Friday, 25 January 2013

Ebacc To The Future

The introduction of the Ebacc is a worry. It might have been a long time since I donned a hideous school tie (purple, turquoise and grey striped if anyone’s wondering) and dragged my Kickered heels down the corridor to double Chemistry but that doesn’t mean that hearing changes in the system doesn’t sadden me. 

The Ebacc will mean that pupils’ achievements will be recognised in five core subjects: Maths, English, Science, Humanities and Languages. All very serious and worthy subjects and I have no argument with them being there  but where the bloody hell are the creative subjects? What happens if your skills lie in drama or art or music? Once you've dealt with the sheer panic from your parents that you'll be dependant on them for the rest of forever, there's a serious question about what's going to happen to you during school. Instead or nurturing those that have an eye for design or have a knack for acting the fool on stage, the curriculum will now edge those bright minds out and just reward them for the subjects that yes, make you seem smart but leave you with very little skills for the outside world.

I was decently bright at school but it will come as no surprise that drama soon became my favourite subject. I’m quite a shy thing really and, without drama classes, I’m not sure I’d ever have learnt that doing a funny voice in front of people was actually quite fun and something that I wasn’t half bad at. The first time I got up in front of my classmates and made them laugh, I was hooked. It's all very well getting 10 out of 10 in a test about different types of precipitation but it's another thing being applauded on your interpretation of Orinoco Flow (horribily true story that I've only just remembered.) Even if I hadn’t decided to chuck my prospects of ever having a healthy bank balance away, drama taught me to be more confident and creative. I wish I had a better way of putting this without sounding as twee as a box of rose-covered kittens but it gave me a voice that didn’t have to be grounded in fact. It gave me the confidence to express my opinions without having to study a million and one formulas first. I could see something and say how it moved me, what it made me feel and I didn’t have to work out what the bloody equation was or where it fell on a periodic table.

When schools are forced to concentrate on these core subjects, it won’t be long until the creative subjects are phased out and consigned to the extra-curricular box. But when will children have time to do these things out of school? And, even if there is the time, not all parents can afford the cost of sending them to drama classes or piano lessons. Schools are supposed to be there to open up children’s minds to all the possibilities that lay before them but it won’t be long before that creativity is stamped out.  

So please, if a creative subject helped you out when you were at school, please sign the petition to save the future of creativity in our schools. It’s really easy and, if you feel so inclined, you can also write to your MP. Knowing stuff is important but having the opportunity to be creative is even more vital. You can sign the petition here:

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Just Drop It

Being dropped. Apart from the acting nightmare that every performer has where they haven’t learnt their lines for a show opening that night, being dropped by an agent is probably what every actor fears most. And it’s not necessarily because you love your agent so much that you’re sad to see them go. It’s the rejection and that horrible feeling that you’re not wanted any more.

Followers of my Twitter account will know that I was dropped by my agent recently. You’d hope that when your agent decides they don’t want you any more that they might get you in for a meeting and discuss where things have gone wrong. Even though the decision has already been made, you’d hope that there could still be some discussion. Sadly this wasn’t the case with me. Oh no. I found out via email while I was out shopping. It’s quite something to find out you’re being culled while browsing the reduced items in Waitrose. Rejection plus half price mushrooms do not make for feelings of confidence. Believe me.

I’m sure I was meant to be upset but the sheer disbelief of reading this news on my phone very quickly blocked my tear ducts. Disbelief turned to rage which then turned to me angrily muttering to myself in the crisp aisle. Once I’d got over the anger of being dumped via the internet, I then turned the anger on to myself as I questioned why I hadn’t got in there first. Although lovely, my agents hadn’t done me any good over the last year. They’d secured me the equivalent of one audition a month and unfortunately I hadn’t managed to get any of those roles so it’s safe to say that I wasn’t best pleased. The majority of the castings they did get me were for jobs that I really wasn’t suitable for and one of the last jobs they put me up for was for an open audition where I was mainly performing alongside 16 year olds. All the acting work I got last year, I’d got myself so clearly something wasn't working.  If we’d be in a relationship then I’m sure my mum would’ve put her hat back into storage sometime around September.

Of course there was upset there too. You have the doubts over whether you’re in the right job. Maybe this is the wake-up call you need to realise that you’re not good enough and you need to start thinking of a new career. But if we gave up at the first sign of rejection then most actors’ careers would last about as long as a bag of crisps in my greedy hands. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I went up for every single audition they got me and I did all I could to try and get the part. Sadly just some things don’t work out and my year with my agent just so happened to be one of those ill-fated things.  
As I told people about what had happened, once they’d gotten over the email method, I found myself using the term ‘blessing in disguise’ at such a rate that ‘end of the day’ was getting worried about being bumped off the top spot. And I felt fine. Not in a ‘you should really remove all sharp objects from north London’ type way in but in a ‘this is actually bloody exciting way.’ As actors we’re taught that having an agent is the most important thing in the world. And it’s true that a good agent can be more precious than a Nando’s Black Card. But get yourself a bad agent and you might as well ask your resident kitchen mouse to put you up for work. 

