As I promised in my last blog post, I didn’t explain much about acting to anyone when I went back to Czech Republic for the holidays. I did, however, get asked “Oh, so you are an actress? You must have a great life over there in the West! Are you famous yet? How much does it pay?”. I saw it coming. It is a common misconception in the Czech Republic that things are much better elsewhere.
When I was at Gatwick airport, there was a poster on the wall saying: “138 million people work and live outside their country of origin”. Actors are a part of this. A lot of actors in London are convinced there is not enough work and are dreaming about Hollywood, thinking it is better over there. But is the grass really greener? Sure, there might be more opportunities if you want to break into film, but it doesn’t come that easily.
The questions my friends and family asked got me thinking. There is something about the misconception that you go to a big “market” and become a star – you see and hear about the successful people mainly in the big markets (i.e. Hollywood), yet you hardly ever hear the truth about their journey. We usually get offered overnight success stories that seem effortless, or a matter of luck. It’s only natural for people who don’t know much about how it all works to assume that you just have to be in a big market and you will then have a big name director or producer giving you your break.
After all, when I left my country I believed that there were more opportunities in bigger markets – that there were more places to train based on what would suit me the best, and that there were more chances to meet people and make connections and so on. Simply, that the chances of making a living as an actor would be better elsewhere than at home. The thing about a small market is that it feels really hard to break into unless your dad is a director and it’s a family business; they don’t let many new people because they are keeping jobs for themselves. Plus, you can’t really make a living out of it unless you are really famous. A bigger market feels like you can make a nice living out of your acting jobs without having to be an A-list actor.
Another thing about the small market is that there is very little of information about it – no books, websites, networking opportunities, very few places to train, and it all seemed like another world. In bigger markets, all of this information is available – you are overwhelmed with materials, can be going out to meet people every day, and can choose where and when you want to train. Also, people learn to co-operate and help each other. Of course there is always some back-stabbing going on, with people who are looking only what is there for them, not willing to give a helpful hand in exchange.
I’ve also learned that coming to a bigger market makes you a tiny fish in a big pond of really talented people, and you need to work even harder to make it. It’s the price you’ve got to pay in order to be in the game. It stops being just about the art and becomes a lot about the business side of it. I found myself dedicating a lot of time to learning business and marketing skills, but also trying to find out what could make me stand out of the crowd and get noticed instead of devoting all the time to honing my craft. Sadly, I learned that it’s not always the most talented and trained people who make it, but the people who are able to get themselves noticed and connect with the right people.
I found that being an international actor gives you a hint of the exotic which you would not have in your home country, and you could definitely use it as a stand out factor. However, other opportunities are closed to you, and in some roles you can’t really compete with a native actor. That’s when you start to think about your options. You start to wonder if the market you are in is the right one for you. This is the point when you start thinking about creating opportunities for yourself instead of waiting to be given the right opportunity, hoping this will attract them. But of course you also realise that you can’t be putting your head in the sand too early on, that you have to just suck it up and keep going.
Another downside to living in a big market is that the living expenses are often really high, which then makes it difficult to keep yourself in the game. I found myself financially dried out. Despite being lucky to have an amazing bunch of friends offering me their couches to crash on for a while, I’m fiercely looking for a stable day job and running around London leafletting to make a little cash to survive – and hopefully to save up for a cheap house share. So there’s going to be a bit of moving around, while devoting every single free moment to practising my monologues for my drama school auditions.
I’m not the only actor who finds themselves in such situation. We do day jobs that are killing us, yet we aren’t willing to give it up and go home. We need to fight for it.
Image by Francis Orante.