It should be said straight off the bat, before I lean into what is hopefully some sort of constructive rant: I really do love this thing that we do.
I’ve been adrift of drama school for 13 sketchy years now. I’ve just clocked in at 38 years of age. If pressed, I might give my career a 6.5 out of 10? (‘career’ is generous). And yet, these discouraging statistics aside, not once in all those years of treading the co-operative boards did I ever think that I might pull up stumps and give the whole acting lark away for a path less malnourished. The reason being that I would simply be lost without it. Whether it be the super-earnest preparation that goes into creating a character (yes, I’ve tried animal-work and, no, it didn’t take), or the strict adherence to those twee vocal exercises that were drilled into us by the old guard (a verse of ‘The Tarantella’, anyone?), I really am a daggy disciple of all that wholesome, conscientious schtick. And the prospect of sifting through a rehearsal script in the comfort of my home, muttering into the wee hours, adorned with red-wine-teeth……well that’s just bloody great.
To reiterate, I love this thing we do.
HOWEVER. Herein lies the rub. I think it essential that this devout work-ethic is tempered at all times by a recognition that this industry we operate in can just be plain ridiculous sometimes. I mean, bananas, truly. There is sheer desperation and pretension and ruthlessness and you must steer clear of all that nonsense, immediately. The sooner you maintain a sense of humour about this highly questionable life choice we have made; the sooner you are not paralysed by what others think of you; the sooner you are prepared to make a dick of yourself – to be candid, to over-share, to self-deprecate – when you can do all of these things……then, conversely, you keep your dignity intact as well.
Think about it. It’s just funny, what we do.
- It’s funny that one time in a commercial audition I had to take my shirt off, lower my trousers around my ankles and pretend to be pelted with imaginary lamingtons.
- It’s funny that, a mere two weeks ago, myself and several colleagues were onstage in the epic thralls of Act 2 of ‘The Crucible’, passionately debating the whereabouts and significance of ‘a poppet’ in 70% accurate West Country accents.
- It’s funny that I sweat so profusely in performance that I become distracted from the task at hand and instead just observe the player opposite me and track their eyeline as it follows a singular, incriminating bead of sweat down my forehead.
- And finally, it’s funny that I had to take a small marble-pouch-type-thingy with drawstrings and fasten it over my genitals for a simulated sex-scene in Foxtel’s seminal adult-series, ‘Satisfaction’. I had but one line of dialogue and it was delivered as my esteemed brothel-patron reached his climax. The character was ‘Noel’ and the line was ‘OH JEEEEEZ!’ That’s funny.
But this stuff just does not matter. Please don’t worry about what others think of you. Your peers, casting agents, directors, reviewers – don’t sweat it. I mean, of course we all do…but just…don’t. This is not in any way meant to sound arrogant, mean-spirited, or petulant. Far from it. Love this community. Love these people. Love working with them, for them. But don’t let their assessment of you be the most influential force in your career or, more importantly, your life. Don’t crave their approval. Seek feedback, absolutely, when it’s warranted. But don’t be crippled by it. Because I gotta tell ya, this becomes apparent as all hell. And you wear that scent, like Lynx Africa, from foyer to foyer.
A little insight into my pig-headed optimism, for example: When I don’t book a job, I basically walk away from the whole experience going ‘Well. They’re clearly insane. FOOLS. Next’. And that’s it. That’s about as negative as I allow myself to get. Yes, of course there can be palpable disappointment in not scoring the gig. But I’ll never let that knock me off the perch of an unwavering faith in myself. Call me an arrogant tool if you will (I would, in your position, most certainly), but I know the mindset I’d rather stick with.
Let your work speak for itself. Of course we need to self-promote, every single one of us. In fact we self-promote to some minor degree in almost every daily interaction. Lordy knows, I do. But we can be tasteful about it, surely. You should absolutely push your work, promote it, make sure the right people see it. You should invest everything you have into that work to make it a complex, dynamic, dangerous, nuanced creation you can be proud to showcase.
What you DO NOT need to do, however, is post a photo on social media of the view of inner-west rooftops from your bedroom window in Enmore, the curtains billowing in the breeze, a short glass of whiskey, a rollie, a candle and a well-thumbed edition of Charles Bukowski poetry – all strategically positioned within the frame – with the hashtag ‘#actorlife’.
Please. Please. Do anything but that.
You are interesting. Endlessly. And it will always, always show in your work. You don’t need to cultivate a mythology around yourself. You don’t have to be cool, you don’t have to be hot, and you don’t have to be ‘tortured’, either. You are not a walking, personified Instagram post. Those who spend all their energy promoting these avenues are over-compensating for a lack of something else.
Be uncool. Wear rubbish clothes. If you made a complete prick of yourself at an opening-night-drinks-in-the-foyer-function calling the casting director of the company by the wrong name for 35 minutes……everything’s gonna be cool, I promise. Walk out the door, get a mixed-kebab and laugh about it on the way home. Because it just doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things.
Now. It’s probably time I put a stop to this righteous self-aggrandizing because, of course, I often fall arse-backwards into these behaviours as much as the next sap. Of course I do. Thought it might be prudent to point this out now before it looked as though I was trying to market myself as some sort of renegade badass. I ain’t.
But if I could collate the past 1100 words of flowery, convoluted drivel and merge them into a cohesive, loftier purpose, I guess I would say……what we get to do is very special. As a great teacher once said to me ‘We work in the theatre because we wish to experience life more intensely’. I don’t know about you, but that one always sticks with me. I’m one of the great, stoic, emotionally-stunted energies in our small community, and I know for certain that stories give me an avenue to express myself in ways that I don’t otherwise allow. And if we’re blessed with such a thing, anything that circles it on the peripheries and threatens to corrupt it – anything fraudulent or petty or cruel or self-serving or just downright unnecessary and detrimental to your goddamn happiness……well, in the words of Danny Glover, ‘I’m too old for this shit’.
So, in summary:
- Work really hard, love it more than anything, but have a laugh at yourself and know how weird your job is as well.
- Be generous and awesome to work with.
- Be strong, be a leader.
- Know that you’re rad and don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you.
- Be dumb, be uncool…hell, be beige sometimes if you wanna be.
- And especially, ESPECIALLY……don’t be a wanker.
Get all that?