FOOT IN THE DOOR #2: Olivia Zacharia

Lifestyle

Hello lovely readers!

Welcome back to the next instalment of ‘Foot in the Door’. Before we get going with today’s interview, I just wanted to take a mo to thank everyone for their kind words after the first FITD post went live. I was completely blown away by the positive response it received. You guys are the best.

Today’s guest is the outrageously talented Olivia Zacharia. I met Liv in 2016 through the University of Surrey’s Musical Theatre Society and we quickly became friends. She was a music student and I studied theatre (Avril Lavigne, Sk8r Boi style) but our common connection was the wonderful world of MT. Fast-forward four years and many creative projects later, Liv is truly thriving in post-uni life so I knew she would be the perfect person to chat to next.

I hope you enjoy!

Hello my lovely Liv! If you could just start off by introducing yourself in a couple of sentences that would be fab. Give us a little bit of background.

Sure! I’m Olivia. 22 years old. I’m a Musical Director [will be referred to as MD throughout] based in Kent and London. I studied Music at the University of Surrey. Currently, I’m a freelance MD, arranger, composer, all of that jazz…

Liv as Musical Director for the University of Surrey’s Musical Theatre Society’s 2019 production of ‘Bring It On: The Musical’

Oh, hello musical theatre pun. Had to sneak that one in there somewhere.

(Laughs) I know, I know.

So, what made you decide to pursue a Music degree?

Without meaning to sound really cliché, when I was 14/15, I knew I wanted to be a Musical Director which is kind of rare. It’s quite a niche job but because I went to a performing arts school, I was introduced to the role. My head was so focused on that that I knew I wanted to do my degree in Music and then go straight into it. It’s always been, ‘Liv the Musician’, that’s what you’re going to do, you know? So it was just always a thing.

Tell me a little bit more about how you discovered the MD role whilst at school.

Yeah, so I went to a performing arts school in Kent and we did a big show every year. They were doing Honk! [musical about the Ugly Duckling] when I was in Year 9/Year 10 and I was asked if I’d play the piano in the pit. I’ve always loved musicals but it was my first introduction into playing for a musical. Through that, I met the Musical Director who was actually a singing teacher at the school and I then became a rehearsal pianist. After that, I started to learn about Assistant MDing and gradually became aware of the MD role. So that was kind of my introduction to it. I just absolutely fell in love with the job.

How did you prepare for post-university life?

It’s hard with musical directing because you rarely see a job come up online. It’s very much about the network you have and who you know. I’ve always been very aware that that’s the situation. I spent most of my time at uni just trying to build up a network of people so that when I left, I felt really comfortable. If I didn’t have something planned, it would definitely feel like ‘what the hell am I doing?’. I just wanted to make sure I had a secure network. I sat in some pits in the West End and then I got the job at BYMT [Assistant Musical Director role] which I actually did find online…surprisingly (laughs).

You say it’s quite difficult to find music-related jobs online but if you were looking, where is the best place?

Genuinely, Twitter. I actually probably could relate every single piece of work I’ve had back to Twitter. More or less. Probably 90%.

That’s so interesting. I feel as if most people still don’t realise that Twitter can be utilised in terms of finding jobs and connecting with other creatives.

Yeah, absolutely! I remember being introduced to the #OVConnect which is actually where I found my agent. Loads of audition pianist jobs get put on Twitter because they’re usually needed quite last minute, if someone has dropped out. I’ve got a contract next year and I only got that because someone tagged me in a tweet. It’s crazy. Twitter is the one for me.

For the readers who might not know, could you briefly explain what #OVConnect is?

Yeah, sure. It stands for Old Vic Connect and it’s basically a hashtag that The Old Vic [theatre] set up to help new creatives meet each other. If you search the hashtag, it’s usually people saying “Hi I’m XXX and I do XXX. Look at my website here: XXX. Looking to connect with: XXX”. It’s a good way to put yourself out there as a new creative.

As a Theatre grad, I understand the importance of networking in order to secure jobs. How would you go about making those connections?

I mean, it is the sole way in. You’ve kind of gotta be a bit of a people person, which is hard. Everyone suffers with Imposter Syndrome when they’re networking but I think you just need to always say yes. The best way to connect is to find your favourite shows or people whose work you really like. Just message them and ask to go for a coffee. I think you need to make it clear that you’re interested in their work, not them getting you work. “I’m a new grad and I want a job from you,” tends to be less successful. The best way is honestly just emailing people, messaging them on social media seeing if they want to meet up.

Image taken by Eleanor Dickens

Is that how you managed to get some of your work in the West End pits?

