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From Nurse to Actor to Agent, Jane Shepperd
Episode 96th April 2021 • The Second Chapter • Slackline Productions
00:00:00 00:49:15

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This week, Kristin chats with Jane Shepperd, who left a high-level nursing career at 34 to go to drama school. After several years of success in acting, including performing in the West End and stints on successful TV programmes like The Office, Jane changed her focus once again towards helping other actors land their dream roles as an agent.

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On The Second Chapter, founder of Slackline Productions, Kristin Duffy, chats with women who started the second (or third… or fifth!) chapter in their careers and lives, after 35. You’ll find inspiring stories, have a few laughs, and maybe even be motivated to turn the page on your own second chapter!

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From Nurse to Actor to Agent, Jane Shepperd

This week, Kristin chats with Jane Shepperd, who left a high-level nursing career at 34 to go to drama school. After several years of success in acting, including performing in the West End and stints on successful TV programmes like The Office, Jane changed her focus once again towards helping other actors land their dream roles as an agent.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

Jane: [00:00:03] I'm doing very well. Thank you. And thank you very much for inviting me.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

Jane: [00:00:19] cheers to you with my pint.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

So what's been keeping you so busy?

Jane: [:

And one on top of the other, which was great that made us busy. It's been patchy inevitably, but we have managed to maintain that momentum with a good chunk of our list. And now that the road to releasing lockdown is underway, we are hearing about theatre productions. People are beginning to plan again, and whilst dates have been pushed back further and further, others are actually biting the bullet and going for it.

And so that aspect of things is coming back as well now, which is very encouraging. Having said that, we have lost, we've had to make one member of staff redundant and we have had to reduce the size of our lists because we didn't have the manpower within the team to be able to manage the full list, which was incredibly sad and very stressful.

So it hasn't been without its problems, but there is now at least some positive light at the end of the tunnel. We're hopeful.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

It's just, it's a weird thing to think about life resuming as quote unquote normal.

Jane: [:

So I was very much listening to the [00:03:00] science and the fact that this was not going to be a quick fix.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

Jane: [00:03:20] well, yes, it is. I was from a very medical family on both, well, on multiple sides, actually, my dad was a doctor. My mum was a nurse. My mum's dad was a doctor. My mum's dad was a doctor. It was riddled throughout the family. And I think there was always an expectation that I would go into the world of.

A medical or caring world in some respect. And I didn't really want to, I wanted to be an actress, but I didn't have the money or the confidence, I think back in those days. And it was a long time ago there weren't drama school degrees, you had to audition and get in. And I had no hope in hell of getting a grant in my own right to go to drama school. And so I went okay, what's the next best thing? Well, I suppose I could be a nurse, so I. Went and did a degree in nursing and it was a science-based degree. Whereas a lot of them are bachelor of arts.

This was a BSC honours degree and it was much more intensive on the science side of things. And I did my degree at St. Thomas's Hospital in London and Southbank. It was a four- year degree to fit on all the practical. And it was great. Actually, I did enjoy it. But I always enjoyed the practical side of things more than the academic side of things.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

Jane: [00:05:00] Yes, I did actually. I loved it. I really did. And I think once I'd made up my mind, I was going to do it, I just, that's what I thought I was going to do. And I did nurse for about 15 years. I did my degree, I then staffed, well, I worked as a staff nurse at St. Thomas to get my post reg badge, my Nightingale badge.

And then I was offered a job, actually, a more permanent job to be quite senior actually on, or I was very young on the the AIDS unit. They were setting up at St. Thomas's. It was back in the. Mid eighties when obviously AIDS was becoming known about and was becoming increasingly more prevalent.

love. So I left Tommy's and [:

So it was acute nursing. It was critical care. It was recovery, but we doubled as a high dependency unit and we would not infrequently have ventilated cases when ITU were full and so on. So it was quite well, it was quite intensive and it was one-to-one nursing. And I loved that.

