choices the actor makes that you believe/don’t believe? What is it about the play that’s drawing you in/disengaging you? And then, comes the next important step…
At the end of each play you’ll hear who has produced it. Make sure you listen to enough of the play before you contact them! Do your research and then email them. Tell them what you listened to and explain how you’d like to get into radio. If you have a voice reel, use this as an opportunity to send it to them. Producers in radio have many other roles; they’re also often the casting director, the director and the script editor and are also involved in the edit. They have a huge job on their hands and they love hearing from people who not only love their work but also share their enthusiasm for the genre. So just make sure you take the time out to listen, to do your research and get in touch.
If you’re in a stage production or have something coming up for screen, let producers know. Before I worked in radio, I’d have never thought to include radio producers on my list of people to contact to invite to the show, but I wish I had done. And just as you would with any other mail out, give them enough notice. Don’t forget to contact independent (“indie”) production companies too. There’s been a recent agreement with radio production that states the BBC must make a minimum 60% of ‘relevant’ hours (i.e. non-news and news-related current affairs, repeats etc) open to competition from both in-house and indie producers. Again, like everything, research and find out a bit more about indie production companies. You can find a list of some of the independent companies here.
Apply to fellowships
In 2015, I won the Norman Beaton Fellowship. This is a scheme run by BBC Drama that is aimed at broadening the range of actors available to Radio Drama producers across the UK. I landed a 6 month contract with The BBC Radio Drama Rep Company and during those 6 months, I had the opportunity to play so many different parts - parts I’d never get to play for stage or screen. Being blonde, 5’ 4” and clearly from the Midlands, I’d never pull off the hispanic, intimidating ring leader in charge of a 20th century street gang (not sure I pulled it off in radio to be honest, but you get where I’m coming from).
The Norman Beaton Fellowship is specifically aimed at actors who haven’t trained at an accredited drama school. It’s run along side The Carleton Hobbs, which is a scheme aimed at students who are in drama school training. If this applies to you, just make sure your passion for radio is heard so that you’re considered to audition! The NBF work with various regional theatres in the UK such as: Birmingham Rep, Bolton Octagon; Dundee Rep; New Vic Stoke; Tamasha; Talawa; Kabosh, Northern Ireland; Graeae Theatre Company; Yellow Earth Theatre; Theatre Royal Stratford East; The Oval House, London; West Yorkshire Playhouse; Nottingham Playhouse; Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; Contact Theatre, Manchester; Lyric Theatre, Belfast, the Liverpool Everyman, and more.
These theatres help radio drama with the search for new talent. Have a look at the full list of theatres on their website and enquire directly via them. The audition process usually begins around October but it’s worth just double checking every now and then. There are also blogs and interviews with previous actors who have won or been shortlisted for the scheme, so if you are interested in applying, it’s definitely worth having a look.
Volunteer for audio books
There are a tons of audio book companies out there for which you can volunteer. I know we all need to make a living, and there is good money to be made from doing audio books. However, realistically, if you’re not experienced in the voiceover world and you want to gain experience and contacts, it’s a good route to take. Besides, what a lovely way to spend a few hours: in a studio, with a book, a mic and your imagination. The words are right in front of you and you have the luxury of creating this world for the listener!
A few months ago, I did some voluntary work for a charity run company. I was the voice of a mouse who was trying to track down her grandfather in the city of Naples (as you do, when you’re a mouse) and then had to rush off to go and audition to be a drunk bride in Holby. Variety is the spice of life and all that. Do your research and contact audio book companies. Even for the unpaid, charity-run ones, you’d still need a voice reel or an example of your work to present to them.
Good luck! I really do believe radio is one of the most creatively fulfilling mediums to work in. It’s a lot of fun, you get to play an enormous range of characters that you’d never be able to in any other medium, plus you get to wear your PJs to work! (I’ve never actually done this nor seen anyone do it, but I suppose it wouldn’t cause any harm…?). I’m now in my second year of working in radio, (which is absolutely nothing in radio years) and I’m fully aware I still have lots to learn in this magical, enchanting world of radio drama… speaking of which, if anyone out there has managed to perfect the art of sounding like a t-shirt, do get in touch. There may be a job in it for you.
Katie Redford is an actress & writer originally from Nottingham, and part of the BBC New Talent Hotlist 2017. Katie won the BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship in 2015 via Birmingham Rep. She was part of the BBC Radio Drama Company and is now currently playing Lily Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and Ruby Tuliver in BBC Radio 4’s Home Front. She can also be heard as Layla in BBC Radio Comedy’s All Those Women.
Image credit: BBC Radio Drama and Katie Redford