Sunday, 19 February 2017

Back to Basics...

I was talking to someone the other day about setting my blog up and I remembered that I did this for any actors who were out there wondering if it was just them going through this, just them wondering if they were finding it hard, just them realising they've seen this episode of Homes Under The Hammer before. So I thought I'd go back to that today, to look at the real root of being a resting actor and not working.

Not really working can be hard for a number of reasons. Of course, there's the financial issue because, you know, tea doesn't buy itself. Then there's the morale issue because not working leads you to questioning what on earth is wrong with you. Then there's the question of whether you can still really call yourself an actor. My acting work over the last year or so has been very few and far between, to the point where, if someone asks what I do for a living, I could just as meaningfully say lawyer, doctor or brain surgeon as I could actor. I've had a couple of jobs here and there but nothing something my mum can tell distant family members about. I've done corporates, I've helped train lawyers and I got a TV acting job that didn't end up happening (one day I promise you an EPIC blog about that), and that's it.

Looking at why I've had such little acting work, and without dwelling too much on my level of talent, there are a few reasons. One, there's hardly any. I know it's cliché to say that it's really quiet right now but it really is quiet right now. Then there's the fact that I have to earn money, I have to do a day job so that I can eat and live and make sure that I've got enough clothes. Having to do a day job means I can't take time away from that to do unpaid acting jobs, not that I want to do unpaid work anyway, but sometimes unpaid stuff is all there is. Then, of course, I've been able to do other things. Writing, creating a Casting Call Woe show, watching every American boxset under the sun, they've all taken me away from acting.

I think what I've learnt in the nearly 11 years since I left drama school is that it's all about finding a balance. In the last few years I've learnt to be a bit easier on myself when it comes to the amount of acting work I do and not to beat myself up over a lack of it. Yes, I do more of my day job than I'd maybe like to and I'd love to dedicate more time to writing and creating things but, as balances go, I'm actually not that down about it. Of course, if I could then I'd make all my money from performing and writing but the performing work isn't there and my writing isn't at the level it needs to be so, right now, this balance works for me. The fact that I get to do any acting and writing work at all is, honestly, a bloody honour and I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do.

A friend of mine recently got a few of us together to, in the face of all the horror that's going on right now, look at what we're doing and how we're getting on. It's a way for us to learn from each other, help each other and just talk about what's going on in our lives and how we want to improve. I honestly can't recommend it enough if it's something you're able to do. Just making a list of what we see others do that seems to work and something we'd like to employ in our daily lives, something actionable and possible and that might make a difference but won't mean the end of the world if it doesn't. Acting can be such a stupidly tricky little beast where it often feels like things are out of your control so doing something where you can have the slightest grasp is a blessed relief.

So if you're at home wondering if it's just you, it's not. Believe me. I know it's hard and sometimes we don't get the chance to do this but remember to not be hard on yourself. Sometimes we have to be, sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we chose to do this and to stop being so bloody lazy (that episode of Stranger Things will still be there tomorrow) but we also have to be nice to ourselves too otherwise there will be nothing of us left to do that short film in Droitwich about a reincarnated llama with a murderous past. And you do not want to miss out on that opportunity...

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I've recently set up a Ko-fi page where the idea is that, if you like what someone does, you treat them to a virtual cup of coffee by donating them the money of what a coffee would be in a reasonably pricey cafe. I'm not a fan of coffee, I'm more of a tea person myself, and, to be honest, just people reading, sharing and commenting on what I do is payment enough but it's there if, you know, you fancy it... https://ko-fi.com/A478KN0

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Thoughts Every Actor Has Doing Their Tax Return

January, a month of detoxing, curling up indoors wondering whether the sun will ever return and, if you're self-employed and disorganised, a time to cry over receipts and spreadsheets.  Yes, it's tax return month, and here are the various thoughts you'll probably have while doing it.

1.  It'd probably be better to just go to prison.


There will be a moment, usually when you're trying to hold a fraying receipt up to the light to work out whether that's an eight or a zero, that it'll dawn on you that if you went to prison then you wouldn't have to be doing his.

2.  Next year I'll put my log in details somewhere safe.


Seriously. Every. Bloody. Year.  'Oh, I know, I'll just write it on the back of this envelope that I'll definitely keep in the same place until next year.  I'll just put it on top of all the other envelopes that I've also written past log-in details on.'  Seriously, I've done this.  I'm an idiot.  After 10 years, I've now learnt to keep them in a draft email, on my phone and in the back of three different notebooks.  Next year I'm getting them tattooed on each limb.

