An actors life is a curious thing. Not only because people want to argue as to whether or not you should be calling yourself an actor or an actress (making a decision about your position on feminism based on this title) but also because you rarely live two days the same.
My life changes from moment to moment. I can be on a Commercial shoot one day with runners offering me tea and food, paid to hold an umbrella over my head, the next I’m serving burgers to a red faced rude customer. One minute I’m on Equity Minimum in a beautiful theatre being reviewed by all the broadsheets, the next dressed up as a Princess entertaining six year olds. This week there’s no meetings, no agent, no auditions and life feels destitute the next it’s casting after casting, desperately arranging meetings while pacing up and down the flat learning speech/poem/song wondering what in my wardrobe a Mum of two in a furniture advert would wear.
Change is our normality. And although variety may be the spice of life too much can leave a bad taste in the mouth. That’s why so many actors quit. The pushing and pulling, the too-ing and fro-ing, the constant scribbling out of arrangements, letting down family and friends, cancelling meetings and dinners in order to accommodate or pay for something else that ‘might’ be an opportunity can get too much for some.
I missed five weddings in one year (one of which was my oldest friends and I was actually meant to be a bridesmaid), two family funerals in another and I’ve moved house eight times in the last seven years.
I mean we have to pay just to be in with a chance of applying for a job. That’s before they even see your head shots, which cost a minimum of £250 a session if you’re lucky and yes that’s not including retouching and hard copy prints. Most actors will spend a minimum of £300 a year (that’s every year) just for inclusion on casting websites, one of which is vital to being viewed as a professional in the industry. Even for this fee there is still no guarantee of work.
Which is another sticking point. Most actors spend years of grafting, thousands of pounds at Drama School, put endless hours into promoting themselves just to be able to call themselves a professional actor. Then out of nowhere a non-actor might just swan into an audition and land a role of a lifetime because the director or producer ‘liked’ that they were a non-actor or because they essentially looked or were the part. This is difficult to not get riled by. I’m all for inclusion however when non-actors are cast on the basis that they don’t act and are just being themselves then surely they are not acting at all thus making a mockery of the industry and the craft itself.
The best way to describe an actors life is a juggling act and the best way to live this is to enjoy being the juggler. It can be dangerous to live our lives constantly projecting, wishing or hoping for some future date, job or life event to define us as people and for an actor this is even harder. Especially when we are constantly looking forward to a dream job or part, winning an award at some time in the future. This goes something like;
‘When I get a part at The National…’
‘When I get to the RSC….’
‘When I get my first TV part…’
Then I will have made it/be happy/can relax.
But the truth is unless we can find a way to genuinely enjoy the bumps of this ride we may never truly relax. Not only do we have to prove ourselves talented, worthy and wealthy enough just to get to train but once we stroll out of drama school that’s when it gets really tough.
NB I am talking from the perspective of a fairly normal person who does not receive a large allowance from Daddy, did not have a lovely flat bought for one when moving to London and worked throughout an intensive one year course at Drama School. I am talking from the perspective of being a real life jobbing actor who has to pay for her own life.
After drama school we then get into a rhythm of balancing the day job(s) with auditions, castings and acting jobs which do not always perfectly coincide. Believe it or not I do not get to choose when I get cast in something and often if I can’t make the audition slot I am offered I lose the audition. True story. This can be life affirming; there’s nothing like walking out of a day job to give you renewed confidence in yourself and talent but it doesn’t pay the bills! Bosses get tired of accommodating this hectic lifestyle, I mean, they don’t do it for anyone else, why you? If anyone else let them down at a moments notice for a busy shift they’d be sacked instantly. So we make up for it by putting on our actors smile and working ten times harder than everyone else. Yes it’s tiring, no we don’t want to be there, a day job is a means to an end in order to fill the financial void between acting contracts.
The struggle is real.
Then there are the incessant questions from actor and non-actor friends alike. Do you have anything going on at the moment? Anything lined up? Are you in anything at the moment? What have I seen you in? Have you been on Eastenders? Why don’t you go down to that BBC/ITV/local film studio and see if they need anyone? Then after a certain amount of years there’s always one helpful friend who will ask the question no actor ever wants to ask themselves, ‘Why don’t you quit?’
I appreciate it may be difficult for people with normal lives to understand why we continue with this perpetual slog especially when we do not appear on the outside to be ‘one of the lucky ones’. Like many, many other actors I have not been on TV yet, I have done mainly small scale tours, good Fringe productions and corporate films. I have even recently found myself without an agent after a sturdy seven year long term relationship with my last.
So why bother?
I love what I do. I really and truly do. I have forsaken all others for my acting career and I don’t regret it one bit. When I get on that stage or behind that camera I am living my dream. Yes I have to jump through a lot of hoops to get there sometimes. Yes most of my money goes into auditions, travel expenses, researching roles I may never get and some years I have spent more time behind a bar than on stage. The thing with me is I have never lived a conventional life and to have a normal 9-5 job day in day out every day of every week of every month would kill me. I would be miserable and frankly wouldn’t do it. I stated boldly at the age of seven that I was going to be an actor so I’m already living my dream.
Hey diddly dee an actors life for me!
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com