So let’s end this story.
The lead agent sits opposite me with a smirk on their face and begins to tell me of ‘Lesley’s’ (WHO IS THEIR LEAD CO-AGENT) ‘VELVET RAGE’. It’s a rage Lesley has with some actors every now again. So much so they have a name for it. And they smirk as they describe Lesley blacklisting actors who don’t display the correct attitude. That smirk started to change everything for me.
That empty chair belonged to Lesley and he was not in the agency because, probably, I was there for a meeting. Lesley has never faced me directly. As the lead agent spoke, divulging this fact of Lesley’s Velvet Rage, I started to think of the phone call Lesley and I shared that I told you about in blog 5.
Remember I came away from that phone call with a wonderful sense of being able to talk to my agent? They promise us this, at the beginning of every contract: they are our champions; they are our work colleagues; they will be there for us if we need anything. So I took that promise as gospel and picked up the phone. And apparently Lesley came away from that call FURIOUS with me. Initially I thought it was because I dared to complain about the conditions of the audition process. But it was only towards the end of the meeting that I came to understand that Lesley had been furious because of one question in his mind: IS (insert my name here) AN ACTOR OR ARE THEY A TEACHER? How dare I not go to the costume fitting at the time THEY arranged? How dare I not jump when he said jump?
He was furious that I would not allow their costume fitting for the TV commercial to have preference over my teaching job. Do you remember that I had already started teaching before his email came through to me about the costume call? Remember I had £400 in the bank. Remember I needed the job because I was paying £100 an audition for train tickets to London. As well as needing rent, of course – don’t we all need rent? Remember too, that the teaching job was new and I was trying to make the best impression so that they would keep me on. Remember too that I had sent an email to the agency detailing my teaching hours. Lesley’s velvet rage was because of me and I didn’t even know it. All this I find out, for the first time at the meeting. It was done obliquely but the implication was that I was to blame. For being let go. For not having the proper work focus.
It suited them to keep me in the dark.
And then we have the smirking Lead Agent whose name is emblazoned all over the agency. They taught me all I needed to know with that smirk. That half-swallowed smile showed me that they allowed and even condoned their agent flying into a rage leading to sadistic behaviours like personal blacklists of actors they are contractually supposed to be working for. Not only is it condoned but normalised.
While the consequences for me and my work are profound. I am left agent-less in a harsh profession. For them – no consequence whatsoever. The power imbalance between agents and actors showing starkly here. I started to see who the lead agent was, for the first time. An enabler of the worst kinds of behaviour. I made a complaint to Equity but they received nothing but a light tap on the wrist.
I realised the hypocrisy. One rule for agents. Another for actors. The inability of the agent to confront me led to me not being considered for future commercial castings and MUST have played into their decision to drop me. I wondered why, if I had ignited so much Velvet Rage in him, why, why didn’t he speak to me? I would rather have had a difficult conversation in which I could have defended myself rather than this silent corruption of my place in the agency without an opportunity to defend myself. Without my knowing anything was wrong.
And where was the consideration for my teaching working hours? Everyone in that agency was supposed to know my working hours. I was assured that they would be worked around. The fact I needed the job was not considered at all. I was supposed to obey the all powerful agent and if I resisted then my payment was to be blacklisted leading to eventual termination of contract. Where was the consideration for my financial fears? Where was the consideration that I was living with my relationship almost at its breaking point because of fights about money? Fights about jobs? Fights over the rollercoaster ride of being an actor?
It plays over and over in my mind. That an agent can have an emotional reaction -that their emotional reaction can change the entire course of my career but an actor is never allowed to speak up. We, as actors, are so often scared to say what we truly feel about working conditions, director bullies, racism in our industry because we are scared about the consequences on our careers. We are acutely aware that if you get a ‘difficult’ reputation as an actor you might not get that job. You might be easily replaced with one of the thousands of actors, the ones who have also learnt not to speak up.
It’s taken me a year to have the courage to begin this blog. But not to have so much courage as to tell you my name. Because like I said, the repercussions happen silently in the background for actors. Because we have no power. We never have and, I fear, with the way the industry is set up, we never will.
I left that agency as quickly as possible. I thanked the lead agent for their offer to keep me on for six more months but I told them that I wanted nothing to do with any of them. I wanted to be as far away from them as possible.
This event is formative to me. It opened my eyes to the type of people, and the type of hypocrisies that I have seen in my 23 years in the industry.
They are many.
And I am no longer comfortable with my own hypocrisy for allowing this craziness to pass me by without commenting on it.
This is only the beginning of me opening my mouth.