PART 1 – Is Acting the right career for me?
In this five-part blog I hope to be able to use my 26 years experience as a professional actor and provide you with some practical help, dispel some myths and maybe guide you on your journey to becoming an actor. I will cover Drama schools, Agents, theatre, television, radio, career choices and do’s and don’ts, but today we are going to ask ourselves a very important question… is acting the right career for me?
Some of you may think my approach seems negative in areas, but those who know me, know I am a very direct person and this is just an honest, no sugar here, view of the industry as I see it… I don’t want you to be deterred, just prepared.
The wonderful thing about realising you want to be an actor is that it doesn’t matter if you have known forever or if it hit you like a thunder bolt at the age of fifty… you can become an actor at any age. But there are lots of things you need to understand and consider before jumping into the glorious and frustrating world that is acting.
I started my acting career professionally at the age of 14, but before that it had been nothing more than school plays. I have a father who is in the industry and I grew up going to the theatre and surrounded by actors, so it seemed like the natural course. I was lucky in that my head was well and truly screwed on because it was not an industry my dad was keen on me entering… and for some very good reasons. I have had such fantastic experiences, met extraordinary people and travelled, but there is also a lot that may surprise you, unless you are ready for it. Everybody will have a different journey of course, but a lot of the themes actors struggle with are the same, so let’s try to make your journey a little easier.
If you get to act it is the most satisfying, rewarding and interesting job you could possibly imagine, but getting those opportunities, getting your foot in the door, is what is difficult. There are more actors than ever before, but actually only a small percentage are on our radar. We tend to see the same faces on our screens and so the pond has an appearance of being very small. Something like 90% of actors are unemployed at any one time, which shows you just how hard this industry is. So now you know that most actors experience being out of work, and that it’s normal, now we know that part of our job is to become comfortable with that… which is a strange thought. Most people become actors because they are explorers, because they are interested in discovery, so to not be working can be mind-numbing and disappointing.
SOMETHING ON THE SIDE
When you have a dream it is hard to consider something else, but I wish the seed had been planted for me at Drama School, I wish they had said ‘start thinking about a side-line, something you enjoy doing that can keep you moving through those static moments.’ My advice would be to find something that runs alongside acting, probably self-employment, so that you are financially and mentally nourished, but also able to make your own hours. Finding a boss that will allow you to go off to auditions at a moments notice or give you leave for a week or a month to do a play or some filming is very unusual… if you find one please share! Having something on the side that keeps you financially stable will allow you to walk into auditions without the desperation of needing rent … for me this was Photography, but I have actor friends who are yoga teachers, singing tutors, photographers, cooks, plumbers etc.
Most people with a steady income know that because they earning a certain amount each month they can do A, B, C, save up for a car, a holiday, or even a mortgage, buy food and pay bills, but actors never know where they will be in the world or how much they will be earning month to month. All of this makes building a stable life pretty hard, and banks do not give mortgages to people with fluctuating incomes… having that side-line job can definitely help.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be known for being a wonderful actor, but for the most part it isn’t as glamorous as you think and you have to be willing to work HARD. There is a perception that actors have it easy and it’s not a real job, but an actor needs to be, among other things, very resilient, self motivated and conscientious. We live now in a world of celebrity, but don’t get it twisted… being an actor is not the same as being famous… it takes everything in your being and you have to be one hundred percent committed for it to work as a full-time career. Having already discussed the percentages we know that the likelihood of fame is slight, but not impossible… it’s worth baring in mind if fame is what you seek.
YOU MIGHT MISS OUT ON REAL LIFE
That sounds dramatic I know, but for years I didn’t go on holiday because I was worried I would miss an audition… I didn’t commit to anything because I thought I needed to be a hundred percent available… there is an aspect of this that is true, but as I got older I realised that it was okay to miss the possibility of an opportunity so that I could have an adventure that would undoubtedly help me grow as a person, and in turn, an actor. There is an expectation from the industry, and a saying that sums it up… ‘The show must go on’… translated literally this means that no matter what you are experiencing in your life, even if the sky falls in, you must paint on a smile and get on that stage. I had my mothers funeral in England and then flew to America the next day to open a show, because of the pressure I felt from my bosses, from myself and from the industry as a whole. In the end I had to leave the job early, because I didn’t take the time for myself at the beginning. The reason I mention this is because I want to give you an example of the level of expectation in this industry that doesn’t really exist anywhere else. The level of commitment I would liken to a spiritual or religious calling or being a soldier in the army. BUT all of that is only true if you allow it to be… I think a lot of the pressure is floating around from the past and the industry IS changing. Having children is another example…. It has always felt, particularly for women, that you had to make a choice and you couldn’t do both, but thanks to movements like PIPA, that raise issues about childcare in the industry… slowly but surely there comes a shift.
If I haven’t put you off and the answer is still ‘Yes, I want to be an actor!’ then you are about to join the crazy gang. If you are considering going to drama school then check out my next blog post about what drama school is like, where to apply, how to apply and do’s and don’ts for auditions.
Spotlight – connects professional performers with casting opportunities around the world
Equity – Equity is the UK trade union for professional performers and creative practitioners.