Yeah! It was really weird. Here’s a little story-time…

My mum used to work in Sevenoaks and the auntie of the Associate Director of Matilda [the musical] used to shop in my mum’s shop all the time so they became really good friends. Through that connection, I managed to meet Lotte Wakeham and sit in at Sweet Charity at National Youth Music Theatre because she was directing it. I met two really cool MDs, Alex Aitken and Tom Deering and I remember Alex said to me “you should email MDs to get in the pit,” and I didn’t even know that was a thing. I had no idea that you could go to a West End pit. Especially at 15/16. I then messaged so many MDs and genuinely, they were all so lovely. They always responded. I sat in loads of pits and through that I got my name out there. I remember Nick Finlow, who is an absolute GOD MD, he is amazing. After I sat in with him, we kept in contact and he would let me play for him. It was just really lovely.

Say I’m a new Music grad and I want to message an MD to ask about sitting in the pit. What is the most appropriate way to do so?

I would avoid Instagram and Facebook because they’re very personal. That could come across quite unprofessional and also a little bit intrusive. If you’re going to message them on social media because that’s the only way you have to contact them, I think LinkedIn is very appropriate for that. Twitter, maybe. The best way is trying to find their email if you can. I know a lot of MDs put their CVs online so you can find them.

I’ve personally struggled finding direct email addresses for the creatives I’ve wanted to contact as many of them are represented by an agency. How would you approach that situation?

A lot of MDs I’ve emailed have actually been represented by someone so I’ve messaged their agent asking for them to pass the email on.

Do you think networking differs over email to in person? Is is easier to be a little braver over email?

Definitely.

When is the appropriate time, if you’re shadowing someone, to start up a conversation? It can sometimes feel like you’re interrupting them at work!

Normally, if you are shadowing someone they’ll take some time to chat to you and ask what you want to gain from the experience. Every single pit I’ve ever sat in, the MD has always been very accommodating. They’ll also usually introduce you to the whole pit. Sometimes you just kind of have to go for it and it’s really scary but you need to try and make that conversation with someone. I think it’s easier to do it in person, surprisingly, because you can read the situation a bit better. Just go for it! There’s no easy way.

Do you feel like it gets easier, the more you network?

You know what, with every credit that I get, I get a little bit more confident. Also, having an agent really does help because they sing your praises but if you haven’t got an agent, it’s still not the end of the world. You can still make those connections. With every job, it does get easier to sell yourself.

Definitely. Can you tell me a bit more about your work with BYMT (British Youth Music Theatre)?

Of course! So last year, I was offered the role of Assistant Musical Director on a new musical written by Clare Prenton and David Hewson called The Accidental Time Traveller. It’s based on a Scottish children’s book. It was a Christmas themed show which was crazy because we were doing it in August but we had two weeks to put it on. The first three days everyone was meeting each other, playing games, that kind of thing and then on the Wednesday, we cast the show through workshop auditions. It was just such a good experience, working with a team of professional creatives. I met some really lovely people on that show.

The Accidental Time Traveller poster taken from the BYMT website

It’s no secret that COVID has affected the theatre industry, which we won’t go into today – it’s a heavy topic! How are things generally with you? What have you got planned?

I did have a contract that was supposed to have been this year and obviously that was cancelled. It was Side Show. I think I can say that? Yeah, I think I can. But, it was the big West End revival and it would have been sick.

(*Literally fan-girling so hard*) OH MY GOD THAT IS INSANE!!!!

Yeah, so I had that and then coming up I have a contract next February which I can’t say anything about yet. Obviously I’m still looking for work at the moment just hoping something will come up. I have a BYMT show that has been postponed until next year so hopefully that will happen. Other than that, I’ve been focusing on the YouTube channel.

Yes! Tell me more about the YouTube covers. I still feel very privileged that I was in your first cover!

Essentially it all started because Jen [Paterson, a mutual friend] was looking for a new song for her portfolio and I was in the car…it’s really funny…I was in the car and This World Will Remember Us [song from the musical Bonnie & Clyde] came on. It was the first time I’d really heard it and I was like ‘Oh my god, it sounds just like Ben [Tomalin, another mutual friend] and Gee [me!] singing. I remember I text you saying “Jesus Christ, you literally sound like Laura Osnes!”

I remember receiving that text and thinking ‘is she DRUNK?!’ (laughs). [For the purpose of this interview, Liv is one of my most supportive friends and hypes me up more than anyone else I know. A real gem.]

I wasn’t drunk! So, I messaged Jen saying let’s do this song. Obviously, we then got you and Ben in and filmed it. The plan was always for it to go onto YouTube and for it to be the start of a series but we weren’t sure where exactly it would go. We posted it over ‘Lockdown’ and everyone loved it so much and a couple of weeks later we decided to try more covers.

