BA Music and Arts Management (2010)
After graduating in 2010, Jamie Nichols continued to work as an actor before, in 2012, opting for a business oriented role as a TV, Theatre and Film talent agent with A&J Management. Having spent nearly two years representing actors, he was then approached by the writer/director of critically acclaimed play 'Gutted' with the offer of a run at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The title role in stage biopic 'Houdini', penned by BAFTA winner Stuart Brennan, soon followed.
What made you choose Middlesex University?
For me, the location was the first thing; living in Enfield it was really handy for me. I was looking at other Universities relatively nearby and having had a look around Middlesex, one of the main things for me was the absolutely stunning grounds at Trent Park. I fell in love with the place during my very first visit.
As well as loving the grounds of the campus, I was also aware that Middlesex had such a brilliant reputation for the Arts, Sport and Education. Everything I had heard beforehand had said to me that Middlesex was the top place to study all of those subjects and more.
What attracted you to your course and made you apply?
Having worked as an actor since my teens, I was often out of school working as much as I was in school and by the time choosing a University course came I was keen to expand my knowledge of the business side of things. I had a keen interest in music, and whenever I had a contract come through for any work I was doing I always found myself really interested to read through it and see what it said, trying to understand the technicalities etc.
I also knew that as an aspiring actor that I should have a sideline to fall back on, and I had the vague idea that perhaps I could manage, promote or create a band or something in that field and that I'd certainly enjoy it. I looked at other universities' courses and programmes on offer at the time, but the degree at Middlesex was specifically management based for music and the arts, which was ideal; I couldn't have found a course more suited to what I wanted to study. That, along with the perfect location, was what made me commit to applying. I'm glad I did!
What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?
Wow, where to start! My first thought is of the visiting lecturers, this was something that I really enjoyed. I remember a visiting lecturer we had who ran his own Latin record label, Mario. He would come in weekly to see us, he'd show us contracts he was working on at the time and tell us about the goings on at his label. That was a real highlight for all of us on the course and his visits always left us feeling excited about our potential careers ahead. I remember wanting to 'be' this guy and it really fired me up in my studies.
All of our lecturers and course leaders were successful Composers, Musicians, Managers, Promoters, Publishers etc so they were working in these roles (or had previously done so) that we were aspiring to. This, for me, was a highlight as we were all desperate to get out there and begin work using our new skills and knowledge.
What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?
I always remember turning up for seminars or lectures, parking up the car and walking across the idyllic Trent Park to where I needed to be for the day's session. Along the way I'd be listening to the musicians and actors rehearsing in The Orangery building where we were based. Whether it was drummers, jazz ensembles, choirs or actors I could hear jamming; there was such a great atmosphere around the place with all of these people that I was hoping to work with in the business once I graduated. I get such a positive nostalgia thinking about my time there.
What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?
OK, so while studying at Middlesex I worked a full-time job too. At times this was tricky, don't get me wrong, and I had to tailor things to fit and complement each other properly with no negative effect. But on the flip side, it also made me heavily regimented and disciplined with my time.
I found that others on my course perhaps had 'too much' time on their hands, were often too relaxed and so often less productive than I felt I was. I never had this problem and in a sense it kept me sharp and 'on time' by having so much to do all the time. For that reason I'd say keeping a good work-study balance, and making this work involved in a relevant field to your studies if possible, can be really effective as long as you don't let it impede negatively on your studies by taking up all of your time.
I also found that I had so much more experience to draw upon within my studies because of what I was doing vocationally alongside my course at Middlesex. I was already building my CV while studying for my degree, and ultimately this evidence of discipline, commitment and work ethic can only help you post-graduation when you have potential employers to woo and impress.
Why did you decide to make the initial move to become an agent?
I've always been interested by the business side of things and I figured that this seemed a natural thing to try at some point in my working life. I'm glad I experienced working for such a fantastic company with Joanne McLintock at A&J Management. Being on the other side of the coin as an Agent was immensely educational; discovering new talent, creating effective strategies and techniques to ensure our various clients' success, keeping informed of industry trends and deals, conferring with clients on a regular basis to develop strategies for their individual and ever-changing careers, outlining actions to be taken by them, by us on their behalf, and by both of us to achieve maximum marketing advantage… these were just a selection of the things that I relished being a part of and would one day like to do again at some stage.
What made you go back to acting?
Having worked as an agent for about 18 months, things were going really well, I was getting some great feedback and really enjoying the role. Then a producer called out of the blue and said that while he knew I was working as an agent now would I mind him talking to me as an actor while I was at work? I remember kind of panicking at the time, and handing the phone over to my boss - all very cowardly of me - so she took the call.
After she got off of the phone to him, she explained that he was interested in me potentially playing a role in his new play 'Gutted', which was to run at the Theatre Royal (Stratford) for a month. It was a four week rehearsal engagement with a four week run, and the idea of it excited me. Without a second's thought my boss Joanne encouraged me to accept his offer - I'm forever grateful for that - so when rehearsals began a few months later I took a sabbatical for 8 weeks.
I was all set at the end of the successful month-long run of this play to return to work on the Monday, and looking forward to doing so too. I'd had a great time performing in 'Gutted' in front of some fantastic audiences and had learnt a great deal. Then in the last week of performances I was approached by the producers of a new play about the world-famous illusionist and escapologist Harry Houdini. This project was going to be touring the UK and Ireland later in the year alongside a fantastic group of actors that had already been cast, but they were still looking for somebody to play the lead and had seen me in 'Gutted'. My agent received a request for me to audition for the title role and I accepted. I went and met with them a couple of times for casting sessions and workshops, not really expecting much more from it and I received a call a few weeks down the line while I was at work offering me the role.
