‘Acting and… Other Work’ – Tuesday 8th May, 2018
Inevitably, unless you’re part of the elite 5% of actors who work more than 20 weeks a year, you will have to take on other work in order to live and fund your acting career. Generally, unless you have savings or are from a privileged background, you will find yourself living hand to mouth – which can be as daunting and scary, if not more so, than facing an audition panel. You may also find that you can’t afford to actually take on fringe roles as the pay is just too low to survive, however, your wealthy counterpart can afford to work for pittance or free and therefore gets the work. (I’m not bitter!) But, this is my experience. Bloody toffs! Thankfully, Equity launched ‘Low Pay / No Pay’ to help fix this state of affairs and things are improving – actors can now get minimum wage or London living wage for a fringe contract – if you actually get given a contract that is and they sign up to it. Still room for improvement I think. Plus, you can’t actually live on the living wage – how ironic!
Anyway, I digress. Currently, I’m typing this from Travelodge London City Airport as I’m working for 9 days at Excel for the Grand Designs exhibition. For this job I am Supervisor and lead taker for Anglian Home Improvements. My first sales job – well, apart from my years from 11-17 working on Pitsea market selling plants and flowers for John and later, school uniforms on a clothing stall for Dave. Such a shame I spent my earnings on sweets, McDonald’s and scratch cards! #fail. And, you know, even though my feet are swollen, I’m tired, and some members of the public I’ve encountered are just plain rude and miserable – even when its been beautiful sunshine outside – I’ll get through it. I always do. It’s money. After all, I did 18 days straight at The Ideal Home Show in March, so 9 days is a breeze!
I have had so many jobs since graduating from LIPA in 2005 and I’ll try and list them all here: I’ve been… a Barista, Barman, Front of House interval glow stick and soft drinks seller, Receptionist (countless times), Administrator (twice for charities), an archiver for an Oil Company in Mayfair for 18 months (working in a dark, dusty basement sorting out paperwork I knew nothing about!). I’ve been a children’s entertainer (still am on occasion), Drama workshop leader, TA at a Primary school, care assistant for a college for adults with life limiting disabilities/conditions, a factory worker (boxing up leaflets/brochures for 10-12 hour shifts) I’ve done market research on the street, I’ve participated in dozens of market research projects talking about things from gay sex lubricants to banking apps. I’ve worked in events for over 10 years doing product launches, branch launches, leafleting and tasks such as making up 2000 gift bags (only to have to un-make 500 of them afterwards when they weren’t needed). I’ve been paid poorly, paid well, appreciated and taken advantage of, but these jobs all have one thing in common. I excelled at them. Each and every one of them. Partly down to my work ethic, but I think the key thing to my success in these roles was that I really and honestly did not give a shit about them. It was money. This has got me thinking. Do I psychologically ‘play the role’ in these jobs to get through them, or can I really just turn my hand to anything and be good at it? And then I think, why oh why can’t I just excel at acting – the one thing I actually want to excel at but get little to no opportunity to do! Maybe, just maybe, I care too much – and this pressure I put on myself holds me back. It feels quite deflating really.
Doing these jobs has always been a challenge for me. Inevitably you get chatting to people and they ask you what you do and you end up feeling like a total failure when you constantly have nothing new to report about your acting career. In fact, having to get your arse up out of bed to do the job in the first place is a signal enough that your hopes and dreams are not perhaps working in reality – you don’t need others to kick you whilst you’re down too. Still, you smile, put a face on, try and show your confident and unaffected by your terrible situation and get on with it. Sometimes you meet other performers and you get a bit of camaraderie going because you’re in it together and understand what the others are going through. Its definitely the people that make these jobs bearable. And I have met some really lovely people and made great friends from these jobs. Others have just annoyed me and made me feel about as useful and successful as our Eurovision acts of the last decade. (Note to self: Eurovision this weekend!).
I personally have to work really hard not to get anxious or low doing these types of jobs – and it got so bad for me that I just couldn’t do them anymore and decided to set up my own company – which I did – It’s Partabulous – but that’s for another blog. I found that I became anxious about catching-up with the other performers I knew, as it appeared they always had a new theatre, musical theatre or TV job to report (the old compare and despair!). Little me was still doing kids parties and such like. Eventually, by the end of the shift, a trip to Soho for a drink and a dance (usually on my own) in G-A-Y was the only joy in the day. Then, even after that, I’d feel crap because I’d spent a third of my wages from that day. But, at least I actually felt like I was living.
Is this what everyone feels like on a day to day basis in their normal jobs? Do they feel anxious, depressed, like they want to run away, feel miserable and unhappy? Do the skills of the jobs come easily to them? Do they excel because they really don’t care, and all they are thinking about is going home to their partners, house, kids, thinking about the weekend and their city-break away? Is that how a ‘normal’ working life/career works?
All I know is that its hard to have to do several types of work, jobs you just don’t want to be doing, to earn money to survive and help save for a future that you hope will transpire, but as the years roll by think perhaps will never come. Yes, I’m great at these jobs, I’m a people person, and they can lift my mood – and people appear to like and respect me, but even the short-lived lift from the praise I get doesn’t sustain me or fill the void of not performing or doing something worthy of my actual skills or talent.
I wonder, did Meryl Streep have this problem?!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment. Happiness to all of you.