Particularly the more challenging, interesting cases where people were really very unwell. So yeah, I, I was lucky. I had an interesting time and I climbed the ladder in this. And I ended up as the senior sister in charge of that unit and did that for about five years. And then I set up the postoperative pain service in Guilford which was to deal with intravenous patient controlled analgesia pumps, PCAs, and epidural infusion

[:

And I did that for. My last year in nursing before I changed career for the first time.

Kristin/The Second Chapter: [:

Jane: [00:08:01] when I got, when I was made a senior sister, I think I was 28. And yeah, I did that for five years. And then I set up the, as a, then I became a clinical nurse specialist, which was one below a matron effectively. And it in regular clinical nursing it's as high as you can go. And I think there's an equivalent now I think it's called something different, but that was the level. It was pretty much and I was, I must've been 33 when I got with yes. That position because I left nursing when I was 34. Yep. That would be right.

[:

[00:08:51] Jane: [00:08:51] Well, I decided that 34 to leave nursing because. Well, there was quite a lot of pressure on me to go and do my [00:09:00] master's and I didn't want to do that. I'd not never really been an academic, as I say, I much preferred the practical side of things to the academic side of things and ' not what drove me out.

[:

[00:09:29] So it seems having got that sorted, it seemed the sensible trying to move. And I had a couple of friends who were getting, or who had just gone to drama school late, and I'd done amateur stuff with them and semi-pro stuff with them. And I thought if I'm going to do it, now's the time because there'll be peer support and let's get on with it.

[:

[00:09:55] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:09:55] Do you think it helped you to be a little bit older from the confidence perspective, cause you mentioned that you didn't think you had the confidence. The first time around to either audition or say, I can do this or get the grants where your was, there was your confidence level better because of having had some success in nursing?

[:

[00:10:41] I'd done the theater company stuff. I I'd learnt a lot more and the singing as, as well in this acapella group where we sang from literally everything from madrigals and barbershop to pop songs and everything right up to "Killer Queen" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. It was it was great.

[:

[00:11:10] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:11:10] We spoke about before we actually started recording about how I went to a tier sort of less traditional drama school because for me, I felt like. Like you said, if I'm going to do it, I need to do it now. And I didn't want to waste it. I don't want to say waste time. I was really nervous about the idea of more than one or two years spent studying

[:

[00:11:35] Jane: [00:11:35] The one year. Yes. I thought, yeah, I need to get on with it. And the one year, because it was, post-grad a lot of, not everybody, but most people were either graduates. So they were 21 plus or had done other things in life. So it was, I wasn't anywhere near the oldest on my course, I was the upper end, but there were a [00:12:00] number who were significantly older.

[:

[00:12:25] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:12:25] Yeah, and I think even more so now I look at the three-year acting programs and they're so expensive. So yeah, financially it seems like a good decision. So after graduating from the one year acting program, what kind of what happened next? Because I know you had a lot of success acting now I'm asking for my own reference.

[:

[00:12:50] Jane: [00:12:50] Well, again, I was really lucky. I worked with some amazing people who directed me at drama school who taught me and directed me at drama school. So my first job was with a director called Richard, Hans Hansom, and a musical director called Warren Wills. And they were doing a production, a new production called the Hop Pickers at the Mermaid theater before the manmade and by my well pure chance and good luck, good fortune for me, the person who was playing the second female lead got a really good telly job.

[:

[00:13:48] So that was really lucky. And then I did some really good fringe and again, another director, wonderful director who died very decidedly died getting on for two years ago now, but a wonderful man called Philip Grout. And he directed me in a number of things. And again, he, one of those wonderful people who just draws it out of you, you don't even know how you can do it, but suddenly you can because he just fills you with confidence and reassures you that it's right. And amazingly -you're good. And so I learned a lot from him and I worked with him a number of times, and that again, opened many more doors because he taught a lot and worked a lot directed, a lot at Guildhall with some of the really top-notch actors of my era are yeah.

[:

[00:15:06] And so everybody did! From casting directors that the national and the RSS. I see two, lots of telly, really good television, casting directors, comedy and drama. And Andrew Lloyd Webber came to one of them. You know what I mean? It was just extraordinary. And that's how I got my first sort of telly break was back by being seen in a fringe musical at the BAC.

