Monday, 17 December 2012

The Bleak Midwinter

Christmas. A time when it’s totally fine to sit around the house all day drinking port and eating your body weight in Stilton (it is fine, I promise.) Everything starts to gorgeously wind down and it suddenly becomes OK to watch A Muppets Christmas Carol, ET, Elf, Home Alone and Santa Claus The Movie all in one day. But there’s a sinister side to all this tinsel-framed jollity and that’s the terrifying lack of work that makes itself known to us actors at this time of year. 

Y’see, unless you’re blessed in the art of panto or you make a particularly good elf, December can be a tough month. Everyone else has decided to start winding down and because our lives are governed by the timetables of others, we have to wind down too. I mean, of course, we’re used to be it being quiet all the time. It’s Valentine’s Day soon or there’s a Y in the month or it’s the anniversary of Noel Coward coming up with another amusing quote. Whatever it is, you can guarantee that actors will use it as an excuse for work being a little thin on the ground. But Christmas is a whole different ball game with rules that mean however well you know them, you still won’t win.

As an actor, you’ll be used to the, “So, what acting work have you got on at the moment?” question. I’ve written about this before and it’s a painful question to be faced with if your current career prospects are looking as bright as an energy saving lightbulb. I realise that if you’re a not an actor, it’s the most natural question to put to someone who insists on showing off for a living. Of course you’re going to ask what they’re up to. What else are you doing to ask them? Whether they’ve got a holiday booked? How their stocks and shares are doing? Of course not. No, instead you ask them something that’s guaranteed to make you wish you hadn’t bothered. Because they’re either working on something and you then have to sit through half an hour of them boring the bum off you about what a wonderful, life-affirming piece they’re part of, or hey’re working on nothing and you have to deal with the awkward excuses as to why their life currently has no meaning. 

If you are the type of person that asks actors these type of questions, take a tip from me: if they tell you that they’re not working, just leave it at that. Or, if you do have to add something, just say that you understand that Christmas must be bit tough. Don’t suggest that they "just do Panto instead." I mean, feel free to offer your advice but just be aware of the repercussions and whether you mind receiving a swift clip round the ear straight after. I also suggest not being tempted to use other nuggets of advice such as ‘Oh, I suppose this is a good time to brush up on your skills.’ Yes, it is but it’s also a good time to eat Jelly Babies for breakfast and a whole box of Lebkuchen for dinner.

 I realise that if I used all my quiet time to brush up on skills that by now I’d be a multi-lingual, martial arts, one woman band extraordinaire. But I don’t. And because of that, Christmas will probably always be a time for unemployment. And y’know what? I’m secretly pleased.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Credit Where Credit's Due

We’re used to seeing apologies in castings for projects being low budget. We hear all the usual excuses due to it being made my students or the fact that everyone’s working for free and it’s a labour of love. I know I have plenty of complaints about these types of castings but at least they're being honest and we know that money can be hard to come by. However, it’s a very different situation when it’s a well-known company that rewards its chief executive bonuses that are in their millions.

Today I saw a casting for Experian, the credit check company and it was for an internal corporate film. Now, it’s no advert but still, your image is being used for a massive company. And how much do they want to pay actors to be part of this film? The measly sum of £50. Their chief executive earned £9 million last year. If we presume that he works every single second of the year then it takes him just three minutes to earn £50. Isn’t it lovely to feel valued, actors?

I realise that just because a company makes a lot of money, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can chuck thousands at the actors that they hire. I’m not that na├»ve. However, when a chief executive can give himself a £1.5 million bonus, it can be a pretty bitter pill to swallow. As actors we give up our face to help these companies out. Our image can help them sell their product and our acting skills can help them train their staff better. Ultimately our work is helping them make a profit so why the heck are we finding ourselves being shoved further and further down the food chain? And this particular job is for an internal film meaning that the only exposure you’re likely to get is to Darren in the IT department.  At best you might get a little snippet to put on your showreel but, more likely, you’ll probably just find yourself leaving with a sense that you’ve sold yourself extremely short. It’s hardly surprising that a company that provides credit checks will probably just be providing you with a credit for your CV and nothing else. 