I love it and I think it’s an amazing creative outlet for people to have during these wild times. Ok, so. Last question. If you could give one piece of advice to recent creative graduates, what would it be?

I think never ever turn down a job unless there is a huge reason why you can’t do it. You don’t know what it will lead to.

And that concludes this instalment of ‘Foot in the Door’. Thank you so much to Liv for giving up her time to chat with me about all of the unreal things she has achieved since graduating (and no doubt will continue to go on achieving). I will link all of Liv’s social media channels, including her YouTube chan with the INSANE covers that some of my other amazingly talented friends have featured on. Honestly, it’s a hard life.

As always, thanks so much for reading. I really hope this helped you gain an insight into another creative pathway that can be explored post-uni whilst busting some networking myths at the same time!

Until the next one,

Gee xxx

LIV’S SOCIALS:

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/oliviazacharia/?hl=en

YOUTUBE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTGyi41JnaJdwx6KuF9FzhQ

Foot in the Door #1

Lifestyle

Hello lovely readers!

Welcome to a new and (more than slightly) exciting mini-series on the old blog.

As a Theatre graduate, I have found navigating the job-hunting-scene a pretty merciless task. A lack of funding in the arts and thus, opportunities, has created an extremely saturated market. Essentially, there are too many people applying for not enough jobs. If it wasn’t already tricky enough, throw in a global pandemic and countless redundancies. Dreamy.

Having spoken to many peers, alumni and professionals about the difficulties of the job-game, I was (9 times out of 10) met with this response:

“You’ve just got to get your foot in the door.”

Foot poking through the opening of my kitchen door, I quickly realised that to secure my dream job (or let’s be real, just ANY job) it would take a little more than dramatically entering all of the rooms in my house. This phrase has come to haunt me over the post-graduate months so I started to mull over what it really means and how I could achieve it. “Getting your foot in the door” is essentially an umbrella term for networking your arse off, sending countless ignored emails out and learning that every single person you meet has the potential to know someone who knows someone who is the HR manager for the company you’re applying to. This phrase is pretty useless unless you are able to discover HOW to get your foot in the door. We need REAL EXAMPLES PEOPLE! All of this in mind, I decided to start this little series where I will be chatting to a whole variety of graduates – all from creative backgrounds – asking how they got their “foot in the door”. Hopefully, these posts will enable you to put in place some practical steps to start climbing up the job ladder. Your gal is here to help.

My first guest is the lovely Brontë Thomasson. Brontë (or more affectionately known as Bran) and I both studied together at university and I lived with her in my final year. I wanted to interview Bran as my first guest as she has had lots of different experiences since graduating, both pre and post-Covid-outbreak. I really hope you enjoy reading our chat and that you leave this post feeling slightly more informed about Brontë’s journey in such a way that you can reflect on your own.

DRUMROLL PLEASE! Here we go:

Hello, Brontë!

Hi! This is so exciting.

Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell the readers a bit about yourself. Who ARE you?

I’m Brontë. I’m 22 and I live in Brighton which is lovely. I’m currently doing some communication work for a non-profit in London as an Assistant which has been a really good experience. I also love food. I’ve really been getting into food blogging recently so may be looking to take that somewhere. We shall see. But in essence, I’m just a friendly, outgoing gal!

We love to see it! Did you go to university?

Yes! I studied Theatre and Performance.

What made you decide to choose Theatre as your area of study?

So, funnily enough I originally set out to study English Lit and Theatre. In my head, I thought I needed to do something more than just Theatre. I thought “ooo, if I add English into the mix it’ll make me more…what’s the word? Credible.”

Where do you think that thought originated from? That Theatre wasn’t a “credible” choice in its own right?

You know what? Answering that now, I actually have no idea. I think I just made it up in my head. My parents weren’t like “DON’T DO IT!” it was just me.

When you decided you were going to pursue Theatre, at that moment, did you have a certain career path in mind?

In the moment, that [Theatre] was what I wanted to do. It was my favourite subject at school, it’s what I did best in. I just loved it. Going into the degree, I had the classic “it would be great to be an actor” thought but to be honest, I had no clear direction.

Did you ever consider auditioning for drama school?

I did consider it but I really quickly put that to bed. It wasn’t for me.

As you progressed through university, did your career goal or vision change at all?

That’s a difficult one. I actually did think in my final year that theatre marketing would be cool which I did eventually try. But again, it was more that I wanted to see what happened once I’d finished.

How did you prepare for post-university life?

I think I kind of panicked and started applying for so many jobs. I remember the first job that I emailed about – I was in the middle of writing my disso at the time. But then, they replied saying “we’d need an immediate start” and that hadn’t occurred to me. For me, preparing was trying to get loads of applications out and keeping tabs on what was around. In terms of practicalities like housing or money, I honestly didn’t really have a plan.