I can honestly say that my acting career has been at its best when I’ve been looking after myself and while I of course I wouldn’t say no to a good agent, there’s something exciting about being in charge of your own career. It makes you work that little bit harder and you’re not constantly worrying about your agent calling with an audition for a vaguely paid touring show just 10 minutes after you’ve got yourself a £12 an hour temp job. It’s surprisingly liberating to be back in control and know that I’m not going to wake up tomorrow morning to find out that I’m going to an audition where I have to spend three hours pretending to be a sloth while attempting to play the harmonica. 

So now everything’s down to me. Which is basically how it was before I was dropped from an exceedingly low height. Business as usual, then.  

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


You know I don’t actually enjoy blogging about unpaid work, right? Despite my countless entries on it, I don’t actually get a kick from it. Well, I do. My love for this job gets a kicking as does my poor and feeble bank account. But I don’t get a thrill from it, I promise. All I get from it is a desire to climb up on the roof and scream for the rest of the week. But, yet again, I find myself blogging about it. I’m sorry but it’s happening. So you can either look away now or you can come with me on a little brief journey… You still with me? Excellent, now follow me…

I had no intentions of writing about unpaid work because I was pretty sure I’d said all I wanted to on the matter. But yesterday, eager to get started on 2013 and hoping that the castings would start appearing as everyone gets back to work proper, I practically leapt on the casting websites. I checked the paid jobs on one particular site and found one measly, grossly underpaid role to apply for on the woefully meagre list. Cover letter and CV fired off, I checked the unpaid jobs to see if there were any gems I could share on Twitter. Despite it being mid-morning, there was already a full page of unpaid jobs. As the day went on, the unpaid list increased quicker than my Christmas waistline and I had trouble keeping up with them. At the end of play (about 5.30pm when casting calls ground to a halt and hopes of a productive and fruitful day die yet again) there were 15 paid jobs and 51 unpaid jobs. That, maths fans, means that for every paid job, there are 3.4 unpaid jobs scavenging around, making everyone feel a bit uneasy. I'm not saying that it's this bad every day but I can say that every single day, the amount of unpaid work will always outnumber paid work. Always.

This is worrying. And it’s no wonder that Spotlight are now planning a consultation on the matter (if you’re a Spotlight member and are yet to complete the survey they’re emailing out, please do so. It only takes a minute or so and is super important.) But the sheer amount of unpaid work out there is continuing to be a problem. I’m not sure I can say anything new that I haven’t said before. I personally don’t take on unpaid work anymore but I used to so I don’t feel like I can be in a position to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. I’d like to ask people to stop doing it because while people happily do it, it will continue. And it’s not just the small independent filmmakers and students that are the problem (and I’m not saying that none of them pay, some of them do which is wonderful) but it’s the big, major channels that are to blame too. Most weeks I’ll see castings posted by terrestrial channels asking for performers to work for expenses only. This sets a terrible example and show just how big this problem is. If the major companies aren’t prepared to pay everyone then you can hardly blame the smaller companies for following suit. 

And it’s not just expenses only work. Yesterday, on the particular website that gave up the depressing 15/51 statistic, around half of those jobs weren’t even offering expenses. These were jobs that expected actors to essentially pay to work just so they could receive a DVD maybe a year later and perhaps an IMDb credit on a page that no one will ever look at. I’ve even seen jobs that don’t even offer food for their crew and performers. However desperate you might be for work, please don’t take on these jobs. If they can’t even be bothered to make a few sandwiches and buy a few bags of crisps then I can almost guarantee that the on-set experience won’t be a fun one. But of course people are still applying for these jobs. The amount of work out there has decreased to such a depressing level that people just want to be doing something, anything to confirm to themselves that they are in fact an actor and not a temp or a call centre worker or whatever other job you find yourself doing to keep the money-hungry wolves from the door. I desperately need to update my showreel but I didn’t get any work last year that I’d be able to put on it. I’m still waiting for a copy of some work I did back in 2011 (chasing this up has become an almost full-time job) but while I have an out of date showreel, the jobs are that bit harder to get. So it’s no surprise that people take on unpaid work just so they can get a bit of material and maybe edge their way out of this ridiculous catch-22.

Hopefully Spotlight’s findings will bring about change. Or maybe 2013 will just be another year of me constantly whinging about a problem that won’t go away. If it’s the latter, I’m sorry. I really am.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Casting Doubt

'We can pay for any cosmetic surgery she may require for the movie.'

