THE LIFE OF A THESPIAN (Holding the Dream)

No one ever said it would be easy – In fact ever since I was child, I knew it would not be easy but it sure as hell beats slaving away in a nine-to-five existence, even when one has to work a twelve to fourteen hour day on a film or television production.  Personally I would not have it any other way.  However, there is no quick route to success or financial security.  Best stick to nine-to-five if that is what you want.  A life in Show Business for those making their way up the ranks, is a long hard journey and one for the most part, entailing hard work for little (and sometimes no) reward.

Debi Allen that wonderful Actress, Dancer/Choreographer, Director and Film Producer, expressed it so well in the Movie ‘Fame’ when she told her students: “Fame costs and here’s where you start paying”.  And boy, have I paid the price and continue to pay a price for daring to pursue a dream.  I have dealt with belittlement, disrespect, broken relationships, problems making a living, making ends meet.  I have had problems finding money to make journeys across London to auditions and castings, even to job interviews or temping assignments.  Each day, each week is a battle just to survive.  Each day, each endeavour literally involves counting the cost of everything I do and asking yourself, ‘Can I afford that chocolate bar?  Do I really need to do that? Go there?  No can’t afford it.  It is out of my price range etc.  The list goes on.  You are not living, you are just existing.

And this is brought home quite often when one contacts someone they knew in the past and you find out they have moved on light years from where you currently are.  While it would seem one has stagnated, they have moved on from where you were with them, formed other relationships, had another child along the way, moved to Essex then back to their old haunt in Brent etc.  For them (like many others including one’s own family,) you no longer exist.  You never existed!  You were never a part of their life (and it now seems,) you are not even a memory, let alone a footnote in their life.  And this is a trait that is repeated elsewhere, I only mentioned a particular case because I have recently learned all this about a certain person.  Email messages have gone unanswered but as before this is nothing new. It has happened elsewhere with others.

You really know who your true friends are when you are struggling to make it.  When you are trying to realise that dream, they are ones who will support you, encourage you and where necessary be truthful if it hurts – Tough Love if you will.  They are the ones you can pick up a ‘phone, call them and they are there for you.  I can count on the fingers of one hand those people, those true friends who are there for me.  I would be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that I have been extremely hurt, disappointed and let down by those I was close to who could not respect my situation for what it is.  They are not pursuing what I am for the simple reason they are quite comfortable with their lives and existence such as it is.  For them there is a regular income, job security (if such a thing still exists), and of course the annual excursions abroad a few times a year.  All well and good for them.  For me my life situation is rather different.  For one, I have never known what it is to have job security even when I worked a nine-to-five job.  And that is all those jobs ever were – Jobs!  I never had a career prior to entering the Acting profession.  Acting gave me a career, the ability to express myself and communicate my ideas and articulate who I am.  Prior to that I felt like Chief Bromden, the gigantic but docile Native-American narrator of the Novel ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in I that I could be in a room full of people and would not be noticed.  If I were around a table with people in discussion and I said something, the discussion would go regardless.  It would be as if I wasn’t there at all.  I thought it was me until I read that Novel where Bromden reminisces about his days as a boy when some white people from the city came to the place where he grew up and were talking about his people as if he wasn’t there.  When he tried to talk to them they didn’t respond, as he was not there.  In fact everyone in the hospital thought Bromden was deaf.  He wasn’t.  They just assumed he was because no one bothered to talk to him.  And that is how I have felt for most of my life.  The Man Who Wasn’t There (even if he was) – The Invisible Man if you will.  I have never been one to draw attention to myself, given my insular upbringing and even now many years later I wonder if that insecure child growing up in an insular environment in Birmingham, is still inside somewhere.  I feel much more the sociable, outgoing person but I wonder if that is what people really see or do they see something else.  Image is everything some would say.  I wonder kind of image I am projecting to the world at large?

I recently realised I have no conception of what a holiday is.  I have never ever had a holiday.  If I have ever been abroad, it has been to either find a job or be working on a job.  My last excursion out of the UK was to work in Spain on the film ‘Sahara’ opposite Penelope Cruz back in 2004.  The idea of going away for a weekend break, a long weekend, a two to four week break be it in the Caribbean or some other far-off exotic locale is about as alien to me as it would be to a visitor from a distant galaxy observing Earth customs.  The idea of going away for a certain period of time and doing nothing more than lazing on sun bed by a swimming pool or lazing around on a sandy beach or getting blind drunk and smashed out of one’s head while enjoying the nightlife in that locale is something I just cannot appreciate or comprehend.  There is no reference point for me because I have never ever done it.  Growing up, holidays were something the other kids did and as an adult it something other people do.