I think that’s pretty normal! So, in terms of your job-hunting, how and where did you look for jobs?

I really got into looking at Arts Jobs. I’d been told that it was a great place for jobs in the arts. I think I started to get addicted to it! Maybe social media as well. I didn’t have any sense of LinkedIn or anything like that at this point. Luckily, the job that I did get when I graduated, I did find on Arts Jobs. So, I really do love it.

So Arts Jobs is the one! Love it. What did you / do you find the most difficult about applying for jobs?

Cover letters. Definitely the most difficult thing about applying for a job. One cover letter can sometimes take the whole day. Especially if you really want it. So, you can end up sending in a random one every now and then, hoping it makes sense. But that’s not good advice!

Do you have any tips for what makes a good cover letter from your experience?

Ooo, that’s a good question. So, what I’ve found, especially with the first job that I got, is really research the company and tailor the letter to how their values match up with your own.

I’ve found sometimes when applying for jobs, it can feel a little robotic if you are stating facts about the company to prove you have researched them. Surely, they will already know these things. How do you seamlessly weave in your research without it feeling forced?

I think using personal examples. Again, for my first job, the place where I worked really valued equality and inclusion and at the time, at uni, I was creating a piece surrounding racial inequality so I really wound that all together in the cover letter. This is what you believe in, this is what I’m doing right now and that is why we would be a great match.

How long did it take you to secure your first role post-uni?

I was very lucky in the sense that I already had a job lined up. I actually graduated mid-job.

Can you tell us a bit more about your first job? What sorts of things did you get up to?

So, I was a Marketing Assistant at Kiln Theatre in North London. I was helping with the day-to-day running of the social media accounts, designing artwork, marketing for their cinema and I did a really cool project called People of Kilburn where I interviewed local people and uploaded it onto the Instagram page. I loved it.

Brontë’s ‘PEOPLE OF KILBURN’ project

It’s probably worth mentioning that this was a fixed-term position as (whilst it was extended from 3 to 6 months) it wasn’t viable for the theatre to take on a permanent member of staff for the role. Post-Kiln, did you feel an advantage having experienced your first role as opposed to being new on the job-hunting scene?

If you’d asked me this pre-COVID, I would have said yes definitely. I actually got quite a few interviews after Kiln. Even if they weren’t related to what I’d done, companies were still interested in my experience. But now, I don’t really think it makes a difference. There are so many people applying for jobs. At the time, it helped a bit but now, no.

It’s no secret that COVID has devastated many industries, particularly the arts. Has this had any effect on you personally?

I have personally felt the effect. After Kiln, I started working in Influencer Marketing around March time. I literally had a week and a half in the office and then we all got sent to work from home. That was meant to be a six-month contract but because of COVID and finances and the changing of roles now that everyone was working from home, they didn’t really need my role anymore so I was let go two months earlier than planned. That kind of left me up in the air. If I’d seen the whole contract through, I would have only just finished now. I’ve been unemployed for two months.

How has this made you feel about the stability of the arts industry? Has it made you reconsider your chosen profession at all?

I think subconsciously I have moved away from looking at jobs in the arts. I’ve started looking at jobs that are more home-based or centred around social media. It feels even less safe than before applying for jobs in the arts because you don’t know if they’re going to let you go again.

So, what’s next for Brontë? You’re currently working a two-week placement role now. What are your plans for the future?

I want to take my time and really think about what I actually want to do. I’m really looking to take my food blog further. I’ve been having a lot of fun with that recently. If I do go back into the arts, I really want to be able to help people. I’d love to do community work. Even working for this charity for the past week has been a really humbling experience. But, who knows! I really can’t say a certain plan at this time.

What’s the name of the charity you’re working for?

It’s complicated but the full name is Daughters of Charity.

Last question! The big boy. What is your one, golden piece of advice for creative graduates trying to navigate the world of job-hunting?

Again, on a very practical note, make sure your CV is a good design. Make sure it stands out. Switch up the colours. Make it fancy. Only one page of A4!

And there we have it! The first instalment of ‘Foot in the Door’ is finito. If you made it this far, congrats. I’d love to thank my gorgeous Bran for agreeing to be the guinea pig as my first interviewee! I really hope you enjoyed learning about her post-uni journey. Please check out her socials:

INSTAGRAM: @bronteisa & @brontesbrunchnbites

Until next time, my lovely readers!

Gee xxx

FOLLOW ME ON MY SOCIALS:

INSTAGRAM: @geeblogs

TWITTER: @geeblogs