Education & Family

'It's not just about performing'

Jenny Agutter with Pimlico Academy pupils
Image caption "Enjoying acting is not the same as being in the business of acting," says Jenny Agutter

"Speed-dating" careers fairs may be fairly common - but they don't usually feature actors from a leading TV show.

Jenny Agutter, Helen George and Jessica Raine, from BBC One's Call the Midwife, were among those who took part in the fair with a difference in London this week.

The aim of the event - and the Inspiring Women campaign that organised it - was to show teenage girls that there are many different careers in the arts field and performing isn't the only possibility.

Ms Agutter, who plays Sister Julienne, was keen to find out what teenagers Nicola and Daniella really wanted to do with their lives.

"I enjoy acting," said Nicola, 14, but admitted, "when I was five I wanted to be in charge of an ice-cream van."

"That's a good one," said Ms Agutter.

"That's non-sexist which is pretty good because you could be a man or woman in charge of a really good ice-cream van," she added.

Yes, but what about acting? The film star had a warning for the girls: "Enjoying acting is not the same as being in the business of acting."

Career perceptions

Ms Agutter was one of 150 women at the Tate Modern to broaden the perceptions of 850 teenage girls from state schools about careers in the arts sector.

The Railway Children star, who was talent-spotted at the age of 11, told the girls she was probably not a great person to ask about how to become an actor, "because I kind of fell into my work".

"What I have learned though is that you need a very thick skin, you need to be able to take rejection, you are at the mercy of everyone else.

"As an actor you are very much at the end of it all, but if you are driven to act, if it's the only thing that you feel that you want to do, then it is a wonderful job," she added.

Image copyright Jim Stokes
Image caption Call the Midwife stars - Helen George, Jessica Raine and Jenny Agutter - talked about life on screen

The event was about helping girls find a place for themselves in the arts, according to Amanda Berry, chief executive of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta).

"It's not just about being in front of the camera but about all the jobs that happen behind the camera as well," she pointed out.

Ms Berry acknowledged that in some areas, for example the games industry, there were still very few women.

"Games are used equally by males and females and yet the percentage of females working in games is absolutely tiny, because girls, for some reason, don't see it as a career for them," she said.

'Proper jobs'

Ms Berry was also concerned that girls whose families did not consider careers in the arts or the media as "proper jobs" should not give up their dreams of working in the industry.

"If your parents want you to be a lawyer or an accountant, then study law or accountancy and you can become a production accountant or a production lawyer across film, television or games," she pointed out.

The event also gave the teenagers the chance to talk to women in the early stages of their careers.

One such person was Rosie Ball, 24, who is a games producer with a company called Chucklefish.

It employs just 13 people, of whom just under half are women.

"The job I'm doing now didn't exist 10 years ago," Ms Ball said.

Image copyright Jim Stokes
Image caption The "speed-dating" event filled Tate Modern's turbine hall

She pointed out that the games industry was changing, with smaller companies more likely to employ women than the established ones that produce the "big titles".

"They were really keen to know more about it because it's such a fun place to work," she said of the young girls who spoke to her.

"I get to work with my friends every day and make amazing things and I get to draw all the time - it's the kind of thing I used to want to do when I was their age.

"So it was nice seeing their positive response to the fact that it's a job," she added.


Ms Ball believes that in the past some girls might have been put off careers in games because they thought they would have to know how to programme computers.

Programming wasn't on the curriculum when she was at school, meaning she had to teach herself.

Her career started by studying games art and design at Norwich Arts University.

There she won Bafta's award for young games designers and went to work as a games artist for Disney for three years, before joining Chucklefish.

She says she has not experienced sexism, but has occasionally worked in places where she has been uncomfortable.

"I haven't felt respected and I was a bit afraid of what it would be like to stay working there," she explained.

"So my advice to any of those girls I met today, if you ever come across bullying or discrimination, either about your gender or about your ideas, or anything, just keep looking because there will be people who you connect with."

Persistence, along with flexibility, was also a key piece of advice for the girls from Amanda Berry.

"You don't start where you want to end up. Looking back I can see that every job I have done has helped me do the job I am doing today.

"So do dare to dream, but, if you don't get there immediately, don't worry because everything you do will help," she said.

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