Some people think I’m a dreadful actor. And they are right. Mercifully, some people think I’m rather good, and, of course, they are right too. The point here is that acting is never something that can be measured quantitatively; it’s always going to be something that’s subjective. We can sit side by side together in the theatre on the same night, watching the same actor in the same play, and we can have widely differing opinions. And that’s great.
But how does that work at the end of three years training and an investment of around £27,000 when you step out into the world? Your drama school doesn’t grade you. It can’t. Even those drama training establishments which are now part of larger educational bodies and offer degree status, mainly award the level of degree on the written work involved in the course, rather than the level of talent. That’s why drama schools offer up their final year students in showcases, knowing that some of these people are probably never going to work.
And the reason? It won’t be anything to do with acting ability. It’ll be a mixture of luck, opportunity, and hard work. Hard work at being a working actor. And when I say a working actor, I don’t mean an actor who acts a lot. I mean an actor who manages their business, and works at it day in and day out, whether acting or not.
I don’t act every day, but every day I am a working actor. Every day, I have things to do that will progress my career, improve my work, hopefully enlarge my finances, and provide some satisfaction. It may be sending emails and making arrangements for jobs. It might be learning lines. It could be browsing the Internet to look at what the theatres I would like to work at are going to produce in the next six months. All of it will be part of my working day as an actor. Being my own CEO, I’m allowed to manage how much of my day I spend “in the office.” Actually, I don’t know why I put that into quotation marks, because in our home, we do actually have an office and that is where I do most of my work. These days, in an ever more digitally integrated world, it’s possible to let your work creep out onto the coffee table in your flat, just as it’s possible to let your work bleed out into every aspect of your life. Don’t. Just as you might benefit from having a desk, or a space that you sit at in order to work, so will you benefit from having an agreed amount of time that you set yourself each day to be that working actor. The rest of the day, you’re allowed to be a person, to enjoy the relaxation, and enrich the experiences that you have and that you bring to your acting work.
Do at least one thing each day that might lead to work and then get on with living your life. My drama tutor’s advice has rung in my ears for many a year, and is as true now as it was when it was given. If you’re out working just to earn money to live, then that is part of your day as a “working actor.” It’s a decision you have made within your business as to how to raise revenue. So it’s important that when you get home you can turn off from that, providing, of course, that you have portioned out sometime at some point in the week to deal with all things employment and acting.
It takes a lot of planning to run a business, and as a one-man business, lots of actors don’t have anyone to turn to and check that they’re doing okay. It’s great when I get the chance to chat to younger people who are really sorting out the fact that being a working actor is what they want to be, and they want it to go on for as many years as possible. I had the joy of lunch with a previous winner of the Alan Bates bursary award recently. Apart from some building work, which he does at short notice to raise money, he’s currently doing corporate role-play, and making some short films. All this is part of a career where he has played leads in the West End and New York, and done plays above pubs for less than the minimum wage. He is just getting on with being a working actor.
It took me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that all these other things were part of my daily life. That’s why I’ve written “The Working Actor.” Having had the pleasure of mentoring a group of young actors c/o the Actors Centre, I think I’m aware of just the sort of things that aren’t in place when people step out into the world. Dealing with tax and benefit claims, trying to build relationships with the people who can give you jobs, making your agent work for you, getting the most you can out of your membership of Equity, working out which is the best casting service for you, and setting yourself realistic objectives by which to judge your success.
The main thing about the book is that I would hope it’s immensely practical. When you’re out there on your own, it’s difficult to get up each morning and do something. It’s sometimes difficult to know what to do. The book has work tasks that can give you over six weeks of things to do on a daily basis that will improve your life as a working actor, your career, and hopefully your chances of success.
After all, having made that investment in both time and money, you have to believe in your abilities and as well as a little bit of luck and, increasingly, it will be your business skills that will differentiate you.
Some people think I’m a terrible actor and they are right. Some people think I’m a very good actor and, of course, they are absolutely right. But what I am is a working actor. Every day. And I love it.