Unfortunately, it seems that these larger companies have now cottoned on to the fact that many actors will work for nothing, or for very little, and if they put out a casting offering the minimum amount of cash possible then they can be sure to get at least enough applicants to get the job done. This does us actors no favours and the only ones to benefit are the companies themselves who get to keep their cash and ensure these eye-watering bonuses keep being given out while we’re left wondering, yet again, how we’re going to pay our rent. 

As usual, I can only keep urging actors to think very carefully when taking on unpaid work. I know we want to fill our CVs up with jobs that are less that 5 years old and I know we want to take on anything so that we can feel like we’re at least doing something. But by doing these jobs, we’re turning the world of acting from a profession into a hobby. And if that happens then that means I’ll have to update my CV. Don’t make me deal with that level of rage.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Undramatic Irony

“We’ve got this really good idea for a film. How about we make a film about how tough it is being an actor. How talented they are but how tough it can be to get a break. How, to support their dreams they have to take on jobs that they don’t want. What do you think?”

“Sounds great. What’s the budget?”

“We don’t have one.”

“So you’re making those actors, playing struggling actors, work for free.”


“I hate you.”

I imagine this is what would happen if the production team behind a particular casting out at the moment had the misfortune of telling me about their upcoming film. The deleted scene would then show me shoving all my bank statements down their sickening throats and garrotting them slowly and painfully with my woeful tax return. 

The premise of the film is entirely expected. At some point, all actors will have a go at writing a film. Some of them will be bloody awesome. Many of them will be about as good a read as toaster instructions. And of course, as we’re often told to write about what we know, actors will inevitably write about the lives of actors. Heck, even I’ve thought about it. I’ve scribbled down a few ideas. It’s lurking on my computer somewhere with all the other half-baked ideas I’ve had, all sat there as a constant reminder of how horribly short my attention sp- Sorry, I just stopped to watch a video of two cats fighting in French. It was great.

But if I ever got the point where I put my ideas on to camera, I’d damn well make my actors were getting paid. I mean, I’d pay actors all the time otherwise as, given all my Twitter and blog rants regarding pay, I’d be left with about as many legs to stand on as a drunk spider after an encounter with a particularly evil-minded three year old. But if you’re making a film about how tough it is being an actor then bloody hell, wouldn’t you make sure you weren’t that dick? The irony of it all appears to have smacked them round the face so hard that they think the only way actors can play unpaid actors is by not paying them. Because, of course, actors don’t understand how difficult it is to be an actor. We have no idea what it’s like to take on demoralising, low-paid jobs just to keep our dreams wheezing and spluttering. We don’t know what it’s like to be constantly worrying about money or whether we’ll ever get a break. Oh no. We need incompetent fools to not pay us in their precious little film to ensure our performances are real.  

I’m tempted to apply. Just so I can tell them where to stick their stupid film and their ridiculous ideas on how actors should be treated. I’d like to tell them how utterly hateful they are and how everything is wasted on them. I’d like to stand guard and stop any actor taking part in this insult upon our profession. But mostly I’d just like them to go away. And never, ever come back.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Un-Free Speech

It’s worrying when you start to see auditions and what kind of blogging potential they will bring. If my agent asks then you totally tell them that my first thought is how it will benefit my career. But, in all honesty, I mainly wonder how good an anecdote they’ll produce. I realise it’s about as professional as a politician’s expenses spreadsheet but I must admit that it does make gut-wrenchingly horrible auditions that little bit more bearable. And a recent audition was no exception.

The second I got the email through, I was getting excited about the blog. The damn thing hadn’t even happened yet and I already knew that it was going to make my insides scowl. There was a workshop. There were speeches. There was singing. There was hardly any notice. There was dance. It was going to be horrible. It was going to upset me more than Ribena ToothKind. But I went, of course. Because I’m a professional. It was nothing to do with the fact that I’d had very little to blog about over the last couple of weeks. No way.