[:

[00:16:07] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:16:08] When, so once you started doing some TV and everything as well, would you say that? I think that a lot of times you hear people that start on the stage and have some success in television or film, and then they say, Oh, but my true love is the stage. How about you?

[:

[00:16:45] It's very hard to explain. Isn't it. If you haven't done it, it's hard to explain.

[:

[00:16:52] You did mostly comedy or that was would you say comedy was your specialty, well, I didn't think it would be I was aware I could make people laugh, but when I was at drama school, we, for our showcase, we had to find pieces and I did a bit from Alan, Bennetts talking heads for a section, a small piece from Bed Among the Lintils and wonderful piece. And it was suggested to me by one of my tutors and I thought, okay, I didn't know it.

[:

[00:17:49] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:17:49] Sometimes you read a script that to see it being performed as funny, but when you read it, like you said, it's so much about. Finding the character and what the character really truly [00:18:00] believes. And most of our lives, we're not trying to be funny. We're not saying, Oh, here's me being funny. This is my life.

[:

[00:18:18] Jane: [00:18:18] Yes. Yeah. That's absolutely right. Yes. That's

[:

[00:18:30] Jane: [00:18:30] Oh my goodness. That's really hard because every

[:

[00:18:56] I theater wise, I did an, a number of tours before I did West end, I did a couple of jobs in the West end. But I toured with I toured with Charlie's Aunt with Eric Sykes and Christopher Biggins and Francis Matthews and Neil Mullarkey. And some of these people you'll never have heard of, but they were, and are, brilliant.

[:

[00:19:39] So we had a week to learn it, get up to speed and learn the ASM track I was doing as well. And two days into rehearsal Nyree Dawn Porter was playing Donna Lucia and she went off sick. So they said, Jane, do you know it? And I'm like, well, I know it in my sitting room, I've been learning it for two days now.

[:

[00:20:32] Maybe an hour before the curtain, they said, Nyree's still off sick. She's not coming you're on. So I played the role that week and Nyree died. It was really sad. And which was very weird because I had stepped into dead men's shoes. It was a really in a place who absolutely loved her Newcastle.

[:

[00:21:14] playing the thing. We, I didn't know any of them. So it was pressure for everybody and a huge learning experience. And I was lucky because I ended up playing a leading role with some of the best people in the UK at the time. And I did the played it. Yeah. For another, I think week or two before they had to put another name in, because they'd actually Francis Matthews had to leave as well because his wife was terminally ill.

[:

[00:21:57] And we've put Fraser and Lawrence Fox, so all sorts of people. And that, that was a extraordinary experience . And it was after that, I got my first West End and I did the constant wife again for Bill Kenwright.

[:

[00:22:38] I'd done the pilot had then turned into a series of yes, that must have happened. I think when I was doing a Constant Wife. So the, The Office had then come out as the first series. And we then shot the second series. And I think that was about to come out because they ran the first series of The Office and then went into the second series so the two things ran together.

[:

[00:23:27] I'm just trying to think what happened after The Constant Wife. It's a little while ago now. I should've got my CV option. Um, Cause obviously I had a different name.

[:

[00:24:01] The director actually, because the musical director and the choreographer certainly wouldn't have wanted me. And indeed I don't think did want me because I'm not really I can sing in tune and I can hold harmonies, but I'm not a musical theater all out belter singer. And I certainly am not a dancer.

[:

[00:24:41] So that's how I got beautiful and damned. And that was Phil Wilmot and Craig revel Horwood was the director, the musical director, sorry, was the choreographer and a lovely man called David Ferman was the musical director. That then was tried out. Kept rewriting. It didn't quite work. They then rewrote it again.

[:

[00:25:29] So I went straight through with the production with Craig directing and choreographing, and again, a huge learning experience. It had all changed. So my line of parts were different, but didn't matter. I had an absolute ball and the company worked fantastic. And Helen ANCA played the leading lady Zelda Fitzgerald.