3.  I will do this earlier next year.


You will think this. You will tell yourself that you will definitely get this sorted as soon as possible next year. Ohh, you'll show Moira, won't you? Come April, you'll smash that tax return, won't you? Of course you bloody won't. Come April you'll be embracing the possibility of sunshine and the possibility of maybe having a drink outside. The only thought you'll give that pesky tax return is whether those drinks are deductible after you drunkenly pledged that you'd show those directors what they've missed out on.

4.  Keep. Track. Of. Earnings. And. Spending. Throughout. The. Year.


I had this thought during my first tax return and it's one of the very few things I've stuck to. Seriously,  this helps. I have a boring file on my laptop with all my tax things tucked away and in there is a spreadsheet wishing I'd explore their full potential because all I do is put self-employed earnings in one tab, any PAYE earnings in the other and then my spends in the third. It's boring but it makes me feel super-organised. Plus it avoids the need to trawl through bank statements come tax return time, and anything that prevents me from seeing just how much money I spend in Itsu and Japanese Canteen in Holborn is something I'm all for. And on that note...

5.  Why do I spend so much money on...?


When you do find yourself working your way through your bank statements, cringing at any payment made between the hours of 2am and 5am, you'll start to see a pattern. Maybe it's daytime Ubers, maybe it's post-10pm KFCs or maybe, like for me, it's the alarming amount of £10+ payments made in Itsu (yes, I'm always there on my own. No, I don't think one Hip, Humble and Healthy is enough). Anyway, whatever it is, there will be something that just keeps cropping up. Maybe you hate yourself enough to tot all that money up and see just how much you're frittering away on overpriced miso and then think about what more meaningful things you could have spent that money on. I don't suggest doing this. Doing a tax return is awful enough without beating yourself up over a few unnecessary splurges in Whole Foods over a year ago. Did you enjoy that eye-wateringly expensive raw almond macaroons at the time? Great, then move on.

6.  Thank heavens I don't earn more.


This is the one time of year that I'm thankful for not earning enough to do nice things. Imagine having so many bloody acting jobs that you had to work out what you'd earned from all of them and then pay tax on it. Being a rester has its perks because even the HMRC self-assessment team don't care about how many days you've spent sat at home in your pyjamas eating Chipsticks.

7.  Why the heck don't they teach people how to do this at drama school/uni/anywhere?


When I was at drama school, tax returns were mentioned in very much the same way that Theatre in Education jobs were, they are inevitable but the less you know, the better. This is the sum of what we were told about tax returns at drama school...get an envelope for each month of the year and put all your receipts in the corresponding envelope. Now this is good advice but you do really need to let people know what to do next. I do worry about the class of '06, all found some 60 years later, dead amongst a sea of yellowing envelopes, each housing a desperate attempt to claim numerous Health and Happiness boxes, their poor families faced with a terrifying tax bill. Do I benefit from pre-owned assets?  Was I not domiciled in the UK and claiming the remittance basis? WHY THE HELL AM I BEING ASKED TO MAKE A PAYMENT ON ACCOUNT (this is the most terrifying thing in the world when it first happens)? Maybe drama schools are better now, maybe other drama schools are just better than the one I went to, but seriously, these things need to be taught. It's bad enough that you're churning out swathes of unemployable buffoons each year, don't make it worse by making them criminals too.

8.  Seriously, is prison that bad?


We've all watched Orange Is The New Black and thought that, overall, it actually looks okay. Obviously it's not but, come on, you might get to be friends with Taystee...

9.  Next year I'm going to pay someone to do this. 


I will never do this because I'm cheaper than value brand baked beans but there have been times when I've been on the phone to HMRC for 2 hours because I entered ONE BLOODY DIGIT WRONG on my log in too many times and it then locked me out where I've thought it would be preferable to have someone else pour over my pathetic earnings. Then I remember how many bowls of chicken tantanmen I could buy from The Japanese Canteen for the money I would spend on an accountant (yes, I know they can save you money in the long run) and I continue to patiently sit on hold and listen to The Boy Is Mine on the harpsichord for the nineteenth time.

10.  At least I only have to do this once a year.


Unless the introduction of quarterly tax returns happens and we have to go through this palaver EVERY THREE MONTHS. Time to start saving for that log-in tattoo. At least it would be tax deductible, right?


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Know Your Audience

“Oh, crap. My phone has run out of battery. Never mind, I don’t need my phone for the next few hours because I’m about to watch a play and be entertained by people.”

That’s what this fool should’ve thought the other day as he went into a Broadway play. Alas, he didn’t. Instead, he joined the legions of appalling audience members that continue to plague actors.