So, off I went, the edges of my mouth about as heavy as my heart. And, as usual, my entrance was a fitting start to the whole debacle. Yet again, the production company had failed to secure any kind of waiting room meaning that when you arrived, you were propelled straight into the audition before yours. I tried to back out but the director insisted that I sit in and watch a bunch of actors stumble their way through some Shakespeare with the subtlety of a herd of hippos in top hats. I suddenly found myself sat almost underneath them as they tripped and fumbled through prose and verse. As awkwardness isn’t one of the key warm ups for an audition, I decided to try and find somewhere to try and pretend that I was getting myself ready. My options were to either stomp in front of the audition panel or hide behind a curtain. So, as I took my place behind the curtain, I patiently waited until the audition was over. Of course, I wasn’t to know that there were at least another ten minutes to go. Ten whole minutes trapped between a cold, brick wall and a musty old cloth. I must really love this job.

Finally the Shakespeare Stagger was over and the next workshop was called. As I emerged from behind the curtain, I discovered a whole host of other actors had since entered and were merrily chatting away. I came out feeling like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and, I’m sorry to say, that was the high point of the audition. Followers of this blog will know that there is no place in my heart for workshop auditions. Seemingly innocent warm up games and improvisation sessions turn into competitive trials that would make Hercules balk. Fixed smiles and flailing arms become the order of the day as everyone becomes desperate to be seen and remembered. However, this audition had an additional element: MONOLOGUES.

The need for monologues has decreased somewhat. I can now go for months or years before I’m asked to do one which means that, rather unprofessionally, I don’t really keep any at the ready any more. They’re a chore to find and I think that, more often than not, they bring out the pretentious side of actors which is something many struggle to keep under wraps at the best of times anyway. So, being asked to prepare a couple for an audition with very little notice was something I embraced with the same enthusiasm that I’d embrace a spider. But performing a couple of monologues to an audition panel is FINE. Absolutely and completely fine. But in front of all your competitors? Oh pass me the sick bucket. And actually, it’s not that I have a problem performing mine in front others. If I did then I'm really in the wrong profession. It’s more that I have to sit through everyone else’s. All twenty of them. All twenty of them performing two speeches each. That’s 38 bloody speeches (yes, maths fans, I’ve already deducted my own from the harrowing ordeal.) So, we settled down to watch everyone desperately emote their way through nearly 90 minutes' worth of monologues. And very few had done the decent thing of choosing short speeches. Oh no. They’d chosen the double-sided printed ones. The ones that, were you watching them in the theatre, would have you trying to get your watch in the right light so you could work out how much longer you have to endure this crap. 

I’ll admit that some were good. A couple made me a bit jealous. But the majority made me want to gnaw off mine and everyone else’s feet. I’m still having nightmares about it now. It’s so bad that I can’t even begin to write about the rest of the audition. The dancing. And the singing. And the movement pieces. And the chanting in a bloody round. I’ll save all that for another day when we’re all feeling a bit more brave.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Letter

Dear Production Companies/Advertising Agencies/Whichever Of You Damned Fools This Concerns

Please, on behalf of all us actors who have invested many years and much heartache into honing our skills and persevering with this ridiculous job, cease with this current obsession for casting non-actors in your adverts.

This may surprise you but we actors are capable of acting. We can play friends. We can play lovers. We can play the fact that we are loyal customers of your stupid, jumped-up brand. That's what we do. That is our job. We do well at it. Audiences pay money to watch us play these roles on stage. They'll fork out the hard-earned pay to see us at the cinema. They might even cancel a night out because they want to see something we're in on the TV.

This is our job. You know, those things that doctors and shop assistants and accountants and lawyers and street cleaners and secretaries have. Those things that you have. Like everyone else, this is our living. Yes, we may not save lives. We don't keep the transport system running and we don't ensure people have groceries to buy every day. But we still play our part. We entertain. We inform. We ensure that daytime TV remains watched. Imagine that a gang of 'real' people were drafted in to create an advert. How would you feel if that contract went to your cousin Dave while you remained unemployed for another month? You. Would. Be. Livid.

This job is tough enough at the best of times. We attention-starved jesters have thrown ourselves into an already over-subscribed profession so why do you insist on making it even harder for us? Just one well-paid advert would stop an actor fretting about how they're going to pay their bills for a few months. Maybe it doesn't fulfil that artistic wish that we constantly strive for but it lifts that horrible weight that remains on our shoulder like a poorly designed bag for a short amount of time.