[:

[00:26:14] I have lots of time between my bits of rehearsal to learn to dance. And similarly, the dancers who were helping me and teaching me they needed a hand to actually do some of the little roles or their colors and that sort of thing. So I would help them. So it was a really positive team of people who were working together to get the best results they possibly could.

[:

[00:26:42] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:26:42] I do. I think that's one of the most fun things and I don't know, you probably know better than I do, how often it actually happens nowadays, but the idea that you get a part and you get to learn something completely new. You said you're a mover. I would agree. I'm a mover who [00:27:00] can kick high, but I'm not as bad as Joey jazz, hands on friends, but I'm not, I'm definitely not a dancer, but the idea that you could go into this production and get this role, this kind of a dream role anyway, and then actually get to learn to tap dance as part of the role is pretty cool.

[:

[00:27:37] It was fantastic.

[:

[00:27:42] Jane: [00:27:42] I was going to say, after that, I went off to well, I did a production that I did, one of the latter ones, parts of the bill. I played them thicker on the bill, actually Chris Christmas episode. It was great fun. With Nick Phillips directed that wonderful man. And then I went and did Oliver. In the Aberystwyth with gay Soper and Peter Carey and again, one wonderful people.

[:

[00:28:31] He was still getting to know everybody as well. And he Sean, he was a delight to work with and he was also a fan of the office. So he always wanted to talk about that, which was lovely, but I think of his career now, my goodness, or how successful is he? And I'm just delighted for him.

[:

[00:28:53] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:28:53] Yeah, the closest I can say I've gotten to him was I did ADR voice stuff for the Kingsmen teal.

[:

[00:29:06] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:29:06] So I have a very far six degrees or 10 degrees or something of separation, but I loved those films so much. So I was so excited to get to.

[:

[00:29:20] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:29:20] Thank you. Not quite the same, but it was really an enjoyable day or two, or what have you. And then of course, I was like I was in that scene. You can't really tell, but I was in it. That's my voice somewhere.

[:

[00:29:34] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:29:34] Exactly. So again, it seems like this is all going quite well. Did something. Oh, actually I'm well, no, I'm not going to ask that. It seems like it's going quite well. What, what makes you ready for a shift again?

[:

[00:29:57] I set up the agency in a [00:30:00] partnership. The idea was I would still, I had an agent obviously as my acting name is Jane Lucas. And I was changed shepherd Fox, which is my legal name. And the idea was I do it in a partnership, so the agency was always manned and covered. But I would still be able to carry on acting because I wasn't ready to stop acting, but in the long run I could see, as you quite rightly said a lot of the roles I played was smaller roles.

[:

[00:30:43] So how was I going to compete with that? And I accepted that. I completely understood that and thought, okay, well, let's see what there is. And let's see how it develops. That came to a point where I realized that, yes, I might get lucky and I might jump a section. But the reality was I was more likely to be pulling the smaller roles and it, therefore in the long run might be wise to have something else that I could also do.

[:

[00:31:27] And again, this is, I think, a throwback to the nursing. There's no way then I'm going to go, sorry. Now I'm going off for two months to do a, another job in Aberystwyth, which actually I was offered and I had to turn down because there wasn't no enough notice to get cover for the agency. That then did become some really tough choices because my heart was saying, go and do, going to do this production with Michael Bogdanov. And I had to say, no, I'm really sorry. I can't. And that was really sad, but I think I felt I had a responsibility to my clients, which I, as an agent one does have.

[:

[00:32:20] Josie Arden, who is an actor agent at a co-op agency asked about, and I think I know the answer to this, but I'm going to go ahead and ask it how do you balance the salesy side air quotes, salesy of being an agent. With the more pastoral side of your client's wellbeing.

[:

[00:32:44] Jane: [00:32:44] I think, I don't know. I think when I first became an agent, it didn't strike me. I hadn't taken into account. How much of the pastoral side would be needed. I hadn't [00:33:00] really considered actually how much support tutors. Do need sometimes and some actors do need others. Others are more self-sufficient and I think perhaps I don't think maybe I did, but I don't think I expected that of my agent, but possibly because I'd come into the industry later and had more life experience.

