Our industry is just full of contradictions – there’s the old joke of ‘How do you make an actor moan?’ Give them a job! While simultaneously there are actors all over social networks moaning because they’re not working.
There’s Equity’s current scheme to raise awareness around Profit Share, No/Low pay, with their ‘Professionally Made Professionally Paid’ campaign yet, right now up in Edinburgh, we are celebrating one of the UK’s biggest cultural theatrical festivals aka ‘The Fringe’ – meaning that literally thousands of actors are currently walking around Edinburgh thrilled to have had their accommodation and travel paid(if they’re lucky), but attempting to live off a shared tin of baked beans, while bedding down nightly in a room jammed to the rafters with other actors in the same ‘bed’ (usually literally).
To Joe Public we are known to be a cut-throat industry – ready to stab our best friend in the back if it meant that we could secure ‘the ultimate’ job, whereas in reality, the ‘old skool’ industry really looked after its own.
Put this all together and it’s fair to say that our industry is pretty much identical to your stereotypical dysfunctional family. It’s OK for us to disrespect our own…but God help the person that steps over from the ‘real world’ to point out any of the above. Then like the best of families, however dysfunctional, we try to look after our own.
The best example at the moment is the current crowdfunding campaign for actress Louise Plowright. Louise has had a phenomenal career but is sadly currently fighting (for the second time) pancreatic cancer. Her family has found an innovative treatment over in Seoul, which uses an advanced genetic vaccine, not currently available in the UK, and are currently attempting to raise £140,000 to get Louise over there to receive the treatment.
My Twitter feed and Facebook timeline have been full of actors advertising this fundraiser. Many have worked with Louise on West End mega-musicals like Mamma Mia and Wicked, but actually a lot of them (like myself ), have never met her, but would like to help. Of course the difficulty with us lot ‘helping our own’ is that we’re all skint. Her mates currently in those West End shows are usually having to do a day job on top of the show in order to just survive living in London. So while there are an awful lot of actors currently donating to that pot, the harsh reality is that only a handful of ‘us’ can actually make a donation sizeable enough to make a huge dent in that total. Now that shouldn’t stop us donating…if anything that’s even more reason for all of us to try and give a little something.
Great that over the past couple of weekends the management at Mamma Miais donating the proceeds from their Saturday evening performances to the fund, in addition to that, this week there will be an infamous theatrical bucket collection at various theatres in aid of this appeal. In other words, the theatre world could actually make this happen, and how wonderful that so many people are moved enough to at least try to make it happen in the first place. It would have been too easy to just block the idea from the start as the amount needing to be raised was so high.
When we recently did our own fundraiser in an attempt to match fund in preparation for our ‘big move’, not a day went by when I wasn’t touched to see that someone would privilege the future of our students’ training over a night out or a coffee at Starbucks – as for most performers, barely scraping a living, that’s the choice.
So the point of this article is really to pay homage to the fact that the industry really is one big dysfunctional family, but when joined together we have the potential to be a real force to be reckoned with – but to ensure those changes happen we need the ‘big people’ out there, to remember that they started out as ‘small people’, and then we need them to ‘pay back’ into the pot of kindness.
Under The MTA’s ‘college for life’ policy I have a daily struggle with this concept of ‘paying back’ – as I can see how the policy can be easily exploited to be a pot that is constantly dipped into, but rarely topped up by our ambassadors. Then suddenly we have an event like last week’s annual ‘ambassador afternoon’ when nearly a third of our ambassadors contributed (either in person or via email/text) and suddenly the figurative pot is positively overflowing again for a few months.
We need to ‘look after our own’ – as no bugger else will – and we need to look at what that means from a global perspective. Is it paying people a decent wage so that, come ‘donation’ time we can all make a massive difference? Is it being more black and white with our campaigning? Should Equity be up in the Fringe at all, after all most of the companies up there will not be party to their campaign (whether through choice or reality, or indeed both)? We need less talk and more action. Pressing RT is great…being at a theatre this evening physically holding a bucket will probably do more good.
Finally, and as regular readers of these articles know, this is an ongoing issue for me – we need things to happen quicker. Louise needs her treatment right now…if it’s going to stand any chance of working, there is an urgency attached to her appeal. Imagine a world where that urgency was attached to all the issues affecting our industry?
In December 2014, I put out a plea for all drama colleges to follow our model and to install a mental health practitioner onto their faculties (this was prior to the infamous Equity/Spotlight/BAPAM/Stage survey that supported my long-held belief that our industry was prone to having a higher percentage of people enter it with mental health issues). Other than a few Twitter arguments, when Student Equity told me that they’re doing loads to make a difference….yet failed to name even one new initiative, and UK Drama told me that their hands were tied…(you get the idea), absolutely nothing has happened.
Sadly, there are lots of people in our industry right now on life support machines, but you can’t see them. They don’t need an innovative vaccine, the thinking and the products are already in place to make them feel better and to help them survive.
Let’s start with saving one life today…but then let’s start to look around at the other lives that we could help as soon as this target has been met.