Friday, 21 October 2011

Ain't Nothing But A Number

I think we all had a good chuckle at this news story over the last couple of days. Could someone really be so protective over their date of birth and could they really claim that it could jeopardise the possibility of them getting work in the future?

The debate over ageism within the acting industry is an age-old one and I think women in particular feel victimised. It's easy to feel that as you get older, all the younger actresses, looking gorgeous, youthful and eager, are coming in and snatching the jobs away. But surely they can only take the jobs that are applicable to them? The problem lies with the writers and producers and directors who insist on only writing parts for those under 25 and then maybe adding in an older man for good measure. I'm only just out of the 'young' age bracket and I get a little annoyed so I'm sure my frustration is only set to increase with age as I feel the little pool of parts I can apply for get smaller and smaller.

I can possibly understand why this woman might be annoyed as in the acting world, your actual age really has very little relevance to the roles you play. As long as you look like you can play the part then really that's all that matters. Who cares if you're 50? If you can still realistically play a 30 year old the the date on your birth certificate is utterly irrelevant. And I've never been in the casting seat but I'm pretty sure a casting director would look at the actor's headshot first and make their decision from that whether they think they could possibly play the part they're casting for. I'm fairly certain they don't get their calculator out and start working out whether or not their date of birth means that they could possibly play a 25 year old shop assistant. Thankfully, with the exception of one casting site, we're allowed to keep ourselves open to all roles and use our initiative as to whether we feel we can legitimiately play a role.

However, this doesn't mean that we always end up playing the ages that we should be and I've often found myself potraying characters in a completely different generation to mine. Most memorable was for a play I was in a few years ago. A child, despite having no lines, was a major part of the final scene and three young boys from local schools had been brought in to play the part during our three week run. However, because they were unable to attend our rehearsals which primarily took part in the coldest room in the whole of London during the day, I found myself, as the youngest looking member of the cast, standing in for this part. This was all fine until it was decided that on press night, it would be far better for me to play the role as the director was worried that the boys would get stage fright on such an important evening. It was ignored that kids are far more professional at these types of things and will just generally get on with it while the adults are all stressing about whether their hair looks alright and if they've done enough background work on their character. The show turned out to be amazing and by the end of the three weeks, we had a play that was getting amazing reviews and was selling out every night. But this press night was terrible. On two separate occassions, two actors found themselves in the unenviable position of being victim to wardrobe malfunctions and were on stage with their trousers round their ankles. Cues were missed, there were three separate moments of corpsing, I had to play the whole of my biggest scene facing upstage as the actor I was on with seemed to completely forget everything he'd ever known and we discovered that the giant piece of material at the back of the stage that was meant to mask us was almost entirely see-through. Then add to this, during a very naturalistic play, at the most critical and emotional point moment of the last 2 hours, a 26 year old woman wearing a skirt because her trousers had been picked up by another actor by accident, comes on pretending to be an 8 year old boy. It's safe to say that the magic of theatre was well and truly destroyed that night.

Today I've found just one part that I can actually apply for due to either being too old or too young. If you need me, I'll be the one underneath that pile of age-defying moisturiser...

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