Being honest as a performer is foolhardy, and a rarity at best. I’d even go one further, and say it’s a path to career suicide. I’ve asked Jonathan to remain anonymous for that exact reason, but would nonetheless like to share my experience.
Of course the rule of thumb doesn’t apply to those who’ve achieved mainstream media recognition; once you’ve made it, it’s free license to spout off with all manner of opinion if so desired. By that point, you’ve stepped over one particular aspect of the profession I’ve lived in perpetual terror of my entire career – that is the necessity to be well-liked and popular. Getting on with the clique is as important as any amount of talent; in my opinion far more so. That’s not generally a module prescribed on any performing arts syllabus
It’s a perspective from the industry that’s not often discussed, and with good reason. A cynic might say the whole thing is a glorified popularity contest, and challenging the status quo or talking about how unpleasant, thankless and prejudiced it can often be is a big no-no. Akin to waving a neon sign above your head saying “trouble-maker”. Producers/directors etc want actors and crew they can treat as they like, who won’t fight back or complain, and while I’m a competent performer, I’ve not always been great at that bit.
I’m probably a minority, so far that in spite of seemingly inherent “difficulties” with people in the business (and perhaps in general, some might say), I have achieved reasonable success. For the past five years I’ve been lead singer with a fairly well known international rock group, and before that, I was an actor and appeared in a hit West End show for almost three years. However, though I’d be ashamed to admit it in front of anyone who hasn’t come as close to supposedly “living the dream”, in some ways having done so makes life all the more difficult to cope with now. For me, it’s an overwhelming sadness that weighs each and every day.
Unlike some, I have had opportunities. I have met the right people, I have had agents and interest from casting directors, have hung out with the rich and famous, been to the parties and met the corporate big-wigs. I have tasted the fame, signed the autographs and the merchandise. I have attended the press calls. I have felt that enormous rush of walking out on a stage before thousands and thousands of people who potentially saw me as somehow “elevated”. What’s constantly evaded me though is that sense of “belonging”, which for some is the biggest draw of creative arts in the first place.So when “living the dream” fell apart recently, when those dreams and aspirations were shattered into a million pieces, I had to yet again accept the all too familiar gut-wrenching demise was not down to a lack of ability, or failure to stand out in a saturated industry. It was down to my curse of never being “in with the gang”. Failure to keep my mouth shut, even in the face of what I’ve sometimes seen as the most unethical behaviour, or, as in the case of my most recent exploits, failure to stay silent in the face of relentless and institutional bullying: psychological abuse that slowly robbed me of my sanity, my self- esteem, and every ounce of confidence I’ve ever had, both personally and professionally.
People say “stand up to bullies”. A lifetime of trying to do so has taught me unequivocally that couldn’t be further from the truth. What you actually do is paint a target on your back, and give them the aspiration of crushing you completely: you make it into sport. I say that as someone bullied at school from a young age, who also seems to have unfortunately dragged the very same “beacon” into adult life. I think it’s the reason I can’t tolerate injustice and feel compelled to speak out against wrong-doing however and wherever it manifests; which only permeates the problem
Whatever the reason, it’s definitely not a quality admired or sought after in performers.
The result is I’m virtually a recluse now. After nearly forty years I’m convinced I give off an almost irresistible scent of weakness that social climbers don’t want to be associated with and vindictive people are drawn to. They always hone in on it, particularly in an industry that’s virtually magnetic to egotism in varying forms. It’s amazing how often even the seemingly nicest people can have dual personalities, or be swayed by gang mentality to tolerate malicious behaviour as though it’s somehow justified. Decent people don’t always get involved, but they don’t always stand up to it either, even when they know they probably should. One of my biggest pet-hates in a career as typically liberal/humanitarian and Left-wing as the Arts, is people often hide behind a public façade of being noble, idealistic and warm-hearted when they’re nothing of the sort. It’s a hypocrisy I’ve come to loathe on social media. Some are entirely wrapped up in their own sphere of “glamorous” existence, how wonderful everything is all the time: all of which is fine with me, everyone’s different after all. However, they also tend to be the ones overly scornful of those who acknowledge a more effectual world outside the sickly sweet entertainment industry. They don’t often appreciate many of us who “worry too much” genuinely wish we were like everyone else; not so dragged down by the world; not so compelled to stand up against things we see wrong with it.
Depression and mental illness are still dirty words, particularly in an industry that thrives on social perception. Very few people really have the time or patience to help sufferers, certainly not if it affects their working or social environments. They just want to publicly look like they do.
Troubled individuals may not always be the most fun or easy people to be around, but they can be well-meaning, loyal, decent and hard-working people. People who like anyone else should have the opportunity to earn a living and do what they love without enduring harassment, victimisation, or further shame for their shortcomings. Whereas most conventional/mainstream industries might oppose and actively challenge bullying in the workplace (at least ostensibly), it can definitely go unnoticed in the Arts. In a business where opportunities are given to people according to personal preference in the first place, the lines often become very blurred, and employers quite irresponsible.
Maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself, or making excuses. I’ve undoubtedly made mistakes, reacted to things entirely the wrong way at times, and sometimes I’ve shot myself in the foot. Maybe I am the outcast I’ve often been made to feel by contemporaries. But here’s the thing. I try to be considerate and respectful to every single person I encounter, without fail. I have a partner of fifteen years who’s a truly beautiful human being, possessing an inner light of generosity and kindness all are instantly drawn to. We have a baby girl I would walk through fire for. There is a small contingent of people who know me well, who’ve stuck around in spite of my depression, who hopefully might say otherwise. Surely I have to place some faith in them too? While I may not be “in with the gang”, that doesn’t mean everything they say is true either, does it?
Either way, the result for me has been a cataclysmic fall from grace. I can’t face even the idea of trying to re-engage with the acting/performing industry when I know full well my reputation is so tarnished. I’ve clashed with too many of the wrong people, and there’s nothing I can do about it now – there are no second chances in a business where everyone knows everyone.
I just wish I knew what to do with my life, or actually how to do anything else. I’m completely lost, unqualified for just about any conventional work beyond low pay and menial labour, and that’s a hell of a thing to take on board having been a relatively well paid and well received performer for years, with a family to support. It’s a tough psychological hurdle to get past. In some ways I can’t help but feel it might have been better if I’d walked away and got into another career a lot earlier. With the demands of modern life, it’s doubtlessly a situation many of our industry are faced with at some stage for a variety of reasons – age, probably not least of them. I think that can take a severe toll on even the healthiest and most optimistic of people, let alone those who struggled to begin with.
Perhaps that should be on the syllabus after all. It’s #timetotalk
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