[:

[00:34:10] Now that's not to say you can't do that with somebody that you have less an affinity with. Of course you can. It's just different. But the salesy side, I think it all comes together because actually you want the best for your client in every respect. So you want to look after them and take care of them as they need, but you also want the best outcome for them.

[:

[00:34:48] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:34:48] I think that's fair. I also think it's interesting because it gets such a bad rap. So often on TV. I don't know why Joey's back in my head from Friends, but the stereotypical cigarette smoking or the other one is toast of London. She's. Crazy agent I think it's interesting to hear from an agent about taking care of their clients and that everybody wants the best for their clients, because I don't think you always get that when you see how agents are written.

[:

[00:35:56] It is tough. [00:36:00] And when that rejection builds up, it's very easy to blame your agent. I'm not being seen for the right stuff or I'm just not being seen cause again, there won't be, it's not fair is it? It's not as though each client gets seen for X amount of stuff in a week or a month or a year it's some people will be seen from all staff and others won't be. It. It's not fair. And although , an actor is never out of sight or mind because we see their faces all day every day because we're submitting them for work. And thinking about them and considering where their strengths are on a daily basis, we're not, we can't communicate that on a daily basis.

[:

[00:37:03] And one of the reasons you kindly, we started a bit late tonight and you were so kind and gracious about it. It was because at 20 to seven, there was another thing that came in a self-tape for a client that needs to be turned around and submitted by four o'clock tomorrow. And the immediacy of expectation on agents and I shouldn't still be on the computer at 20 to seven at night.

[:

[00:37:36] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:37:36] Yeah. And the turnaround times sometimes are ridiculously quick. So if your agent's not there, saying. Yeah, this is due tomorrow. Then you hear about it at 10:00 AM or 11:00 AM and

[:

[00:37:49] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:37:49] the turnaround time is much less. So thank you for doing that though, because that sounds like good agenting.

[:

[00:38:01] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:38:01] So I actually had this question already, but it's so much more relevant now that I've spoken with you a bit. Do you miss acting and do you ever, I don't know. Do you ever look at your clients and go, Oh, that I would want to put myself up for that role? Or do you still have that feeling?

[:

[00:38:48] Usually I think very quickly, but how the hell would I fit that in, get on with it I'm back to getting on with it, but I have to say it is once in a blue moon. I can't remember the last time I thought that. And I [00:39:00] think the last time I did think it, it was for a role of a woman of my age who was Northern Irish and I was born in Northern Ireland.

[:

[00:39:29] And so something like that for a role where I might think, Oh, my agent probably wouldn't think of me in that way, because I'm naturally and always have been, I speak as I do now, but both my parents did, although I was third generation born there, but I do have that skill. And that's something that they wouldn't automatically think about.

[:

[00:39:56] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:39:56] So you started the agency in 2005. So you've been doing it a while now, but thinking back, what do you think the biggest challenges actually in both cases? Cause you've had the two big career changes, but what was maybe the biggest challenge coming into acting a little bit later? I think you said that a little bit about that with the smaller roles and everything.

[:

[00:40:28] Jane: [00:40:28] Definitely there were challenges to get established and to be recognized as somebody who was reliable and trustworthy and who was going to provide a good product and efficiently things that takes a while it takes a long time to build a reputation. Yeah. And it didn't take very long to destroy one it

[:

[00:40:54] Jane: [00:40:54] In both careers. Yeah, that's true. With regard to becoming an agent, I was quite lucky because of my nursing background, because my final job. I did have to write in conjunction with one or two others, but I did have to write the business plans, the protocols, the set up a business from scratch.

[:

[00:41:38] And most of what being an agent is largely common sense. Isn't it? You think about the submission stage, the sorting, the meeting stage, handling the office, then negotiating the terms, the contracts, the networking, or you think it through logically and one follows after the other. And you develop those skills as you go along.

[:

[00:42:35] Or how else do you cope with that? And listened to people with more experience. And I was lucky I could do that.

