‘Acting and… Time Out’

‘Acting and… Time Out’ – Sunday 27th May, 2018

I don’t know about any of you, but being self-employed as an actor, children’s entertainer and sometimes event manager I find it very hard to switch off. I always have done – and I find it very hard to give myself permission to take any time off. I rarely used to get any weekends off as I was always out delivering kids parties and, unlike the conventional 9-5ers, never then managed 2 days off a week to relax and enjoy life. I always seem to be planning ahead or chasing the next work opportunity in fear that I may be missing out. I find myself religiously refreshing my emails, both my Spotlight and Casting Call Pro pages too so that I can dive on any castings to be the first to apply/submit my details for the job in the hope that my cover letter will actually be read and I may have a shot at an audition or self-tape. All I end up feeling though is anxious and stressed – and, 25% of the time (I did the math) my submission is not even viewed by the employer. What an utter waste of time and energy. Why do I do it to myself?!

Today was no exception. It is the night before my 36th birthday and I’ve found myself all day adding things to my to-do list, fitting in as much ‘work’ as possible so that I can give myself permission to have my birthday off tomorrow. I’ve managed to update my event CV – which took an absolute age because it takes me ages to word everything and even longer to reformat it within an inch of its life because I’m OCD with documents. But afterwards, it did look pretty and the satisfaction of deleting it off my electronic to-do list was great. Then, next task – email new updated CV to 3 employers to remind them, ‘Hello, remember me? I’m that poor actor who is fab at pretending to enjoy working mundane events, please give me a job!’ Tick! Then I booked some train tickets for a happy occasion in June. Tick. Bank balance. Untick! Checked emails and castings. Tick. Submitted quotations to 2 potential clients for children’s parties in Devon. Tick. Emailed a previous employer rambling on apologising for not picking up his calls as I’ve been attempting to take time out this week and leave my phone alone. Embarrassing tick! Next task: gather together items to top-up entertainer’s kit for imminent Star Wars parties in June. Tick! Then… I panicked. What else is there to do?! Oh, right. Grab that script you want to self-tape – action it and highlight it. Then, start learning it. Tick! Finally, (as if I haven’t done enough already) why don’t you write a blog entry – you haven’t done one of those for a few weeks. This brings me to 23:35. It is nearly my birthday. Have I done enough today to warrant allowing myself the time off to celebrate tomorrow. Maybe.

But this is how every day goes for me. Riding a wave of a to-do list in order to validate my working existence so that even though I have no acting work at the moment, very few parties in the diary and nothing exciting in terms of event work – I am trying. I am doing something. I am working, not idle. I am still focused and determined.

My last task of today (yes, I even turn this into a to-do list task) is to read some of my book. I’m reading Dan Brown’s, ‘Origin’ and I’m loving it. Reading and films on Amazon Prime are saving me at the moment. Here I am actually able to switch off and escape the dreaded to-do list and self-doubt. I actually have time to myself – or time away from my thoughts to be truthful.

This is progress too. I did get offered an event job starting today until next Sunday but I turned it down. It just wasn’t worth my while. The power of saying, ‘No!’ Liberating. I actually think having the next week off until 4th June will be a great experiment for me. Can I cope doing nothing? Will my fingers twitch to check my phone for emails. Will I miss the role of a lifetime not checking castings every hour. Probably (chuckles). But I do work hard and I do deserve some time off. Even if I do need the money. I’m choosing me. At almost 36 I’m finally starting to choose me and not my working life. I will no longer be defined by it. I am an actor, yes, but first and foremost I am a person – and this person needs some birthday cake! and presents. Don’t forget the presents.

Here’s to the other side of the 30’s! Wish me luck.

Happiness to all of you.

‘Acting and… Other Work’

‘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.

‘Acting and… Mental Health’

‘Acting and… Mental Health’ – Tuesday 1st May, 2018

I contemplated not making this my first post, but mental health within the industry is something of a hot topic right now and indeed it is the single most important challenge that I have faced in my life and career.

Some might say that being a sufferer of anxiety which inevitably leads to dark periods of depression would signal to a person that perhaps catapulting yourself into an industry full of instability with zero control, along with leaving yourself open to constant judgement and rejection would be at the bottom of the list as a career choice. However, I have never managed to find a feeling that replicates that feeling of performing. When I perform I am finally whole – which is a shame, as I don’t get to be ‘whole’ as often enough as I would like. Most of time I just feel empty, alone and unfulfilled with the mundane existence of every day life.

