Careers in music: actor-musician

Performers on stage - careers as an actor-musician
Richard is an actor and musician, whose roles usually combine acting and musical performance. Learn about his career and how he got into it.

Richard de Winter trained in musical theatre. He works freelance (which involves being hired by lots of different organisations for short periods of time), taking on roles as an actor, musician or actor-musician, which combines the two.

What types of roles do you perform in?

There’s a real variety in terms of my work – some roles are purely acting-based, and I do some choral singing which requires no acting at all – but I would say most of my work combines music and performance in some element. I do mainly live rather than recorded performing; most recent theatre roles have either involved me playing at least one instrument and/or singing, and I sing with a couple of early music groups, with story-telling through song and readings as part of the programmes.

Do you have any jobs you do regularly?

I work exclusively on a freelance basis, although I have a number of jobs which, while not guaranteed, provide a fairly reliable source of work during the year. The main two are singing in a choir in Marylebone on Sunday mornings, and working during the week for a company that provides live historical interpretation (first person historical characters performing scenarios and interacting with the public) and schools programmes at heritage sites.

How did you get into a career as an actor-musician?

In terms of getting in to the career, I did a one-year postgraduate course in musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music. I have sung since the age of seven (I was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral), so music was probably always going to be part of my career. I didn’t get into acting until I was at university studying French and Italian, and, for lack of any other idea of what to do with my life, ended up applying for the Royal Academy.

I would say this is a fairly typical path into acting/singing. Most of my actor friends did an undergraduate degree (some in drama, some in something else), before doing a postgraduate course (one or three years) at a drama school. I’m glad I did so, as it broadened my horizons somewhat, and I think even that few years of extra maturity helps when training as an actor. Singing-wise, most of my singing friends studied music at university (although not all), before doing a postgraduate course at music college. I have one friend who did an undergraduate degree in voice at music college, and he says that was a terrible decision, as his voice wasn’t mature enough to cope with that level of singing, and emotionally he found the pressure very hard to deal with at that young an age. If you’re at university, then there are always theatre groups/choirs/film makers around to help develop your interest and skills.

What are the positives and negatives about your job?

The best bit about my job is the variety. Some weeks I’m doing something different every day, which keeps things fresh. It’s also wonderful to do something you actively love as a job. I really enjoy the freedom that being a freelancer brings, and the ability to work at my own speed, in my own time.

The downsides are that you have to learn self-discipline very quickly, and the lack of security. Not knowing what you’re doing from one month to the next isn’t for everyone. At the moment, my diary for August is almost totally empty, but experience has taught me not to worry, it’ll soon fill up.

What skills or qualities do you need to be an actor-musician?

In terms of skills or personal qualities, beyond the obvious ones of being able to sing and act, I would say reliability, punctuality and kindness. This is a massively over-subscribed industry – if you’re late or under-prepared, you won’t get hired again. However, if you’re friendly and easy to get along with, then you’re far more likely to get hired in the first place, and then asked back. You also need resilience, as it’s not easy getting rejected from audition after audition (which will happen, however good you are).

What advice would you give to aspiring actor-musicians?

For acting, be persistent. So many brilliant actors have failed to get into drama schools on their first attempt. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, it just means you weren’t right for that particular year’s intake. Ensure you keep up any outside skills you have, as there will be periods of inactivity where you will need to earn a living somehow. And if you play an instrument, make sure you keep that up – at the moment actor-musician shows are very popular, so you’re immediately improving your chances of getting a job. And make sure you continue to enjoy it.

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