Ok, ok. That sounds a bit harsh. Now, don’t get me wrong. Actors would be lost without an audience. Without them, we’d just be prancing around for the hell of it. That’s not performing, that’s just a Wednesday night in your bedroom. And you can’t put that on your CV. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But I can pretty safely say that all actors have an audience horror story. From the late Richard Griffiths ordering a woman out of the auditorium because her phone went off to to Patti Lupone stopping mid-performance to yell at an audience member for taking photos (something which, rather ironically, was audio-recorded and uploaded here…)

Then there are the stories of couples having sex in auditoriums. And, of course. Who doesn’t get turned on by a good proscenium arch and a cracking safety curtain?

So what is wrong with audiences? Is it that we now watch too much TV and are so used to shuffling and eating and chattering through a whole box set? Are we all so ridiculously important that even a couple of hours in a theatre can’t do without us blustering about? And heaven knows, theatre is trying to keep up. Tweeting seats, immersive productions and even online streaming of productions so you can still prat about at home without worrying that your decision to eat a whole family bag of Doritos is putting off the actors. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe audience members just don’t know the line anymore? Sometimes they're being expected to get up and be involved and other times they're expected to sit still for hours on end in stony silence. 

The optimistic actor in me (that’s the one that applies for acting jobs and puts ‘running’ as a skill on my CV…) likes to think that it’s because the audience become so engrossed in our performance. Your parading on stage as a demonic horse (yep, I’ve played that role) is so mesmerising that they forget they sound like a horse eating a multipack of Hula Hoops. I want to believe that, I really do. But I’ve been performing while a man sighed so heavily that I nearly blew off stage so, sorry optimistic actor, I think you’re wrong.

So is it audiences being rude or, as actors, do we need to stop being so precious? Historically, theatre audiences were far more boisterous. I’m sure Nell Gwynne was up against far more than someone’s phone going off or a quick fumble in the front row. As actors, do we need to just get on with it? Or should an audience member's rudeness be addressed for all to see? Like being asked by your teacher to share your little joke with the past, is it right to call these things out? Do we owe the rest of the audience a flawless performance or, actually, do they love being part of this confrontation? 

But going back to our man in Broadway...y'know, sometimes we need our phones in the theatre. What if we can’t afford the programme but we need to know what we’ve seen whatshername in before. Have you tried concentrating on Coriolanus while you try and why you work out thingy carrying the stick? And what about those terrible plays? No, you don’t need a phone because you’re going to be that guy, sat in the back row with your face lit up like a Glo Worm toy. But, dammit, watches are stupidly hard to see in the dark. Just a quick sneak to see what….OH GOD, HOW HAS ONLY 20 MINUTES PASSED?

So, here are a few little rules…

1.)  Leave that bag of Salt & Vinegar McCoys at home
2.) If step 1 is too difficult then learn the valuable art of sucking crisps.
3.) Check your phone is on silent
4.) If step 3 is too difficult then cut all ties with your friends and family before heading out
5.) Remember the set is not for you. Actors don’t just randomly walk into your places of work to use your things, so don’t do the same to us.
6.) If step 5 is too difficult then I think being outside might be more your thing.  



Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Have you thought about...?

As actors, we're all used to hearing a few very familiar phrases. So, with a little help from Orange Is The New Black, here's a handful of them... (Warning: this may contain spoilers. Seriously though, you should've watched it all by now.)


"So when are we going to see you in EastEnders?"


"I can't pay you, but..."


"Been in anything I might've seen?"



"Have you tried writing to Downton Abbey?"


"I have a friend who's an actor."


"Why don't you get yourself a better agent?"



"Is your agent like the one in Friends/Extras?"


"So what sort of acting do you do?"



"Have you thought about doing acting as a hobby instead?"



"So when are you going to get yourself a proper job?"


Saturday, 4 July 2015

From Hero to Zero

Acting is a fickle friend, at best. Stand-offish, cruel and with very little regard for your best interests, acting is the friend that you don’t hear from in months and then calls you drunkenly at 2am, expecting you to drop everything to go and pick it up. And so, for my day to day needs, I have a zero hours job as well.

Now, in theory, I’m dead against zero hours work. They offer works very little security and are often low paid. In fact, acting is probably one of the worst zero hours jobs out there. So, for some ridiculous reason, I took on another. But the problem is that, as much as I disagree with zero hours work, it’s well handy for actors. Flexible, low-commitment and the ability to drop it quicker than the agent of an actress who dares call out sexism in the industry.

