I overheard a casting director tell it like it is to a recent drama school grad when asked ‘what’s your biggest tip when entering this line of work?’. His answer – ‘get out of it’. ‘If you mildly enjoy doing ANYTHING else, do it’, he continues as the smile on the budding actor’s face begins to droop. I thought I’d become immune to rejection from my multiple failures at school discos, although audition rejection is a deeper cut and gets old quickly, mainly because there’s no explanation. There’s no bigger disappointment like getting a call that’s not from your agent – cue fake happy voice – ‘Hi Mum, yeah everything’s going really well, I’m getting some good feedback…’. Perhaps what is more terrifying than another week without work is actually landing a gig, and not sucking – therefore I’m here to recollect on my first ‘professional’ (which actually means – holy shit I’m getting paid) job.
In fear of losing all credibility in the above paragraph, I must inform you that I actually scored my first gig while in my final year of drama school. I know – what the fuck do I know about hardship, rejection and lying to my parents, I was lucky to have a lead role in a professional theatre company not six months out of training. However, as I was scouring the road for some silver change to pay for the train to Newtown for some delicious 6pm Hare Krishna, I couldn’t help to feel I was back to square one – and wondered if anyone was impressed or remotely remembers my professional debut. Was I another forgotten hero swallowed up by the pace and high turnover of this cruel machine?
However I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter. Impress yourself. That role is now under your belt, let the experience and confidence be ingrained in you and bring it into the next audition room. It sounds like it, but this isn’t the end of the article.
The highlight for me was working with older and experienced actors. This was my first play outside of an institution and therefore the first time I was acting my own age opposite actors also acting their own age (relatively). Not only was it refreshing not having to rely on baby powder to provide some age, but what excited me the most was how fresh and exciting these experienced actors were twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years into this career. They still had the spark, the nervousness, and the energy of someone making their debut. All of them had other jobs – sparkies, gardeners, teachers. It was invigorating and a massive relief to see that the creative flame has a long life.
Working with professionals, whether actors or crew, during the rehearsal periods was both a joy and self-assuring. It actually reminded me that acting is a job, a profession. As with all other professions, it entitles you to certain rights, liberties and serves a role in society. Acting is how you make a living, and this alone deserves respect. And respect is what you are given. Opening night reflects this in somewhat of a lavish way; at the post-show drinks, you are still at work. I was reminded of this when I immediately approached the bar and asked for a couple of beers so I could double-fist it while working the room – not the best idea. Being swarmed by beaming audience members, subscribers, photographers, reviewers and board members telling you how much they loved the show (whether they’re lying or not doesn’t really matter), I had to remind myself that I am employed by the theatre company and am representing not only them but also myself as a professional artist. And its tough work; It’s not difficult for an artist to quickly get a reputation as rude, boring, arrogant or sleazy, because the public are all too quick to judge, and they love it. I quickly learnt that the best response to an uninformed piece of criticism thrown at you is to smile, nod and thank them for coming. I thanked a lot of people that night.
Getting a solid paycheck every Friday was great. But with great power (union rates) comes great responsibility. Bring your absolute A-game to your first job. Impress the fuck out of the director and the other actors – down the track they could be suggesting your name to something bigger. Don’t doubt yourself, you’ve proven you’re good enough to be there, just do the hard work and earn your pay. Word will quickly spread about your ethic and it’ll open doors.
I wish I could mention the names of the people I worked with on my first job. Because they were the highlight. It warmed my heart to see these seasoned veterans play around just as much, if not more, than we did in Drama school. On-stage and off (as long as it didn’t jeopardize the shoe or the director’s vision – that was always key). They took their work seriously but not too seriously that they lost vision of who we are and what our purpose was in society. They taught me that if you’re not having fun anymore, it’s not worth it. Some of them read the reviews, most of them didn’t – it’s all a learning curve. There will never be a flawless performance, a perfect show, a faultless production – why would you want that? There will be nowhere to go. Neither do we search for that perfect show. I asked my hilarious sixty-something colleague as he pretends to release his bowels in the washing bin in our change-room – ‘So what are searching for? Truth?’, ‘Maybe’ he replies ‘Probably not. But whatever it is, it’s a lot of fun finding it’.
How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination’… well let me tell you, it’s about the journey, not the destination. My first gig was the start of mine, one that I’ll never forget, and hopefully I’ll never reach my destination, nor know where it is, when its is, or why it is.