Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Working Actor - my latest column for The Fourthwall Magazine

“Wow!  You don’t often find people your age who are still doing it!”  A young actor said to me recently.  Not doing shots of aftershock or excelling on the X-Box, but acting. 

At 31 years old I have made it through the ‘first cut,’ so to speak, in the lifelong audition that is the acting profession. I am not a highly successful star but a “working actress” who manages to pays the bills (sometimes) from acting.  I have avoided the post drama school career change, the desire for marriage and babies and finally the allure of a regular wage packet/mortgage prospects and am still ‘treading the boards.’  But will I make it to the finals?

Part of me hopes not.  I admit there have been times when watching my peers buy houses or successfully apply for car insurance that I have longed to not be an actress.  (Car insurance – why a self-employed actor makes insurers recoil in horror and whack on a further £300 to a premium, I don’t know?  It’s not as if I’m doing time-steps whilst parallel parking.*)  I have been making noises about changing my profession for a few years but every time I get a new qualification or Google “normal” jobs another great acting job comes along, I get sucked back in and reminded why this job is so brilliant.

Acting has become my job and like any other profession it has it’s politics, pressures and P45’s.  I have had to find a way of making it “work” for me as the “working actress,” in my life and on my terms, not just the terms of the casting directors who have the power to change my life in an instant.  As I have gotten older and started to understand the profession and myself, I haven’t wanted to drop everything because David Grindrod wants to see me at 3pm like I did 10 years ago.  I hate letting pre-made plans and people down and no-one can expect you to keep your week free and not earn any money on the off-chance of a phone call.  The industry is exciting, precarious and can be destructive if you let it and you need a jolly good map to navigate your way through this wonderful world.  One day I’m up and the next I’m proclaiming through tears and a glass of Merlot that I should become an estate agent; the well-coveted work/life balance written endlessly about in the media applies to us too, perhaps even more so.

So how do you manage to still write “actor” in the blank space beside job title 12 years after leaving drama school?  Well, it’s all about balance, sacrifice, support and shed loads of therapy.  I am, of course, joking about the therapy but it can help!
Learning to balance the importance you place on your career is a tough one.  I used to base my happiness on whether I was in or out of work; ecstatic and a joy to be around when in a contract then depressed and insecure when auditioning again.  With the beauty of hindsight I can now see that I was a ‘pain in the bum human mood-swing’ and I don’t blame countless ex-boyfriends for dumping me!  You can’t let having a job dictate your happiness or self-worth – if your life is ok on a day-to-day basis then doing a job you love is an added bonus. 

If your sole focus is career, CVs and achievements then you run the risk of missing what else life has to offer.  Relationships, family and friends can all fall by the wayside as you obsess over jobs but you will always need them there to remind you that there is more to life than speeches and Pippa Ailion.  They will be the ones to pick you up after your 7th ‘NO’ of the week or who reminds you of your true self when basking in the light of success.  You can still have that blinkered focus of an aspiring thesp but it’s learning when to use it; so maybe try to balance out the nights out in the West End with a catch up with your old mate from home, it can be as good for you as a January detox.

Talking of home, this is where the sacrifice comes in.  No, not goats or altars but the life sacrifices required to sustain a career.  To play your dream role you may have to leave loved ones behind as you embark on tour with only a suitcase and sat-nav for company.  You also have to accept that you may miss out on birthdays, weddings and christenings as “normal” folk insist on hosting them on a Saturday night just as you start your 8th show of the week.  I find this tough; I may have been doing a brilliant show but seeing my nephew’s 1st birthday party via Facebook photos just isn’t the same.  I am far too sentimental to be an actress! 

At 24 years old I did two shows on Christmas Day; the Mamma Mia! International Tour happened to be in Berlin over the Christmas period and as Germany’s main celebrations are on December 24th we had that day off and then performed two shows the following day whilst our families back home tucked into turkey, I think we were singing ‘Thank You for the Music’ as The Queen started her speech!  But it didn’t bother me.  There is nowhere more festive than Germany with all the Christmas Markets and Gluhwein with your fake-tanned mates also in their 20s, it was an incredible time.  But fast-forward to 30 years old when I couldn’t get home from York during a Pantomime run and I was distraught at the thought of missing my aging Grandfather, baby nephew and my Mum’s brussel sprouts.  This is a prime example of how you change as you get older and having to fit your career around your new priorities.

I have also had to accept that my life won’t take the expected pattern or route.  The plan of mortgage at 22,married at 24, babies at 27 and house in the country by 44 just ain’t gonna happen;  I got waylaid via musicals and self-assessment tax returns!  But it isn’t a bad thing.  I may not have savings or a pension but I do have memories of performing for the Queen, singing on a film set and seeing my family applaud through the lights of a West End theatre.  Who else can say they met their other half when I was Jill and he was Jack and we got married 47 times one December!  This unstable, nomadic lifestyle is exotic and appealing to your “normal” friends who have settled down.  I work from mouse-ridden dressing rooms but they see celebrity cast mates and applause whereas I see cosy family meals to their mortgage responsibilities and rows!  The grass is always greener.....

So do I regret plugging away at this acting malarkey for over a decade?  The sacrifices are worth it because that ‘acting bug’ is still there; there seems to be no treatment and despite my protestations, I may be terminal.  I may not get to the final act, especially as my 31 year old ovaries kick in, but I hope I can convince you that all your dreams and aspirations can come true.  It is possible get paid to do what you love and with just a bit adjustment and understanding to find the ‘happy ever after!’

You’ve experienced my first jobs with me in my column “Into The Profession”; jaunts at Edinburgh Festival, endless battles with auditions, achieving West End dreams and producing my own play.  But as The Fourthwall Magazine enters a new phase, so do I; this “working actress” is constantly navigating to find that Holy Grail called the work/life balance and although the nearest I am to finding it currently is in a performance of Spamalot, I am hopeful that it is possible.  I am still learning, dreaming, failing and will be until the day I retire, which as a self-employed thesp is not too far away from the final stop in the graveyard!  Over the next few columns I’ll confide my struggle with balancing two careers in writing and acting and trying to find work when ‘out-of-work.’  And please do let me know any questions you may have about the big bad world of performing and I’ll try to incorporate them into my columns, after all, in the wise words of Zac Efron in High School Musical, “We’re all in this together....!”

check out the brilliant Fourthwall Magazine at www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog Miss Gibb. I've been having a bit of acting nostalgia and wondering if I did the right thing by packing it all in. Your honest comments have confirmed to me that I have done the right thing because there are just too many family and friend type occasions that I couldn't bare to miss, as you discuss.
    When you go to Drama school, I just don't think you understand how difficult it is to live life out of acting work - for me it was far too hard and the pleasure and relief of having a (far too small) pay packet each month is too alluring!
    But I do so miss the stage, the lights, the applause, the rehearsal period and the creativity.
    You're quite an inspiration x