Wednesday 6 February 2013

Going For Broke - the price I am having to pay

I have previously eulogised about the brilliance of fringe theatre in London at the moment; the exciting new work and re-staging of old classics are coming thick and fast with exceptional productions and casts to match.  Unless you are in Book of Morman, fringe theatre is the place to be.  But I have realised that doing too many fringe productions brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “suffering for your art.”
Sometimes the allure of the spotlight is too great for the ego of an actress
I have recently had to turn down two opportunities to play lead roles with a wonderful director. “Have you lost your mind?”  I hear you cry.  Aren’t lead roles in musicals what you bang on about all the time? I know!  And I didn’t even have to appear on a reality TV show or understudy for 5 years to be bumped up, this wonderful director asked me.  But no, I haven’t lost my mind, in fact my mind is what made me decline because, despite being in London, these were fringe productions that couldn’t offer me any wage.
Naturally my heart wanted to accept in, well, a heartbeat!  Who cares if I wasn’t going to be paid for 8 weeks, I could make this work.  I’d cycle to rehearsals (only 40 miles now I’ve moved house, it would be bracing in February at 6am.) I could count out the pennies at the bottom of all of my handbags, they must equate to at least two M&S Food salads and anyway eating is over-rated.  As for 2 months rent, surely my landlord would be so thrilled that a good review may get me one step nearer to stardom that he wouldn’t mind waiting for my first pay check from Downton Abbey?  (Because that is the obvious step in my career after I invite Julian Fellowes to watch me in this lead role, keep up!)
damn my low-GI breakfast!
But then my head took over; this is ridiculous, I am 31 years old and finally recognising that my parents weren’t lying when they said that “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”  My head reminded me that my inner actress may yearn to fulfil her potential but she also needs to pay council tax and continues to eat out-of-season blueberries on her Special K. 
I think we all equate money to freedom; the means to better our lives, sticking it to “the man” and having no worries.  Money would give me the freedom to not have to be 3rd understudy “featured ensemble” in a budget-busting musical and to play roles that could challenge me and befit my twelve years experience.  Fringe theatre feeds a performer’s soul but how do you feed yourself when no pennies are coming in?
Obviously getting a great advertising campaign or TV role can help because you can then afford to give yourself a few weeks grace.  And when you are a younger performer you find a way of making it work; you have the energy to leaflet all day, do a fringe show at night and then work behind a bar until 3am.  But at my age, I have found that my priorities have shifted and this feels new and very unnerving as my head and heart do battle.
It may seem ridiculous that I harp on about being past it at 31 years old when it’s a tiny dent in what I hope to be my lifetime, but in this profession I am one step away from a telegram from The Queen.  There is a big black hole in musical theatre land where many an actress in her early 30’s has been sucked into; some are spat out at 45 ready for a new career in character roles, others you never hear from again.  By turning down these potentially great opportunities I am trying to make sure that my black hole isn’t filled with red bills and bailiffs!  I would much prefer marriage, babies and freelance writing in there, oh, but here goes my money-avoiding heart again.  Why can’t I wish my black hole holds a Masters in Computer Program Design!
Surely life would be better if we all dressed like this?!
I spent two years of my working life singing “Money, Money, Money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world” (head, arm, arm.  Ah muscle memory! )  Yes ABBA, it must be hilarious in that bank note-clad world where you can pick and choose your dreams.  But as I’ve matured from that 21 year old girl who was having the time of her life, I have realised that although the world can be ABBA-tastic at times, we cannot always wear lycra suits and platform boots.  Tax bills will loom, HMV will close and my  January bank balance will resemble Zimbabwe’s so I have to start picking and choosing when I can let my inner actress free.
I will always make time for fringe theatre but the time will have to suit me.  As my hairdresser says “You can always cut in a fringe, it’s just got to suit your face.”

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