When you become an actor, you quickly learn to redesign your notions of communication. You might (you should) have conversations on stage which involve listening and responding appropriately, and you’ll almost certainly have conversations in real life (mostly based around explaining why you’re not acting in anything right this second and whether you know anyone famous). But when it comes to your professional communications, it doesn’t work like that anymore.
The way it works is that you talk and no-one responds. There is no dialogue, only streams of monologue that rarely elicit any response. You send letters and emails to what feels like half the world’s population, chatting away about yourself and what you can offer, and cheerfully expecting nothing more than stony silence in return. When you step out of the bubble and look back in, you look like the crazy man on the bus who thinks he’s at a dinner party with Napoleon.
This takes a lot of getting used to, and even when you’ve become as used to being ignored as the guy whose job it is to write terms and conditions, it’s hard to forget your parents teaching you that it’s rude not to reply when someone speaks to you. We all understand that industry professionals receive perhaps hundreds of emails and letters per day, but even an automated response would be better than their contemptuous silence. This silence is especially galling when you’ve made an effort to prepare for and turn up to an audition; if you stack up the number of times I’ve had a “thank you, but no” after an audition against the number of times I’ve had to assume that their office was struck by lightning and their internet, telephones and stamps were all destroyed, you’d have yourself an extremely wonky pair of stilts.
The painful truth behind this is that the industry treats actors cheaply because they are cheap. I’m cheap. My time, energy, training, skills and commitment are cheap, because if I’m not available then my place can almost immediately be filled by someone else who may not do exactly the same thing as me, but what they do might be just as effective in a different way. Actors can’t afford to retaliate when they are snubbed professionally, we can’t afford dignity, because we are rarely in demand. Few actors ever feel what it’s like to be in demand, to be valuable or desirable, and instead perpetually live the lives of the hopelessly lovestruck teenage girl whose crush simply will never notice her no matter how much time she spends on their hair or how often she hangs around near the guitar shop where he works.
It’s not particularly healthy for one’s self-worth to live like this, and so it is handy that actors are people who are particularly adept at convincing themselves that a lie is the truth (see: office struck by lightning). But what is true, and is something that all actors must carve into their laptop screen above where their empty email inbox is displayed, is that it’s not you, it’s the industry. It’s an unfair, badly structured and often exploitative industry, where people in positions of power are often rude and dismissive, but until we manage to turn it into something that works efficiently, creates enough jobs and pays everyone fairly for those jobs, the only way to survive it is just to keep chatting away into the void until someone talks back.
Photo by Flickr user Rocky Raybell under a Creative Commons licence.