Pushing through the weekend throng of a busy Saturday tube concourse recently, I was accosted by a jovial fundraiser, determinedly weathering the storm of human traffic dressed in an all-enveloping sunflower suit. A cheery face peeped out from the centre of the flower as she shuffled about shaking a bucket, eliciting the odd shrapnel from passing pockets. I felt the pang of camaraderie. This may have been a valiant, extrovert volunteer but I doubt it, I suspected an actor was enshrined in that voluminous costume.
It is a well-established fact that jobbing creatives and students will do the most humiliating jobs for a bit of cash. I have found myself in similarly surreal guises in the six years since I graduated from drama school, none of them mortifyingly floral, but, after a long weekend spent dredging up bizarre jobs from the depths of my memory in order to bring my CV up date, I have been forced to acknowledge the full extent of my chaotic and idiosyncratic resumé. Truth be told it resembles nothing so much as a schizophrenic patchwork of odd-jobs which indicate a frankly bizarre and unbalanced life; so far, so accurate.
I don’t wish to complain, there is nothing more boring that the abject whingeing of a jobbing actor. I chose this profession wholeheartedly and in spite of repeated warnings from friends, family and career advisors. I threw myself headlong into a precarious line of work that boasts a well-documented failure rate. I accepted the likely financial insecurity, emotional turmoil and associated pitfalls. As such I have been pretty gung-ho about taking on whatever interim ‘money work’ that came my way, and I have been as resourceful as possible at spinning straw into gold. My sensible degree has proven of little particular use as the infamous 'crutch to fall back on', although it probably hasn’t hurt, so I have swallowed my pride and devoted myself to keeping the wolf from the door in whatever way possible.
I’ve been a notably unglamorous assistant to Ronald McDonald, enduring the ketchuppy assaults of small children and free big mac lunch perks. I've pursued domestic godliness and catered for functions large and small as well as baked, decorated and flogged hundreds of cakes at market stalls; I've project managed interior design projects and hand made children’s clothes; shipped car loads of cellar clearance junk to skips and sold luxury bespoke jewellery. I am an envelope stuffer par excellence and an accomplished chauffeur of wine boxes. I can teach Paradise Lost to bored A-Level students and answer corporate phone calls in a variety of house styles (generally a pseudo American sing-song droan in which all words are run together into an indecipherable blur). I've transcribed a PhD and babysat numerous children; counted endless stationery orders and cocked up drinks orders; acted as tour guide to French visitors in the Cotswolds, and bravely womanned countless receptions in the City. While routine and job satisfaction along with pleasing remuneration, well generally speaking I have enjoyed the variety.
Herein lieth the problem for the full time freelancing creative. You need to keep the wolf from door just like anyone else, but ultimately you have to remain available for your own work; auditions, rehearsals and tours that often turn up unexpectedly, so temping is ideal. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to experiencing numerous existential crises while engaged in some of the above jobs. They are regularly dull, sedentary, repetitive, thankless. When the closest you come to playing Lady Macbeth is contemplating a bloody stabbing of your current boring/patronizing/stupid/chatterbox colleague with a collection of paperclips and freshly sharpened pencils, things are pretty bad, it’s probably time to move on.
Fleeting fantasies of violence in the workplace aside I really haven’t much to complain or worry about – I have a career as an actor, it has been rich and rewarding in countless ways, and when I’m not acting I am able to survive and I try to embrace the bizarre and frustrating aspects of this peripatetic life as part and parcel of the self employed freelance experience. But I do have a gripe that relates uniquely to thespians.
‘Oh you’re an actor are you? I suppose you must have to rest a lot. Are you good at resting?’ Cue gales of laughter.
Excuse me for not partaking in this mirth. I can’t think of any other profession that has to put up with this great jape, the one where someone asks you how you are enjoying unemployment and then pisses themself in your general direction. You wouldn’t do it to a plumber, would you?
I assure you I am not po-faced; call me a lovie, a ponce, a dahling. I am more than ready to banter with the cabby who tells me that my job is ‘money for old rope’; to nod at the lecherous man at the party earnestly informing me that he too could have been an actor because he did GCSE Drama. Tell me in a voice dripping with condescension that you do so admire my courage at sticking with my craft in spite of failing to be famous. Honestly, I can laugh at all the clichés and criticisms levelled at actors but, given the catalogue of soulless, badly paid, mind-numbing, spirit-crushing endeavours actors take on to facilitate their jobs, please, please stop with the accusation that all we do is rest. It couldn't be further from the truth.