DISCLAIMER: this blog is a bit of an angry rant. Please take it as an insight into some of the failings of the theatre industry and not just another person telling you how hard it is and that you'll fail. You can do anything you put your mind to… even when the odds are stacked so heavily against you. In an effort of cover my arse, I do want to quickly acknowledge that there are financial risks at all levels of the industry but this blog is from a performers/creators point of view.
So you’ve decided to peruse your passions and work your arse off for a career as an actor. There’s some things you should know and some things that need to change.
Yes, everyone's speaking up about acting becoming elitist and its true. But it’s roots are so much deeper than just expensive training fees. It’s an industry set up to exploit those at the bottom; those with all the creativity who keep theatre alive and kicking. It seems the assumption is that if you want a career in something you love then you should probably have to pay for it at every turn. There already aren’t enough jobs to go round but that’s not the half of it.
So here’s how the money machine works from what I can see. It’s played out like an investment- spending money to make money- but the truth is actually pretty disgusting. But hey, you signed up for this… right?
If you want a decent agent and access to the best jobs you’ll need to be on Spotlight. To do this you really need to go to drama school. Gone are the days where you can just storm into a film studio full of pluck and passion and insist someone should see you.
Auditioning for drama school- this is going to cost you up front just for the pleasure of learning lines and being judged on it! Then you have the cost of getting to the audition in the first place. All in all you should be prepared to shell out a couple of hundred for this joyous soul-shredding experience. Some places will try to make it worth your while by giving you a days worth of workshops and some feedback on your performance… most won’t.
Drama School- You did it! Congrats! Time for a student loan… a big one! Unfortunately, some Drama Schools will cost more than regular uni courses and some won’t offer funding at all. So you were talented enough but you weren’t rich enough so it’s time to bow out or take out a mega interest private loan. Good luck with the repayments on an Actors wage. We are ten a penny after all.
Spotlight- Drama school is done. Phew! Time to start paying off that debt and get working. This is what you wanted, wasn't it? So if you want to be taken seriously you need to be with Spotlight. Agents insist on it. So that's another couple of hundred a year to have your photo on a website. Whoop Whoop! Plus that photo’s gunna cost you a fair bit too.
Agents- Those wonderful beings that get you work… if you have a good one. Whatever they find you, they're going to take a cut so that’s less money for paying back the wanker banker. We can’t be too hard on them because at the end of the day they do get you work. They're just like recruitment agencies for actors really. Except... you can’t find decent jobs without one. So it’s not a choice, it’s a must. But, yeah, they are actually important.
Auditions- You’re really going to have to have a pretty casual or understanding job to allow you to drop everything and go to auditions all the time… which a good agent will expect you to do. A bad agent will just leave you in the back of their books to rot. But all these auditions cost a lot in time and travel and all this fucking about your day job isn't doing anything for those loan repayments.
YOU GOT THE JOB… well done, you’re one of the lucky ones. Everyone else is just creating more and more debt. What a dream job this is turning out to be!
So you’ve decided that all sounds a bit shit and there must be a better way. There is…
Go it alone and make your own work.
Fringe- now, there’s some ways to do the fringe and come out of it with money (always happy to advise anyone interested) but it mostly involves funding and luck. If you can get funding, you’re onto a winner but at the end of the day, it’s just not sustainable. Venues will charge you through the roof to have a space for an hour a day and local residents will suddenly confuse their grotty studio flat for a luxury penthouse. It’s gunna be expensive, so get ready. Once again, the people creating the work are the ones paying for it.
Luckily, lots of people will start dropping off the radar when the harsh truth presents itself so the pool of people doing what you do will start to get smaller very quickly. You’re sticking with it and that's admirable. But be under no illusion that theatre is a massive, lucrative industry. Everywhere people are making millions off it… but it’s unlikely to be you.
The point of this blog isn’t to make you give up on your dreams or feel defeated before you've even started. It’s to illustrate just how much you need to want it and how flawed the system is. Something needs to change… there’s small pockets where performers are put first but they're few and far between. Hopefully this will also show non-performers why crowdfunding is so important and why sometimes we have to charge so much for tickets. You might be seeing an hour long show, but months of heartache and work came before. We’d love to charge less but the money has to come from somewhere and you can bet it won’t end up in our pockets. We work hard for very little or no money at all. We do it because we believe in it. And even when all the odds are against us, we still make it work… it’s just a shame that some people are profiting off the ones making it all happen.
So know your worth. Actors are NOT ten a penny. You have something unique to offer and nobody can do what you do. So find those pockets where artists come first and make the most of them (we're always happy to point you in the right direction). And never forget that without you none of it would be possible. None of it at all.