So I joined the other million people in the UK and took on a zero hours job last year. And at first it was great. I got all the work I could possibly need. I was, tirelessly, working 50 hour weeks because my acting career had apparently decided to go on one of its regular sabbaticals. But, just like an acting job, you know it’s eventually going to come to an end. And it did. Very suddenly. A few weeks ago, my day job joined my acting job and now they’re both off having some grand time on a hot sunny beach somewhere. Probably. I keep telling my rent he should go and join them. Trust me to pick a rent with a fear of flying.

As Oscar Wilde nearly said, “To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

But that’s the problem with a day job. You focus so much time on making money (and probably having to claw back money from the last period of carelessness) that you take your eye off the acting job. And believe me, as soon as you let acting get out of your sight, it will be off like the awful friend that it is, looking to see who will look after it next. And all the lost posters and rewards in the world won't get it back. It'll come back when it's good and ready, drunkenly at 2am...


Of course (and I have to say this because I think my bank balance might be listening) it’ll all be fine in the end. I know this because, like all owners of an acting career, I have hope. Hope and a pair of comfy pyjamas.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lesson The Pain

I realised this morning that, give or take a couple of weeks, I graduated from drama school exactly 9 years ago. Bloody hell. Gnarls Barkley was at number one with Crazy. We’d only seen 2 series of The Apprentice. The best mix up on TV had just happened when Guy Coma ended up accidently on BBC News. And, like it knew there were a whole new bunch of actors in need of procrastination, Twitter arrived…

But, after a few hours of dicking about on Twitter, it got me to thinking about the lessons I’ve learnt in those 9 years. There are fair few supposedly wise words that I’ve kicked to the curb; chiefly that a pair of character shoes and a character skirt are a wise investment. I can only assume drama schools suggest buying these so you can own something that gathers more dust than your acting career.

However, a fair few have stuck and, because I’ve got a spare hour and blogging time is scarce these days, I thought I’d share them with you.

Lesson 1: KKK


Now, when we were told at drama school that we should consider the KKK when looking at potential jobs, I was shocked to say the least. I know the industry is rather in favour of white actors but, really? They went on to explain that when you’re faced with a job offer (it took a while longer to learn what one of those was, sadly) you should consider the 3 Ks:

Kicks
Kudos
Kash (hey, we weren’t at drama school for our excellent spelling anyway…)

I must say, I dismissed this at first. When you graduate and you stare into the awful void that you thought would be your glittering career, you, sometimes foolishly, take on whatever job you can get your hands on. But it’s wonderful for those jobs you’re just not sure about. So, when in doubt, see if you can get at least 2 of the 3 Ks covered. And it kinda works. Of course, you can never be entirely sure and we’ve all had those jobs that we thought would be fun but ended up being an utter nightmare (hello eating dried apricots on a riverbank at 2am…) but it’s a handy little technique for those of us who are a little less decisive than we’d like to be.

Lesson 2: We all have our own career path


This was a tough one to learn. You spend your 3rd year determinedly planning your career. You’ll do a spot of TiE first because, y’know, that’s totally the done thing. Then you’ll do a bit of fringe theatre, a few short independent films…and oh, that’s what I did do. However, that’s when it all starts to fall apart. I thought I’d then do some TV, maybe a major advert and then, obviously, Hollywood would be ready for me and I’d be sorted.

Hahahahahahahahaha.

Now, that totally happened for some people in my year. Others got the massive film job instantly and haven’t stopped working since. Others got a TV job immediately and then never worked again. Others gave up the second they graduated and I now get to log into Facebook and look at the houses they own and the holidays they go on. But the majority of us just toddle along our own little road. Sometimes we’re striding along looking fabulous, sometimes we’re stumbling around drunkenly and other times we’re sleeping at the side of the road while surrounded by biscuit crumbs and cups of tea. At some points our paths will cross and at other times it’ll take us out somewhere horribly remote. But I now find having my own path rather comforting. Yeah, maybe I don’t look after mine as well as I should. I’m sure others get more money for the upkeep and others are more resourceful but I like mine just the way it is, potholes and all. Which takes me on to my next lesson…

Lesson 3: Don’t compare yourself to others


This has been the toughest one of all to learn. It seems straightforward but, believe me, it’s bloody hard to not compare yourself to others when you’re sat on the sofa, you’re wearing your oldest pyjamas, you’re picking crisp crumbs out of your hair and you look up to see one of your drama school mates looking a bazillion dollars on TV.