I've seen you offering 'real' people up to £3000 to be in your adverts. These real people have real jobs that pay them real wages. The only good that can come of this is that my temp agency might finally have some work for me while this 'real' person goes on a swish holiday with their winnings. However, if you just gave the job to me then I wouldn't need to keep harassing my temp agency and I'll finally have a credit on my CV that doesn't require people to look at it quizzically and wonder if I've just made up this obscure list of unheard of roles.

I know the trend is for reality. TOWIE and Made In Chelsea and Geordie Shore and all the others have taken over our TV channels meaning that dramas and comedies have to fight harder than ever just to get seen. But that doesn't mean you're not allowed to buck the trend. You can trust actors. We will do whatever you ask of us. We'll Shake 'n' Vac. We'll tell the world that we buy any car. Heck, we'll even swallow our pride and let everyone know that they should go compare.

So next time you go to make an advert, please think of your local actor. Think of how much your job would mean to them. Think about how much easier they'll be to direct. Think about the fact that this is their job and this is what they do for a living. Professionally.

Yours restingly,

Miss L

Friday, 9 November 2012

Show Me The Money. Please.

If my brain and my heart finally overcame their differences and finally decided to give that long-awaited relationship a go then it’s probable that I’d blog about unpaid acting work every single day. I realise it’s and it’s the thought of you all (you, the one person that reads this) going “OH BLOODY GET OVER IT AND TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE” that stops me from constantly mentioning it. But sadly the problem isn’t going away. I’ve tried ignoring it and it’s still there, like the child’s pants that have suspiciously been lying just two feet from our front door for over a year now. They won’t go away unless someone does something about it and it’s the same with unpaid work too.

I saw a casting today for an interesting sounding new play. I glanced at the payment details and saw, lo and bloody behold, that it was paid. Well, they’re paying £100 a week. Which at first I thought was alright. It’s an inoffensive figure that I’m pretty sure I can live on. But then I saw the rehearsal hours. 10am-5pm, Monday to Friday for three whole weeks. That’s £20 a day. Or, for those of you who like to work in hours, that’s £2.85 an hour. 75p less than the National Minimum Wage when it was introduced in 1999. It’s less than half the National Minimum Wage today. 

And the option to stop myself from having to live in a shoe box on one lentil a day via the medium of part-time work is hardly there either. If you’re stuck in rehearsals until 5pm every day, there are very few jobs that you can then go on to straight after. Most evening jobs require you to start at 5 or, if you’re lucky, 6. You’re then there until 10 or 11 meaning that you’re unlikely to get home much before midnight. And, if you’re only working 4 or 5 hours an evening, it’s unlikely you’re going to making much more than £30 a night anyway. Hardly enough to keep bailiffs away. So instead you have to take on a weekend job instead which means you’re finding yourself working a 7 day week. I know us artists are supposed to do whatever we can to make our dreams come true but when you’re too exhausted after working a 50 hour week for little more than £200 then those dreams very quickly turn into nightmares.

Now I realise no one is forcing us to take on these jobs. Thankfully, these casting calls don’t come with a 1950s gangster holding a gun to our heads telling us that we have to do these jobs or else. But what it does mean that these roles are then only open to those who can afford to take them on. Suddenly talent means nothing and time instead has to go into finding yourself a wealthy long lost aunt who has a tendency to fall downstairs and a penchant for broke actors. 

The National Minimum Wage and Living Wage both increased recently but neither of these apply t actors. Because, of course, we don’t need to worry about how we’re going to live. The cost of living apparently doesn’t apply to us because we’re busy living up on Cloud Acting. On Cloud Acting, a DVD copy of a student film you did back in 2004 will buy you a loaf of bread and a battered copy of The Stage which briefly mentions you in a review is considered legal tender by all reputable landlords. Of course, I realise that those living on Rainbow NMW or those in the relative luxury of Treehouse Living Wage aren’t having much of a better time but at least they’re supported by laws and a few calculated pennies being thrown their way. 

And here endeth the monthly unpaid whinge.