I have suffered from anxiety and depression since the age of around 12. The anxiety manifesting itself in over-eating or binge eating plus elements of OCD. I spent years being afraid of who I was, of the immediate world around me and the people in it. I was lonely, had very few friends, no social life and a real sense of having no place in this world. Acting is what saved me! Auditioning for a school play in year 9 at senior school changed my life. I could finally pretend not to be me – the short, fat, brace-wearing boffin, with sexuality issues and a bad curtain hair-cut (which was not actually a centre parting – epic fail!) – and this was liberating for me. And I was good it seemed. I got a principal role – unheard of for someone so young! I was catapulted into some kind of reality show where I suddenly was recognised and dare I say ‘attractive’ to people because of my talent and status. To be honest, I just didn’t know how to handle it. It usually culminated in me buying the contents of the vending machine and using it as leverage to ‘buy’ friends – as they couldn’t possibly like me, for who I was, could they? Performing enabled me to express myself and feel proud of who I was or in fact escape who I was. Nothing else did that for me.

Fast forward almost 22 years, a weight loss of 6 stone, countless sessions of expensive CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) under my belt, plus Drama School, my ‘coming-out’ parade in my third year (everyone already knew btw) some acting jobs, a lot of non-acting jobs, relationships (very few significant ones I might add) along with 13 years of ups and downs, some major personal losses, some major debt gain, plus some periods of stability and dare I say actual happiness and I find myself at nearly 36, living with my parents again, a few stone heavier, self-medicating more regularly than I should and still in submission to my mental health issues.

Despite this, I must admit that when I do actually get the job, despite the anxiety, panic and insecurities I experience in rehearsals (which I think every actor faces tbh) I find that when I’m actually performing, I’m free of it all. It all disappears. I’m finally worthy of myself. I am complete. I’m who I’m meant to be. I can still do it! I’m proving that I can still do it – that I have talent. I’m meant to be pursuing this career path. I have not wasted all of this time, energy and money (oh the money!) thus far on this career choice. The problem is, I’m often so low and without confidence that on the rare occasion I do get in the casting room I get in my own way as I’m so hyper-aware of everything and in fear of being scrutinised because of my weight, appearance and/or sexuality. (Note to self: no-one can actually see those things. Well, apart from my stomach!) I’m never really concerned though about the acting side of it. Its everything else – and all those other elements actually prevent me from being me and the best that I can be in that audition room.

The bottom line here is that I’m unable to sustain the feeling I have when performing – and its that feeling that drives me. I’m addicted to it. Once a job is finished and I’m not regularly flexing the acting muscle, I simply don’t believe that I’m any good or can do it anymore. I need evidence. I need another job. I need an acting hit to validate me again. The jobs inevitably do not come and rapidly I lose myself – and the fog of anxiety and depression hits again.

“Let go, Andrew!” was all I was ever told at Drama school. How do you let go?! I felt, and to this day feel, that for me to achieve this ‘letting go’ I would need to decapitate myself or scoop my brains out and replace them with a new brain that was not full of pointless programming!

In reality, my mental health issues existing alongside my pursuit of an acting career and the general demands of day-to-day life have culminated in a gradual progression over the last decade of slowly removing myself from my performance career in many aspects, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of failure and regret. I’ve worked yes, but nowhere near as often as I would have liked and at the level that I would have hoped to have achieved – or more importantly, what I feel I deserve and am talented enough to have achieved. Perhaps its been the issues with my mental health that have sabotaged my potential for success and fulfilment? Who knows. All I know is that having created this website this week, I still love to act – and I think that I’m actually quite good at it. I just wish that there was more support and understanding about mental health amongst the profession to make me feel less alienated, abnormal and helpless and to essentially support me during the highs and lows that inevitably come when pursuing a career as an actor.

Thank you for reading and do feel free to comment. Happiness to all of you.

Acting and… (An Actors’ Blog)

Welcome Welcome to my Actors’ Blog – ‘Acting and…’ I’m not even sure who will in fact read this and whether it will be interesting enough to warrant writing it, but if you are reading, then hi. Please feel free to comment. And if these posts achieve nothing else, then at least I’ve got some things off my chest – as a kind of self-help writing therapy. I never have kept a diary. I find the concept of ‘Acting and…’ pretty limitless in terms of the different posts we can explore together. Ideas spring to mind such as, ‘Acting and… Auditions’, ‘Acting and… Actually Earning Money’, ‘Acting and… Relationships’, ‘Acting and… Classes/Workshops’ ‘Acting and… the Business of Acting’, Acting and… Other Work’ – you get the idea. I’ve been musing on some of these ideas over the past week as I’ve redeveloped my actor website and found myself looking back at my life and career over the past 13 years in this industry, with every person and memory and feeling that looking at each credit brings. I do hope that if you join me on this journey of blogging then you’ll find my incoherent ramblings interesting, somewhat insightful, hopefully inspiring and dare I say perhaps even amusing. I will simply write what I know and write what I think, based upon my own experiences as an actor and human in this performance we call life. They won’t be very long posts and perhaps not that regular, but hopefully it’ll be quality over… Continue reading