I know I keep saying this but it constantly amazes me that casting calls can still surprise me. But this is definitely up there in that little elite group that leave me staring in shock at my computer screen for a good few minutes before I tell the world about it on Twitter. There are some seriously worrying casting calls out there and it leaves me wondering what the process is when these adverts are submitted.

I know I make fun of a lot of these casting calls on Twitter but some of them, like the one above, are seriously damaging. Ones that ask you to change yourself or others that tell you that performers willing to appear naked are preferred are not only hugely unethical but actually very dangerous too. I’d like to think that even when I was starting out that I might be able to ignore these castings but with acting work being at an all-time low, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were people going up for these roles. When all you want to do is act, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to do whatever a director tells you otherwise you’ll be seen as unwilling and clearly not serious about your career. Of course, this isn’t the case but especially when you’re new to all this, that can be how the industry seems. The acting profession, despite its nature, can actually be very lonely and if you don't have other people to ask or if you're just a bit desperate to make your mark then you may find yourself going up for these parts.

The casting above is of course a very extreme example of how terrible casting calls can be but it’s the perfect example of why this industry still needs a lot more regulation. That casting has now been removed but it was posted a week ago and I’m sure actors have applied for it. This unfortunately means that the casting process is probably well under way and some poor actress is now being told all the things she has to change about herself just so she can match the ideals of a team who wouldn’t know a real woman if they deservedly smacked them in the face. This could be an actress who is entirely new to the profession and thinks that changing yourself because someone else says you need to is perfectly acceptable. Just like the casting that said they may want their actress to eat less so they are more suited to the role, casting websites need to prove that they are vetting these adverts before being put online. If they’re not vetting their castings, which seems to be the case with some of the larger sites, then this is deeply worrying and shows a disappointing lack of commitment and support to the actors that are paying fees to keep their website running. We actors are expected to pay to be able to access these casting calls but sadly it sometimes leaves us questioning exactly what we're paying for. 

As usual, we actors have to look after ourselves so the only solution at the moment is to keep reporting these casting calls and hope that eventually, these websites will take notice and start taking a bit of responsibility too.   

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Missing Opportunities

I know it’s going to be hard getting any sympathy today. While the rest of the world drags their Brie-inflated bodies back to work, most of us actors are still encased in our snugly pyjamas, still navigating the scant leftovers and wondering how much longer we can keep living off them. I realise that those of you with normal jobs probably hate us while we lounge on the sofas but, and I think I speak for most resting actors out there, most of us would do anything to know that we’ll be employed doing what we love doing in January. Or at least earning some money.

I’ve spoken about how tough December can be while you watch your employment opportunities grind to a sickening halt but in some ways, January is even worse. We’re all taught that the start of the new year is the prime time to gear yourself up for new prospects. After nearly two weeks of eating your own body weight in chocolate and stuffing balls, you have a fair bit of time to contemplate where you want your career to go next. While aimlessly watching another film from your childhood, you start planning in your head about what you want to bring about in the upcoming year. When you’re self-employed, you very quickly become accustomed to having to produce your own opportunities and you convince yourself that this is the year. This is the year that you’re going to write to everyone. You’re going to look after yourself. You’re going to be prepared. This year is going to be your year. 

So you wake up on the day that everyone else has gone back to work and you’re raring to go. You’re out of your pyjamas a full two hours earlier than normal, you have a breakfast that doesn’t contain cheese leftovers and you don’t trawl the TV guide to find which gloriously nostalgic film is on. You open up the casting websites, ready to cover letter the heck out of them. But there’s nothing. All that faces you are leftover castings from last year that look about as appetising as a turkey sandwich. So far today there has been one paid job that’s available to me. It’s for a sexy actress that looks good in a bikini. Sadly I think the only reason they’d pay me the £200 on offer is to put my clothes back on and go home. Of course, there’s the usual array of unpaid opportunities that sound about as appealing as a Christmas CD in January but I’m ignoring those in the hope that they go away because, right now, Sainsbury’s don’t accept a new credit on your CV as legal tender. And the problem is that the rest of the world hasn’t caught up yet. Of course, with the world of work really only really beginning on a Wednesday, it’s unlikely that much will be achieved this week. So we look to next week, the second week of January for things to start. While the rest of the world is back into their routine, us actors are still desperately waiting for our invite, an invite that has inevitably been lost in the post.

So today I’m achieving nothing. Again. Apart from boring you lot about how I’m achieving nothing. Again. But chin up because you never know what’s around the corner. That killer job could be hovering just outside your inbox, ready to make 2013 your best year yet. Or, even better, there could be another excuse to stay in pyjamas that little bit longer.