Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Silent But Deadly

Firstly, read this:

If you're anything like me then you probably read most of it with a little jazzy voice in your head going 'And your point is what, exactly?' OK, it might not have been jazzy. Maybe it was Irish. Or loud. Or maybe you made it sound like a monster. But, if you're a working actor then I'm fairly sure your reaction was fairly similar to mine. And if you're not an actor then you're probably left wondering what their problem is.

Y'see, I thought that this article was going to finally give all us actors a bit of a voice and expose the soul-shattering amount of unpaid work out there at the moment. Just today I saw a casting call for a fringe theatre piece that didn't pay but made a point of saying that the last two years they'd managed to break even and had been able to put on a massive party for their cast and crew at the end of it all. Now, I don't know about you but I'd rather they spent their time trying to get some extra funding rather than harking on about some rubbish party they're going to organise, spending the money they could be giving you on a cheap wine and value crisps.

I could go on for ages about the unpaid situation but it's been done to death by a lot of other people who are far more eloquent than I'll ever be. I could mention the fact that casting sites such as StarNow ask all of those who post jobs to say that they agree to abide by the National Minimum Wage Act but this doesn't then stop them posting up jobs that are unpaid. Yesterday I saw a casting call for a film about modelling scams. Underneath the casting it had the line:

The owner of this listing has agreed to abide by the UK National Minimum Wage Act. 

Now, you're way ahead of me aren't you because you already know that, of course, this job was unpaid. The director was unable to see the irony of posting up a job about scams which states that they are abiding by a law that stipulates that people providing a service should be paid the minimum amount (let's ignore any legal stuff about being self-employed and whether actors are entitled to a minimum wage) and then mentions that actors won't be getting paid.

But no, what I really wanted to talk about was the fact that I would've loved to have had a chance to play some of these parts when I was straight out of drama school. If it was a choice between playing a near-mute barman in a successful play at the Bush Theatre or dragging myself around Oxfordshire and Nottinghamshire performing TIE for kids who couldn't care less, I know which job I'd choose. Yeah, it's dull being on stage when you've got very little to say but, when you've just hopped straight out of drama school, getting those credits and working alongside directors and actors of that calibre is pretty bloody great. And I understand that it might not be the greateest thing to write to casting directors and agents about but heck, at least you've got something to tell them. During my first year of drama school, I'm pretty sure that casting directors and agents thought I was taking a vow of silence against them. As much as I wanted to get in touch with them, it's bloody hard persuading the National Theatre's casting director to attend a 9am showing of your play on heroin in a school hall in Banbury.

And sometimes being silent on stage is no bad thing. Some of the greatest moments of theatre I've seen have been just from a look that a so-called 'lesser character' makes. And also, let's not knock the relief that being quiet on stage can bring. I've had several shows where I've had prolonged periods of silence on stage (make of that what you will...) Now, I'd love to say that I spent that time staying in character and keeping my character's motivation and intentions firmly in mind. But of course I didn't. Those moments are also great for wondering what terrible food you're going to pick up on your way home, whether you turned the gas off before you left the house or working out inventive ways to sack your agent. They allow you to keep a sneaky eye on the audience and they also help you to gently work your way through a killer hangover.

So let's not be too down on those mute lurkers and silent standers. If someone wants to pay me to silently stand on a stage for two hours, let them, I say!

1 comment:

  1. Kelly Edwards3 May 2012 at 09:59

    Well said! That article really annoyed me because as a producer when you do a listing for the Edinburgh programme you get about 50 words so you have to sell your show and can't fill it up with actors names! If someone comes to review the show they will ask the actors names or look them up and we always make a programme for our shows with the actors names in anyway just in case they don't! That point in that article is unfounded and rubbish...sorry rant over!