Tuesday, 10 June 2014

'When Enough is Enough' and 'Getting Back on the Horse' - my life in cliches

I started writing this blog last week when a 2013 survey carried out by the website Casting Call Pro released the results that over 75% of actors earned less than £5,000 last year.  46% earned less than £1,000 from acting work and just 2% earned more than £20,000. It made for happy reading but I doubt it came as a shock to actors.
Aaaargh! I didn't realise I was broke!
There has since been much analysis and opinion on these results. One suggests that there are too many drama schools churning out too many actors into an industry that cannot support them. I have to say that despite working at these institutions from time to time, I do agree with Susan Elkin’s blog for The Stage. It is wonderful to teach a room full of bright eyed eager students because it reminds me of how it used to feel to be that motivated and trusting of the industry. It is a great honour to help them progress and inspiring to share their positivity but I can’t help feeling slightly guilty sometimes because you do walk away thinking – how many of you will actually work? And how many of them will join the majority of actors earning under £5,000 per year?

There are too many of us. Only yesterday I got an email from my agent saying how quiet things are in Musical Theatre Land at the moment and we need to start working for ourselves again, sending letters to get ourselves remembered amidst the sea of graduates.
There's me - I'm the short brunette

The fact that the industry is so unforgiving and rarely allows someone to earn enough for rent in London has almost become an accepted joke. Twitter is full of talented actors/writers who post amusing audition tales and comments. Pro Resting Actress gives us daily updates on degrading castings and Kayleigh Llewellyn reflects on life in a ticket booth and yes we all chuckle in recognition and feel part of the acting clan. It is a wonderful industry but the reality is that it is hard. Really hard.

People on the outside perhaps don’t see the day to day of being a jobbing actor. They see the names in lights and the appearances on This Morning but every high is surrounded by days of counting pennies and crying into old show scores.

So what happens to the actors who are in that 75%? It’s all very well marveling at the statistics but they represent real people. Real people feeling dejected who can only survive on bar tips for so long.

A lot of actors have to give up. Normal life or the bank manager comes a-calling and you have to accept that maybe you cannot withstand the ups and downs anymore; your need for security, self-esteem or sanity become too strong.  There are not many other professions where you enter with a degree and crossed fingers accepting that there is no guarantee of progression, pay rises or pensions. 

However it isn’t a conscious decision, it happens slowly. For many actors the industry drops them before they make the leap.

The reason I dithered about this blog post is that I have had a change of heart since starting it. I was going to discuss giving up the profession, although giving it the more positive connotation by calling it ‘moving on.’  I have been going through all the struggles I’ve mentioned, not being right for anything, not getting auditions and not fitting in a casting bracket anymore.

But I was alright with it all. You know when unemployed actors have a speech prepared (complete with over-stretched grin and dead eyes) about how “it’s just quiet at the moment but they’ll be something in the pipeline.” Well I had developed a similar one saying “that I was ready to settle down, that it’s hard when you don’t look your age and well, I enjoy the teaching and it pays better than a West End ensemble wage” and I believed it. I was content.

Until........

I got an email. It’s always the smallest thing that makes you break. I had enquired about some summer workshop teaching and the reply said that they only wanted people who are currently in West End shows. That is totally fair enough but for some reason the floodgates opened and I was overcome with every feeling of failure, regret and loss of being one of those West End Wendies on a pittance! After multitudes of snotty sobs, my wonderful, supportive boyfriend (only fellow actors can understand) calmed me down and I booked new headshots and vowed to get back on the horse. (Preferably War Horse, if anyone from The Nash is reading!) A complete turnaround from the woman who was quite happy to move on a few hours ago!

This industry may be in the process of dumping me but I am not going to go down without a fight, I love it too much.
The reason why this industry is so saturated and its inhabitants are struggling along on less than £5,000 a year is that we are all infected with the same disease – we love performing. We need to perform. And it never totally leaves us.

Even when your head, bank statements and body clock scream ‘ENOUGH,’ they can never quite be strong enough to quash that annoying thing that we’ve been cultivating since we first came across Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins or a cassette of show tunes by Dave Willets – your desire.


Enough may well be enough, but not quite yet.

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