Fall is upon us, and with it the feeling of a fresh start to the year, when people return from vacation and new school terms begin. Despite the continued political uncertainty, there is still something about this time of year that feels like the opening of a new chapter, and for those of us in the entertainment industry, where self-employed schedules don’t necessarily follow the more regular schedules of vacations, holidays, or even weekends off, this is still a great time of year to blow away the cobwebs and think about refreshing our approach.


Maybe your photos are a little outdated. Perhaps your showreel features work so old you are in a different playing age now or even playing type. (Or maybe there’s no reel at all.) And when was the last time you updated your Spotlight CV? Now might be a good time to have a look.


Another thing to think about is strengthening any skills you may have and exploring new ones. Whether it’s a language or a sport or a different part of the industry that you haven’t explored before such as stand-up comedy or playwriting, classes or workshops can be a brilliant way to support your professional development as a performer, and this is the perfect time of year to enroll. It may have been awhile since you’ve done a job of a certain type or one that requires a certain skill; or perhaps there’s an area you’d like to work in but you don’t know how to begin or what skills you need. Or maybe it’s simply that you want to keep your overall skills in shape between jobs, ready for that audition that will appear suddenly; or even, for the social aspect, feeling part of a community and working with like-minded people, to help combat the loneliness or isolation that can come when not on a job. There are many excellent reasons to sign up.


However, with so many organizations clamoring for an actor’s money these days, it can be a bit of a minefield knowing which are going to provide you with something of value and possibly be helpful in gaining work, and which are going to be a waste of time and cash. Here are a few things to consider before you part with your money.


First of all, do your homework. Have you heard of the organization, group, or tutor offering the classes, seminars, or workshops? More importantly, are they respected by people you know and trust, who work steadily in that area? Do some internet research and ask around. What is their reputation? Have people who have signed up in the past been happy with what they got out of it? How much of a financial commitment is required? Does what you come away with justify the cost?


This last is a particularly important point to consider. Being a performer is already an expensive business, what with Spotlight, photos, showreels, travel costs, self-tape equipment, Equity dues, and so on. If you are going to fork out more hard-earned cash on top of this, really think about what you will come away with, especially if it’s paying just to meet someone. Will that session lead immediately to a high-profile job, after you dazzle the tutors with your talent? Or, more likely, will it just give you a basic overview of that part of the industry or some solid advice from someone who won’t necessarily use you in future projects? Be realistic about your expectations, and if what is on offer will be enough for you to justify the expense.


Be especially wary of any organization that makes big promises about guaranteed auditions or jobs and/or wants you to make a serious financial commitment. It’s not a good idea to pay a great deal of money up front or  to take out a subscription or membership for something on an ongoing basis, that in the end doesn’t really enhance your career, with no concrete outcomes. If you do decide to sign up for something like this, make sure of the terms beforehand and make a note to review your membership on a regular basis to decide whether you are seeing the results promised. There are a number of scams out there, and unfortunately, the union can’t protect you if you willingly part with your money for a service that isn’t what you expected, though by all means let them know if you are feeling pressured, threatened or coerced.


That said, there are some reputable places to consider, starting with the Actor’s Centre in central London, www.actorscentre.co.uk .  Although there is an annual membership fee, this gives you access to subsidized classes and workshops in a wide range of areas, everything from scene study to accent surgeries to camera technique, and is also a terrific way to meet other actors. Another surprisingly rich source of classes is BECS, associated with Equity, which runs training courses for performers  in languages, mind fitness, and self-taping at reduced rates. More information is on their website, www.becs.org.uk.


If you are London-based, another excellent establishment is the City Lit, www.citylit.ac.uk , which offers classes in a dizzying array of subjects throughout the year. In addition to their reputable performing arts programme, their vast class schedule covers everything from creative writing to building a website, so is well worth looking into for anyone wanting to dip their toe into a different subject. There are also many other academic institutions throughout the UK that offer evening classes, part of Britain’s rich heritage of further education.


And once you have attended the course and feel comfortable in your newly mastered skill – don’t forget to update your CV!