“Have you got any acting work coming up?”
“No. It’s just really quiet at the moment.”
If you’re an actor and you’re not Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman, Martin Freeman or Sheridan Smith then, chances are, you have this conversation on an almost daily basis. If you’re like me then you’ve probably already seriously considered having the answer tattooed to your forehead to save time.
But is it really “quiet at the moment”? Generally, it’s always quiet. Throw a date an actor and within seconds they’ll be able to tell you why they’re not getting work at the moment…
January 12th? People are still getting back to work after Christmas and the New Year.
March 8th? People are trying to work out when Easter is this year.
July 22nd? Everyone’s going on holiday now.
October 28th? Working out Halloween costumes, innit.
As depressingly impressive party tricks go, this skill falls somewhere between playing the spoons badly and being able to name every Big Brother runner-up. But still, every actor needs to be able to show off something.
As far as acting work is concerned, I’ve had a terrible couple of years. Some people complain of dry spells whereas mine is increasingly looking like it might easily develop into a dry decade. But can I blame it all on the industry or is it me that’s to blame?
So I thought I’d take a real hard look at what work is out there. I took one casting website (a website I pay £20 a month to use and be able to apply for paid work) and recorded the work that has gone up this week. Now, firstly, we need to take into account that some jobs are posted and taken down the same day. I can’t record those because, funnily enough, my call centre manager isn’t particularly sympathetic when it comes to a vague idea I’ve had about a blog. So today I checked all the roles that have been posted (excluding teaching jobs) since Monday 13th October and the results are as follows:
Female roles: 86
Male roles: 104
Female roles: 137
Male roles: 183
Now, my point isn’t going to be about the difference between male and female roles available. I’ve written about it before, I’ll probably write about it again but, for today, you can think about that on your own. My point isn’t even about the amount of paid work versus unpaid work. Again, that’s for another day. No, my point is about the amount, or lack of, work available.
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m ok with working for free and happy to apply for both paid and unpaid roles. On the face of it, 223 roles for me as an actress in the space of a week doesn’t seem so bad. That’s about 32 roles a day to contend with. Considering I'm also trying to deal with getting in 8 glasses of water, 5 pieces of fruit and veg and 10,000 steps a day, it's almost too much to cope with. But, of course, take into account the jobs that aren’t in London, the jobs that need a 17 year old blonde, the jobs that need you to be a fire-eating juggler who can do a headstand on stilts, and, like a ratatouille that contains 6 (SIX) different vegetables, you're whittling your number down a lot. So that then narrows it down to maybe 4 or 5 jobs a day, if you’re lucky. Well, that’s still alright, isn’t it?
Well, not if you take all those other pesky actors into account. Apparently there are around 38,000 actors signed up to this particular site. And with 510 recent roles up for grabs then, well, that’s only 37,490 actors going without this week. This means there are only roles for just over 1% of the actors on that site and only paid work for a measly 0.5% of us. Of course, actors are getting their work from other sources too and a percentage of that 38,000 will be already working or not using the site…but still…the worst case scenario hypothetical statistics are making me a little teary….
And if we presume there’s a 50:50 gender split, I can be potentially up against 18,999 actresses. That’s a lot of people. In fact, that’s 18,999 more than I’d like there to be. 19,000 is the population of a small town. That’s not what I want from a small town. From a small town I want a cracking bakery and an OAP called Val who can tell me all there is to know about the local bus route.
I know people who have put up acting jobs on this particular website who have gone on to receive in excess of 1,000 applications. And often they only have maybe 3 or 4 roles to offer. Even if you’re looking to fill a cast of 10, that means you’re potentially turning down 99% of those who applied to work with you. Those are a lot of sad faces and if there's anyone who can ham up a sad face, it's a sodding actor.
And then, of course, there are the practicalities of applying for these roles so you’ve got at least got a chance of being within that lucky 1%. If you’re relying on these sites to get work then, chances are, you’ve got a day job to keep the wolves from the door and the milk in the fridge. And these jobs (often promo work, call centres, waiting/bar staff or teaching) often mean that there’s very little time to get onto these sites and actually find yourself the work you really want to be doing.
I currently work in a call centre which means applying for these jobs during the day can be tricky. I get roughly 30 seconds between each call which, by the time I’ve shaken off the joy of being told to piss off for the 78th time that day, I don’t really have a chance to find a suitable job, write a killer cover letter, select the best headshot and submit my details. I try and do what I can on my lunch breaks but, again, by the time I’ve eaten, rested my eyes and ears and then put my soul back together, my time is limited. So I apply when I get home at 10pm, hoping that they decide to check their submissions starting with the most recent.
So is it really quiet at the moment? Yes, it is. When you're applying for poorly paid jobs on a Friday night, the buzz of an 8 hour call centre shift still ringing in your ears, that's about as quiet as it can get. It’s quiet for me and other 99% who are all hoping that, soon, we’ll get our chance to be in the 1%. But until that time, it's probably best you just don't ask...