This week my happy, lefty, lazily anti-capitalist ideals took an unpleasant bashing as I realised that, particularly in the acting world, most of the time things just don’t work without money.
Let me fill you in. I got on a train at 8.30am to go and do some filming for an unpaid project about an hour and a half’s train ride away. I got as far as Tooting and then received a text telling me that the shoot was cancelled because of availability problems. I sighed deeply and hopped off the train, doing the walk of shame over the footbridge to the other platform, while everyone at Tooting station thought “Hah. Goofy freckly girl missed her stop”. I spent three hours on a train that morning for no reason and paid £12 for the privilege.
As I made my pointless way home I started thinking about other times when I’d been messed around as an actor on unpaid jobs. There was the time I auditioned for a film, got the part, and spent four hours in south London rehearsing camera shots, only to get a text two weeks later from the director telling me that “by the way”, he’d recast the part and shot the film without me. Then there was the time I waited for six hours in a bar in Brick Lane for everyone in the film crew to turn up, and then I was driven down to a freezing cold warehouse in Deptford to shoot until three in the morning. When I asked about getting home, a tenner was begrudgingly slapped into my hand and I was driven to the nearest bus stop.
Now, this time around the problem was simple logistics as opposed to dazzling fuckwittery; someone wasn’t able to swap their shift at work, so the filming couldn’t go ahead. Fair enough. But it occurred to me that as soon as money weaves its spindly fingers around a project, it binds everyone into a contract of responsibility and commitment, making the chance of people’s time being wasted far less likely. Money makes people accountable (in all senses of the word) and actually gives them more freedom to commit; if this shoot had been paid, the actress who couldn’t swap her shift would have been able to prioritise it over her other job.
I’m still ambivalent about the ‘low pay/no pay’ debate around acting work. Half of me says that I trained as an actor like most people train as anything else, so I should expect to be paid for the work that I do. The other half says this just isn’t realistic. First, the industry is exceptionally overpopulated, and second, I’d rather live in a country where people create interesting art than in one where the only art available is art which makes money. Money isn’t always the key to success in getting a project together; some theatre companies stage productions every year with nothing but a spirit of collaboration, some duct tape and a roll of binbags, while you hear stories of actors who land castings for three-figure-fee commercials and just don’t bother to turn up.
I can be as happy-clappy as you like about how money is the antithesis of acting fulfilment. But when it’s four in the morning in February, and I’m crouching under the hand dryer in St Pancras station’s disabled loo to keep warm while I wait for a train home from a crappy unpaid acting job, I long for the day when money makes the work I do work.
Photo by Flickr user epSos.de under a Creative Commons Licence.