When I was young I never once thought of the consequences of my choice of career. I was oblivious. Time was infinite, choices unlimited and an entire life ahead of me that was going to be filled with a succesful acting career. Just as I never thought of the consequences of a pack of cigarettes a day habit I had back then (I now have an asthma pump) I didn’t much think of the consquences of choosing acting as my choice of profession.
Today I am thinking about those consequences. And a part of me feels the humiliation. The burden of hopes and lies that you tell yourself and your fellow actors tell each other just to keep going another day in an industry designed to humiliate the actor. I read twitter feeds of actors reassuring themselves and others that ‘your time will come, keep at it’ when the reality is that for most of us time does come but not in the way you expect.
Time ‘comes’ so quickly and you wake up mid-forties wondering how you let yourself believe all the lies. Time marches forward and you miss your siblings’ wedding because you are cast in a show that you cannot get out of. Time marches forward and your father is dying and your mother has to loan you the money to fly home because you haven’t had an acting job in ages. Time marches forward and your mother starts displaying signs of dementia and you cannot help financially, that Covid too has destroyed an already fragile work load, and you are left mid forties wondering about the delusion that you had that kept you working in an industry that promises no reward for your talents.
Designed to keep you in the humiliating position of having no power to change anything.
We constantly bemoan the fact that we have no power; coupled with the consequences of the lives we lead becoming very real as we get older. But the industry is like the donkey and the carrot. It dangles the carrot and kicks you at the same time. “Maybe, maybe, maybe this is my break,” is the dangling carrot whilst the donkey kicks at your knees making you crawl through shit to be recognised; to be seen; to get an audition; to pay your rent and bills; to get that agent; to get that headshot session you can’t afford; to get that casting director to recognise you; to buy that equipment for self tapes you ALSO cannot afford; to get that director to employ you even though you hate their work; to go to that class; to get that review that mentions your name; to get those teeth whitened; to lose that belly fat; the plastic surgery to appear young; to submit to a rapist; to keeping quiet when a director humiliates you; to keeping quiet, period.
But the carrot dangles with a very real possibility you will never have it in your hands. And, like today, it smacks of ritual humiliation.
It’s so commonplace we shrug our shoulders. And as reality hits me this morning I wonder is there not a better way this profession can be run? I often look at the names of actors listed in the cast at the beginning of a play script and I wonder what happened to the actors whose names I don’t know. Where did they go? Did they also wake up or did they hold onto the dream until the bitter end?
Surely there is and should be a solution to allowing people their creativity and respect and freedom from humiliation? Perhaps we need, in this country, the INTERMITTENCE DU SPECTICAL system they have in France. Where artists are allowed to be artists and receive support which equates to being valued by society as well as dealing with the reality of a precarious BUT ESSENTIAL profession. We are an essential profession – I wonder how society would have fared in the Covid pandemic without Netlix and Prime and books and podcasts and music etc etc etc?
But you would never know we are essential – the way we are often treated. The way the industry is designed to treat us.