I’ve just been reading an article in today’s Telegraph claiming that the acting world is “crueller” than it’s ever been. I would completely agree that the industry did not “build back better” after the pandemic, however it’s also true to say that the industry is still “building back” and in recovery. We’re nowhere near the output that we were at before covid closed us down for a while. Producers are understandably wary about investing in new productions when shows are still getting cancelled due to illness & there’s still a hesitancy about the audiences returning.
However in the article they explore the unfairness of the industry through the eyes of several actors – yet they successfully manage to avoid the main issue – and oversubscribed training industry.
With some colleges taking well in excess of 100 students a year on various courses the training sector has increasingly been putting profits (or indeed just survival) above the ethical consideration of training appropriate numbers for the number of jobs that are actually available.
With that in mind, why shouldn’t actors in training or recent graduates be aggrieved when confronted with the reality that they’ve been trained for a massively over-subscribed industry? I should imagine that reality is even harder to comprehend when you’ve gone to one of the self-declared “elite” colleges that have led you to believe that you’re going to be in the West End within your first week out of graduating.
How sad though that instead of dealing and metabolising that reality, the actors in the interview have opted for deflection, projecting the fault of their lack of work onto nepo babies, influencers, diversity and their social class.
The assumption that people are given jobs purely because of who their parents are is desperately insulting to the performers that have worked hard at their craft, who probably have a much more realistic view of the industry thanks to watching their parents’ rollercoaster lives, and who will already be feeling the dark spectre of their parents’ shadow hanging over them in every audition room that they’re permitted to enter. It is interesting to note how the drama colleges have perpetuated that myth as some DO privilege “nepo babies” to add kudos and endorsement to their courses. I remember turning somebody down in the early years of The MTA only for their college to contact me appealing the decision, with their main “reasoning” being that they were the child of somebody famous – as if that would have swayed our decision.
Going back to the interview the young graduates bemoan the rise of the “influencers” and how producers are casting them because of their followers as opposed to their talents. Once again failing to note that so many of these “influencers” trained themselves and managed to create a fanbase because of their creative creator talents. People have forever moaned about the kerching casting choices of producers, from soap stars back in the 80s through reality TV stars in the 90’s, and no doubt very soon we’ll return to the early 2000’s when everyone moaned about the rise of the TV talent show. The fact of the matter is, if these people put bums on seats, producers have the finances to keep producing and creating even more jobs.
Next, it’s the perennial favourite scapegoat of diversity with no insight into the privilege that they’ve previously been afforded. God forbid we all shuffle around a bit to make room for people in marginalised groups. How dare we think that people should see themselves reflected on our stages and on screen? Of course, the reality was that whilst a lot of our industry sought out greater representation, those same people didn’t realise what their privilege up until that point actually meant, because they were always getting into the room, so failed to notice the people that were locked out.
Finally it’s probably the only point that I agree with (no doubt due to my own bias on this issue) is the difficulty in pursuing theatre as a living when you haven’t got the bank of mum and dad to prop you up – though I take an issue with the fact that it’s about networking at Soho House. In order to be at the top of your game you really need to keep taking classes and the harsh reality is that so many graduates just don’t have the resources to do that. By the time they’ve paid for rent, travel, bills and food, there’s very little left over to go to regular classes too. Being an unemployed performer (whilst being busy working copious other jobs) is hugely expensive, which means that when that audition does eventually come through for you, you’re competing with people who have been financially able to keep training after graduating.
The part that struck me the most in the interview was the comment about one of the interviewees going to see a production with somebody they considered to be a “nepo baby” and their bitchy commentary on that performer. So I’ll end with a word of caution – yes the industry is oversubscribed, blame the colleges, but if you have been lucky enough to be trained and are out there auditioning, the one thing that radiates in every room and somehow by osmosis in every application is bitterness and jealousy – and it doesn’t matter how many jobs that are up for grabs, if you’re dealing with rejecting by hating on others, your own toxicity and sense of entitlement will end your career before it’s started.