By Sarah Tattersall
Ashton Kutcher sold his blood; Sean Connery polished coffins; Brad Pitt used to dance in a chicken suit on the street – we’ve all heard the tales actors working alongside their true passion for years before they finally made it. And that mentality doesn’t necessarily stop after a string of big roles. Just look at Gwyneth Paltrow, who is still inventing health tips to flog us overpriced tampons. Expanding our work is something the working actor needs to accept – but how do we make our work, work for us?
The ideal role for any actor, is of course, being a successful actor. It makes sense, then, that between roles, we are creating our own. I’m currently writing, producing and performing my one-woman show, Sally’s Alright, (Etcetera Theatre 18-21 August) which is my first producing role. With a strict schedule and the ability to motivate yourself, producing your own work is completely doable. I’m lucky that there are so many venues in London that embrace new, experimental work by companies and artists on a limited budget, however I have friends doing the same thing all over the country.
We like to tell ourselves that acting is, ‘all we can do.’ It isn’t true. Acting may be all we want to do, or even (if we’re incredibly lucky) all we have done so far, but I don’t believe that acting is a single talent. As a drama teacher, I don’t see children coming to their first class as a natural actor. What I do see, is children with a broad set of unique talents and quirks, which they can apply to acting as they could anything else they wanted to pursue.
I believe that acting is not a skill in itself – rather, we are able to act because of our skills: the ability to relate to others; to connect and communicate, and the capacity to create a world or story from a single thought or idea.
Throughout our training, we are always told that acting qualifies us for more than just performance, that our stage could become a classroom, a courtroom or a business. Whilst this may inspire a few, most of us become reluctant to give in to our versatility outside of a casting room, because we don’t want to give up on what we want.
And quite right too. So we don’t give up. We make our work, work for us.
I have yet to find that elusive flexible job that pays me handsomely for a minimal amount of work, whilst allowing me full freedom to pursue auditions and rehearsals at no notice. What I have found, is a collection of roles that reinforce my status as a performer and use me as a creative individual.
Outside of acting, regular musical gigs keep me performing and interacting with crowds, whilst paying me fairly for my skill, rather than clocking up the hours. They are also an insane amount of fun. Theatre reviewing allows me to see new theatre shows for free, constantly offering opportunities to be inspired by other writers and performers. Drama teaching not only keeps me practising a fresh approach to my craft, but as my boss and colleagues are all performers, it constantly supports and motivates me as well. Private drama and vocal tuition work around my life, and keep me conscious of my technique.
The key is to seek work that reinforces your role as a professional performer, which in turn, breeds more work. For instance, acting and writing, when combined with my experience with children, now allows me to work as a freelance workshop leader. This has enabled me to become fully self-employed, and quit a job that was constantly preventing me from auditioning and working on my own show.
Of course, these are only my experiences, and the possibilities for broadening your work are endless. These are just ideas of how I stay creative, in control and still committed to a performing career.
They at least stop me from spilling my secrets to an imagined audience, after hours in the comedy club I’m cleaning. But hey – that’s a pretty cool idea for a show, right? I thought so too. Check it out at:
Etcetera Theatre (above the Oxford Arms), Camden High Street
18 – 21 August 2016 (Thursday – Sunday)
6:30pm – 7:30pm
£6 (no concessions)
By Sarah Tattersall