If we didn’t compare ourselves to others then we wouldn’t be human. I don’t care how sorted you say you are, if you say you don’t sometimes look at someone else’s career and then look at your barren CV on your barely functioning laptop and wonder where the hell you went wrong, then you’re a liar.

The point is that, when you see someone else doing fabulously, you don’t beat yourself up over it. Yeah they’re on TV playing a part that you’d kill for but have they ever got to pretend to be an electric toothbrush in a church hall in Derby? Sure they’ve been listed in that ‘Ones To Watch’ article but have they discovered that Papa John’s Special Garlic sauce makes the filthiest, most glorious topping for macaroni cheese? See? You’re doing just fine. You might want to get your cholesterol checked out but, seriously, YOU’RE FINE.




So there we go. 9 years and 3 lessons later and here I am. Sat indoors on a sunny Saturday afternoon wondering where the next acting job is coming from. But I have biscuits in the kitchen, tea on the go, Netflix on the telly and a pair of pyjamas that will last longer than any of the acting careers of my peers so, y’know, my path ain’t looking too bad right now…

Sunday, 26 April 2015

I Got 5 On It

When it comes to auditions, I’m the Queen of Screwing Up. I’ve fluffed more lines than a hungover actor on opening night. I’ve managed to nearly take out a casting director by over-zealously sitting on an office chair. I’ve managed to misinterpret instructions to the point that I’ve ended up putting everything in the room into a massive pile. I’ve turned up to a 3 hour movement workshop in the tightest jeans known to man. I’ve had an eye infection for a casting for an advert where only my eyes would be visible.  But this week’s faux pas might just be the worst…

It was a recall for an advert. I’ll be honest, I’d bloody love it. I remember when we were at drama school, it was the done thing to say that you’d never do a commercial. Everyone considered themselves above such things. Yep, we’re all above earning a few thousand quid for a day’s work. How I long to go back to a time when we all thought we were superior to bill payers.

So, yes. I kinda wanted this. I’ve booked a holiday and it’d be really nice to be able to afford to sleep in something other than a tent made out of my silly idea that I can actually afford to leave the country.

I’m currently on a pencil. For those of you who have jobs that don’t involve moping around hoping someone will cast you to play a tree, a pencil is the pain in every actor’s life. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be a heavy pencil. A heavy pencil is really only something interesting to actors, stationery shop owners and staff at The Pencil Museum. I was told to pencil a total of 6 different dates, one of which was in the past. I really hope that’s the first test for when they’re casting the new Doctor Who… But anyway, I jumped through a number of hoops until I found myself in the ridiculous position of being pencilled for a recall that might not be happening. It’s this kind of precarious shit they should be teaching in drama schools, not how to be a bloody llama.

Finally, my recall was confirmed. Hooray.

It was going to be in arse-end of London. Boo.

I turned up to the venue and it was at one of the numerous audition venues in London which is a myriad of identical rooms that are attached to identical corridors. I was vaguely pointed in the right direction and was then left to my own devices. I’d been given the name of the room and had been directed to a corridor with three rooms, none of which were labelled. Which one to go with…

Room one contained 8 dancing men.

Room two contained about 20 ballerinas.

Room three contained 2 men breakdancing while wearing roller skates.

Oh, right. I’m not at a recall at all. I’m at my own worst nightmare where I must face up to my total inadequacies as a performer. Good-o.

I fannyed around, wondering where on earth I was meant to be. A head then poked from out of the Starlight Express meets Flashdance room.

“Are you here for the recall?”

Oh god. Why has a room where there is roller skating happening got anything to do with me?

“Don’t worry we’re sharing the room.”

With relief, I start waffling on. I make some bad jokes. I keep talking. I then find out that I’ve managed to bleat on over the skaters’ recording.

I’M A PROFESSIONAL! HIRE ME!

Once they’ve done whizzing around and making me feel like heffalump, it’s my turn, thankfully sans skates. I do my bit to camera. All good. Feeling optimistic.

I have a chat to the casting director, who’s lovely, she puts her hand up and, in my relief at not having to skate, on finding out that the casting director is nice, in getting through an audition without nearly killing someone, I high-five her.

I then hand over the script and go on my merry way.

I feel confident. Heck, I might just get this job.

I’m stood on the train platform feeling pretty bloody good about myse-

OH NO.

She didn’t want a high-five. She put out her hand to take the script back off me.

OH GOD.

I’m now that person. So bloody cocky that I high-five casting directors after an audition. I might as well have waited for the other actors to arrive, cocked my leg and marked my territory around the whole production.


So that’s another casting down the drain. Surely that’s worth a high-five?