[:

[00:42:48] Jane: [00:42:48] I know, yes. I

[:

[00:42:52] Jane: [00:42:52] I've thought about three different agents and different relationships with all of them. And I think I certainly learnt from all of those. Yes. Most importantly, I think as an agent it's communicating isn't it and being clear and open.

[:

[00:43:27] And then of course you're communicating with many different actors in the course of a day and different casting directors and things like that. Getting back to your question though, is the biggest challenge? I think one of the biggest challenges was to establish in all areas because I didn't, I'd never been pigeonholed. I worked in in television and theater and musicals and bit of radio, a bit of film, the odd commercial. And I didn't see that it was necessary to pigeonhole people.

[:

[00:44:21] And that took a long time and it took a long time to break into the big companies. Understandably, everybody wants to be there within theater, the RSC and The National it it took longer. That's not a criticism. It was just an observation.

[:

[00:45:08]Did you feel like it was something you could pull a little connections or was it just no, that's not on the cards.

[:

[00:45:34] There was one time when I was taking a casting director to see a client in a West End production and I'd invited her and we were confirming. That was all set up. And then on the day we were communicating, saying where we'd meet. And so she said, well, how will I recognize you? And I said, well, actually, you know me, you know me as... and you cast me in and she roared with laughter and said, "Oh my God. And all this time, I've been thinking, I've been speaking to some posh bird." But it was lovely. We met up, we had a lovely evening. She's brilliant. And but it was very funny because she didn't know, and she hadn't made the connection. And and that was right, because it was inappropriate. We, I was in a different role and It did really, really take years for people to work, to discover that I was the same person.

[:

[00:46:39]Well I mean, with me, I list off all these different things that I do. And it's just do people think I'm less serious about one versus the other, because I'm putting this long list together. And I would like to think of myself as really working hard at each thing that I do and trying to be the best at everything I can be.

[:

[00:47:20] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:47:20] And I love too what you've said about. I think it's really important when we're looking at , I don't know, the the arc of our lives, how much nursing has influenced something so very different that you're doing now, because when it comes down to it, we all have life experience. And the person um, the, the episode I published this week, she kept talking about going to the university of life.

[:

[00:47:44]Jane: [00:47:44] Yeah, definitely. Oh, you can't beat life experience. Can you?

[:

[00:47:55] Jane: [00:47:55] You will still learn from them. That's the thing, isn't it? We've all had our [00:48:00] ups and downs, but they do inform and allow you to empathise more with others and so on. So it's taking the positives, isn't it?

[:

[00:48:29] What are the kinds of things that make you so glad to be doing the job and.

[:

[00:49:04] They're not always those that will have an obvious casting, particularly when you go back 10 years. Things have moved on thankfully an awful lot further now, and much more inclusive in a lot of ways, but obviously diversity- wise, but right across the board in so many different ways, things are much more broad-minded I think now but some people are more quirky and characterful, and.

[:

[00:49:55] And then your first, probably regular telly. In a regular thing that then moves on and repeat series. The hard thing of course is that the young ones are, especially as you do move them forward and they become much more sellable. Also, always the grass is always greener. Isn't there, there's an always an element of that.

[:

[00:50:29] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:50:29] Yeah, I feel like that the dream story is sort of actor and agent and you start with the agent, you start with the actor and they grow. And as they're accepting their big awards, they're saying I want to thank my agent who I've been with for 25 years. I think that seems like the dream relationship personally.

[:

[00:51:12] Kristin/The Second Chapter: [00:51:12] Okay, so that leads me to the quote. Did you bring a quote for me tonight?

[:

[00:51:41] And that is, I like to repay kindness with kindness.

[:

[00:52:15] Achieve something small because it will make you feel better. You don't have to battle and take everything on all at once. Small achievements.

[:

[00:52:38] Jane: [00:52:38] Thank you very much.

[:

Jane: Well, thank you. Thank you for making it such a joy and all the very best to you too. It's extremely exciting. And thank you for inviting me as, as I say,

Kristin/The Second Chapter: thank you very much. It was really nice chatting with you.

Jane: and you too. Take care.