Last month I was engaged to work professionally as an actor for the first time in 12 years. (Point of clarity: the facts of the matter are ~ during that period of time I had ceased seeking acting work, and not that I had been chronically & pathetically unemployable for over a decade. I’d hate for there to be any confusion. )
Rather than a mainly romantic and rhapsodic essay upon returning to the stage after so long, I wish to use these words I’m writing to share a more realistic reflection upon a specific aspect of being a professional player: The economic sacrifice often necessitated in order to “do what you love.” It may not be glamorous or terribly exciting, but it’s a glimpse into the reality of being an actor (or any artist, for that matter) who is just doing his/her best to find work and survive in a society that often “rewards” you financially only once you’ve attained a high level of success….if at all.
The show I just finished was a wonderful experience for me, especially as it was my first time playing on stage in so long. I was truly able to enjoy the ecstasy of play again; the main reason I chose to pursue playing as a profession. This blissful ecstasy was brought about in large part due to the incredible talent and enthusiasm of my fellow players and our remarkable crew. The company which formed to put on our staged reading production of Moliere’s ‘The Miser’, was a dream come true for me and fulfilled every secret desire I had for this initial step towards a total re-immersion into the theatre. Every actor was what I, personally, call a pure player; the definition of such is ~ one who artfully combines professional discipline with an amateur spirit.
As it had been exactly 12 years since my last acting gig, I had not been active in the union to which I belong (Canadian Actors Equity Association) and was owing money in order to be able to work professionally again. There were two reasons for my letting this lapse: 1- I wasn’t seeking acting work, so it seemed an unnecessary expense to maintain. 2- I simply didn’t have the funds to pay the outstanding amount once I was ready to return to the profession.
In order to survive I pay my living expenses employed in the actor’s stereotypical alternate occupation: serving in a restaurant. Being paid the minimum wage allowable by law and relying upon the generosity of those you serve to supplement this meagre income doesn’t make you exactly rolling in the dough. Far from it. So, in order to participate in this production I needed to take a couple of nights off, which I was more than happy to do even though it meant a loss of two shifts which are usually good “money nights” in the restaurant. At first I thought there would be no problem as I was going to be receiving an amount of money from the show which is roughly equivalent to what I would expect to make over those two nights in that other occupation. However, this was not to be as I soon discovered that I had to pay the union basically the exact amount I was to receive from the engagement. So now in order for me to be in the play the money I was being paid for it had to go directly to paying my dues, and I still was going to be out the money I would have made serving on those two particular nights. The loss of income over those two nights meant that I would be broke until I was serving again, which was more than a few days in total. To anyone with a decent and steady income who never has to worry about making ends meet each month this will seem (I’m sure) a trivial and alien situation. How nice for you.
The term “starving artist” (bordering on the hyperbolic….but just barely) although it’s a well worn cliche its kernel of truth endures, and although it meant having to scrape by with even less than usual during the week of the show I still would choose to participate in an activity which feeds my soul at the expense of my stomach over one which puts a little money in my pocket but takes out of me what cannot be valued in currency nor can be replaced by it.
Latest posts by Brendan Patrick McClarty (see all)
- Brendan: On Filling the Audition Room with Imagination - October 10, 2014
- Brendan: Relying on someone else to give me work as an actor is just too limiting of an existence - September 3, 2014
- Brendan: Theatrical Magic in The Winter’s Tale - August 8, 2014