Why is this?  Simply because I have either not been in a position to afford the above niceties or I have been too busy trying survive and make ends meet.  For the past eight years or so, it has been working on my acting career, trying to pay my way and constantly job searching or doing temping jobs that either don’t last very long and/or don’t pay very much in order to make any kind of long-term financial planning.  I have seen what happens when employees don’t have rights in the workplace.  Try being a temp at the lower end of that social/work scale.  It really is an education in working/employment relations or rather the lack of it.  That is if you are fortunate or unfortunate to be working in such a capacity, whatever the case may be.

The above is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  As a thespian (or actor if you will,) there is the constant living with uncertainty on a daily basis.  It goes with job but then Acting is not just a job.  It is more than that.  It is a Lifestyle.  When one is trying to make it in this business, there is no let up.  No rest nor relaxation.  Jesus, you can’t even sleep at nights!  Why else do you think I am writing this!?  I write at night because I cannot sleep at nights!  I am fucking stressed and all the while trying to hold things together and feign some semblance of normality whatever the fuck that is!  I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs (recreational and otherwise).  Everything you see and do is grist to the mill.  You spend your entire life, your existence working at your career and even when it produces nothing, you still continue.  Ever onwards!  Fighting the good fight.  And what do you get for all this effort?  Most of the time?  Sweet Fanny Adams!!! Nothing!  Nothing positive anyway.  Derision.  People will tell you are wasting your time.  ‘Go find yourself a proper job’ they say.  Well I have done a ‘proper job’ more times than I can count and my existence was no different than it is now.  So from bitter personal experience, I know a ‘proper job’ doesn’t work.  I have been temping for a number of years off and on and that view is re-enforced with every job I have ever done.  And when I work those thirty-five or thirty-seven hours per week, my lot does not improve one jot!  And why would it?  How can it when one is so badly paid!?  So to my critics I say this: ‘ If you think it so damn easy to do what I do and experience, then pick up your own cross and join me on that journey’.  Lets see how well you can hack it!

And even when you are fortunate to be cast in something, the chances are you won’t be paid for it.  With the exception of one theatre director I have worked for a number of times, those other times I have worked for nothing whether it be theatre or film, I have been so badly treated and shit on from a great height, I have come close to putting my head through and plate glass window and cutting my own throat, thinking ‘why the fuck am I bothering with this bullshit!?’  When you work for nothing, you for the most part get nothing out of it. It could be a good director will come up with a good script and despite not having much money can put a decent production together and get the job done.  Such a director I would probably work for because I know his film will probably get seen (and I was talking to one such director a couple of days ago).  Unfortunately the opposite is true and what will probably happen if you have no sense or are desperate, you will end up working on one of those no-budget affairs where some people (like the Director of Photography/Cameraman,) will be paid for his time and expertise but you as an actor are not worth paying for your skills and talent.  Then (as in one case,) you are told you were not needed that day so you will have to go and find your own meals for that day etc.  After that shit was thrown my way that was the last time I worked on a film for free.  I would mention the director concerned but he knows who he is so no need on my part.  Others who worked on the film know who I am talking about so I won’t waste words on the asshole’s name.  How very different was my experience of working on major film last year that while low budget was properly funded, organised and everyone got paid.  A benchmark was set by this particular director and his producer on how to actually go about making a film.  How so very different and positive was this experience when compared to the one involving the asshole above.

These are trials and tribulations a Thespian will face on that long journey along the Yellow Brick World to one’s own Emerald City called Success.  Who knows how long that journey will be.  It could an entire lifetime.  Some complete the journey quicker than others and have their youth, strength, vitality and are able to enjoy the fruits of their success.  For others their success comes late in life and they make the best and the most of that success and become Statesmen of their profession (Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson are two such luminaries).  Then there are others who despite their efforts (or lack of them,) never make it to the Emerald City.  The dream is there, the dream was there but maybe their vision was not strong enough realise that dream.

Where do I place myself in those three categories?  Well I am no spring chicken so the choice has to be from the latter two.  I would firmly place myself in the same category as Morgan and Samuel L., in that when I reach The Emerald City it will be late in life but I will be in a better position to make the most of that success.  I realise it may not happen but I don’t believe all the effort and sacrifices I have made on my long journey have been and will be in vain.  Yes I have had my self-esteem shattered, being humiliated (publicly, personally, privately and emotionally,) and have a lifetime of family and others telling me I will never amount to much (never more so than from my mother of all people so go figure why I am so fucked up with all that entails).  I just don’t believe I was meant to be a loser in life.  All I have experienced and endured has been a proving ground, preparing me for that success when it eventually comes my way. Only then will all of the above, along with perseverance, patience and hard work finally pay off for my ‘Holding the Dream’.