At this point, I had to make the crucial decision of either sticking with a solid, exciting and secure career route as a talent agent for a fantastic organisation, which I knew would be both a fruitful and fulfilling long term option in itself, or grabbing the olive branch of being offered the chance to play the title role in a tour about the great 'Houdini' having just come off the back of a critically-acclaimed run of a another play. I decided to take the plunge, and here I am.
What are the pros and cons of being an actor?
The cons are quite unique for an Actor in that there is undoubtedly the irregularity of work. It is not easy out there and we don't get into this game for the security, that's for sure. There are thousands of actors registered on Spotlight in London so you just have to think about the number of people who are going to be suggested for the same role as you to know it's competitive.
Actors must employ a lot of patience and ensure that when the right role does come along you are sharp and prepared to offer your interpretation of the character to the casting team to the best of your ability and walk away knowing that you did your job. Then you wait for the next call and do it all again.
Finding a really good side-line of work to pay the bills is key, I think, to fill the gaps when they occur. I'm a big believer in this so I'm currently looking to qualify as a personal trainer.
Actors can be described as the 'poorest jetsetters' at times, in that you may be filming here, there and everywhere on some amazing projects and locations, but you are also working in a game that doesn't offer consistency, security and stability.
On the other hand, the pros are amazing for an actor – untouchable, in fact. While being an agent was fantastic, I cannot get enough of the thorough preparation period, rehearsal process and subsequent adrenaline, satisfaction and fulfilment an actor enjoys. The buzz of standing in front of a packed theatre of excited punters performing an illusion, like I was lucky enough to be able to when on stage as Harry Houdini, can't be reproduced for me.
How did you prepare for the role of Houdini?
Before I started rehearsals for Houdini I had a three-week gap of availability, so I went and did some work as a Buyer for a civil engineering company in the City. The producers of Houdini said they wanted me down to about seven or eight per cent body fat and packing on some muscle by the time performances began, which meant that I was in the gym from 5.30am until 6.30am doing weights and cardio on a specifically devised training and diet programme. Then I was into the office working from 8.30am until 6.00pm, before travelling home from London to get my head into some script work and research for the evening. It was pretty full on.
My weekends consisted of magic and illusion training and scuba diving lessons (we did the water torture cell illusion live on stage in 'Houdini' so this was 100% required!). Fitting everything around a nine-to-five was a pretty packed routine, but the work kept my bills paid along with keeping me regimented, disciplined and focussed.
Have you kept up the training regime now the play has finished its run?
For sure, but perhaps on a little more relaxed basis – the occasional pizza is now allowed, though not too often of course.
My plan for later this year is to study and qualify as a personal trainer and nutritionist, hopefully to be working with a company called The Body Blueprint, whom I have a tremendous admiration for. It's ultimately these guys I have to thank for getting me physically prepared for 'Houdini'.
What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?
I'm not sure about the term 'defining' as such, for the reason that I'm constantly learning new things, looking to grow, develop, and educate myself more and more. But I would say that the time spent as an agent were some of the best times of my life, let alone of my career, and so could be described as defining times. Going on from that to do two large productions back-to-back with both 'Gutted' and 'Houdini' last year, would mean that I'd have to say the whole of last year was great for me career-wise. It has kick-started some fantastic opportunities ahead for which I'm so very grateful!
What are the top three career tips you would give to current students and recent graduates?
You can never read enough. As obvious as it may sound, I look back on my time at university and wish that I'd read more. Although I read all of the things I was given to read as part of the curriculum, I guess I just wish that I'd read more outside of that.
I've really developed a passion for reading since preparing for the role of Houdini (who had a whole New York apartment floor just for storing books himself!) and I now aim to always carry a book in my bag wherever I go. Whether it be a copy of something that I'm reading in preparation for a role, to do with my Nutritionist/Personal Training qualification goals, magazine reviews, or simply a copy of a play that I've not read before, I have a reading list to get through at all times!
No matter what 'impossible' deadlines you may be given everybody wants you to do well - including your peers, tutors and course leaders - so talk to them if you ever feel worried or stressed. This is something I also didn't do enough of and now I look back and realise that stress did nothing but hinder my progress at the time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I'd definitely encourage students to enjoy the moment of what you're doing right now, at a great institution, while working as hard as you can towards your exciting futures, but know when to let your hair down.
Get the balance right between work and study.
Supplementing your study with a good sideline job can really furnish you with extra material to draw upon with your studies. It helps keep you time-disciplined, organised, and also pays for beers on a Friday. So try and look for something that fits well and complements your course. Think outside the box and write interesting cover letters to potential employers for somebody in your situation, especially with your particular set of skills. Sell your talents!
What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?
To experience and absorb as many different art forms as possible, whether via film, books, music, print or art galleries. The power of osmosis is a wonderful thing, get it all into you. You'll be surprised how much of it you'll be able to use at some point or another! Whether you're an Actor, Musician, Composer, Manager, Promoter, Publisher, anything – varying and broad experiences can only load more ammo into your creative arsenal. So get out there, soak it all up.
Oh, and use your student discount while you still can, trust me!
You can follow Jamie on Twitter @jamienichols87.