This is long. But it’s from the heart and is something that has been brewing for a while now.
As actors we are often told that we must be 100% committed to the craft of acting. I have always agreed with this, but it is just dawning on me that I (perhaps many of us) have misinterpreted this concept, letting my work become an obsession rather than a passion and allowing the industry to cause me pain. Whether the work is coming in or not, we must have a full and creative life away from professional work to keep us sain and to keep us happy. But that is so easily to say and so difficult to do. It’s almost with shame I set up this blog! I started blogging because I like writing and I feel inspired to do so as I travel around Europe, but also because I am in-between acting jobs and need something that I enjoy, and that I believe to be meaningful, to occupy my time. But strangely the decision to start a blog wasn’t an easy one. A thousand defeatist voices tell me that doing anything other than acting work is a sign of failure on my part. I beat myself up if I’m not spending countless hours on scripts and auditions and accents. The idea of changing an audition time gives me neck pain and the few auditions I couldn’t do all together, well, let’s not even go there. I’ve chosen the possibility of acting work over family, friends and other experiences countless times and if I don’t, I feel guilty.
I know a few actors who have decided to stop acting, not for lack of talent but because the daily grind of being a jobbing actor is too painful and too full of despair and rejection. The difficulty of deciding to stop the craft was like giving up a part of themselves, this decision was so enormous that it disrupted the very fabric of there lives, challenged their own self perception. Reconciling with their decision, allowing themselves to understand it was a decision and not a failure that led them to the move is something I still see them struggling with.
I read an interview with French actor Tahar Rahim, whose most recent film ‘Grand Central’ opened in French cinemas last month. He said, ”This passion for acting needed to remain a passion, and not become an obsession. I needed to take its rightful place in my life and no more. The result is I do my work allot better than before. I have my life outside of my work and that’s what I want to value the most.” I think it is rare that we as actors read that “success” can and should be part of a balanced life, that to be good at what we do it shouldn’t to be an all consuming obsession. We are far more exposed to the message of pursuing your dreams at all costs. I feel overwhelmed by reminders to work as hard as I can, that my career is my life, it is who I am. I think the main perpetrator of these messages is me… as a way to find fault in myself. The main idea behind this self sabotage being that; unless I am a working actor I have very little value in the world, and in an industry with 90% unemployment rate it would seem I am setting myself up for defeat.
Acting needs to remain my passion, my love and a source of infinite pleasure, after all, this love and joy is why we all started off down the path of an acting career. If it doesn’t remain in its rightful place in my life, if I don’t learn to love my work and not only my accolades, I risk it becoming my pain, my despair and my waning self worth. I love what I do very much and I am trying very hard to not allow the nature of the industry, my desperate need for outside approval and the socially accepted signposts of success to take that away from me.
And not many of us talk about it properly. Sure we whinge, we are brilliant at that, the collective noun being ‘a whinge of actors’ is a joke that has its roots in truth (and is almost as amusing as ‘a snarl of playwrights’). It is almost like we don’t want to admit to one another how hard actually is, how little work is on the horizon, how scared we really are, in case this too is seen as a failure. My most dreaded question from another actor is “What are you up to?” It causes me to sweat in foyers all across Melbourne every week. I have responded to the hellish enquiry once by breathlessly proclaiming that I was incredibly busy and had some ‘killer projects’ in the pipeline thank-you-very-much, when in reality all that awaited in the foreseeable future was a frozen lasagne and an episode of ‘30 Rock’ I had already seen. I couldn’t find the guts to say, “Nothing. And I’m terrified that I will never work again”. Alas, I remain astoundingly un-cool.
Our self worth must live somewhere separate to our employment rate. These two things are not related, not even distantly.
I think these fears and insecurities are an occupational hazard we have to learn to live with them. I am starting to think the only way this can be achieved is through talking about it (or blogging about it. Baby steps.) and through communicating with one another. There are people who I am terribly, terribly envious of. To me their careers seem wonderfully exciting and they always look luminously beautiful and wonderfully interesting and directors just throw scripts at them as the saunter past sipping their green tea on their way to meet their millions of equally fantastic friends. These people, when I actually speak to them, are as terrified and as insecure as myself. So in an industry that can be devastatingly lonely and heartbreakingly difficult and frustratingly disempowering, perhaps we can take a little power from the shared experience.
I really hope I can stop being afraid and embarrassed by this notion of ‘failure’. Maybe the distress of not getting a that role/job/agent/call-back/meeting/Logie won’t be so unbearable for us, when we start to share not just our success but our disappointments, fears and our ‘failures’ too. This might mean the industry won’t loose so many talented artists, and acting can stay as something we adore instead of being overshadowed by an industry we learn to abhor.
My last sentence rhymed and I think that means I should finish this post now.