I’m in a coffee shop with my headphones on, trying to dull the sound of the man next to me shoveling soup, disgustingly into his gob. I’m listening to actors on a podcast about acting, talking about acting. The guest is apparently quite good at it, even though he sounds pretty downbeat about the whole affair and as I continue to listen, I cannot help but audibly say the words ‘I’d kill for your life mate’, which causes the disgusting man slurping soup, to stop and stare at me. We look at each other for a second, before he continues to gorge noisily.
Anyway, back to the podcast and I’m thinking listen mate, you’ve got a partner, kids – a support network, you’ve worked in TV and you’ve had success on the stage. I’m single, seemingly perennially so, I don’t have kids and I don’t think, kind sir, that if our CV’s were laid out side by side, my career would match favorably with yours!
I sit for a while sipping on peppermint tea, trying to calm down. At least the bloke has finished his soup. It’s two-thirty in the afternoon and I have nowhere to be. I’ve got things to do, sure. I need to buy Christmas presents, I need to arrange some things for my morale-boosting New Years trip and of course I need to look for work…any work…anything better than what is currently on my CV.
There have been quite a few days like this that have followed a similar pattern; getting up followed by a bit of breakfast, turning on the computer, before allowing hours to slip away, whilst not really, changing or improving anything from the previous days work. Ok, sorry, I’m being modest. I’ve written the odd script, multiple in fact, I’ve written millions of emails, some of which, remarkably have been profitable and I’ve actually, properly worked from time to time. Another favourite pastime of mine, is to ‘research’ and by that I mean Google a lot of other people doing what I do and I still, cannot for the life of me, fathom how these fuckers, oh, sorry, these peers of mine can work out this absurd, mystery of an industry better than I can.
Then it hits me. I remember last night. I was at a press night to support a friend. This was a glamorous event at a large west-end theatre, filled with many recognisable faces and some others, like me, who happened to know someone in the cast. At said press night, I felt like an outsider. Not with the people I was actually there with, but with what the event consisted of; creative people talking about being creative. I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer on that front. So I didn’t bother. I didn’t talk to a single soul I hadn’t previously met. I therefore hadn’t taken the opportunity to progress, to learn, to be inspired and to potentially inspire. Darn.
I take another sip of peppermint tea and allow this information to soak in. What does this mean for me? Was it just an off night? Had I woken up without my confident trousers on? Or was this something more serious – an epidemic perhaps that has been blighting and preventing my career from getting out of first gear.
I mean networking. Social networking. It’s fucking hideous right? Who actually enjoys it? The issue is, I suppose, is that I do. The pub, the shops, work, my house, cafes, the park, restaurants, bars….I enjoy talking to people in these environments. But when it comes to talking to like-minded folk in large numbers, drinking, laughing and being the gregarious souls, one pictures when one hears the term ‘actor’, I freeze. My throat goes dry and I struggle to be heard over the rumbling hubbub. So I have to shout and that makes me feel awkward, so I touch my beard and neck nervously, whilst feeling myself redden with deep embarrassment and a desperate sense of wanting to get the fuck out of there.
I drain the last of the peppermint tea, sit back and sigh. This is not new information to me. You can’t teach upwardly, progressively mobile social interacting. You can either happily chat shite with stranger-peers or you can’t. I’ve tried for years – I’m crap! It may hinder me but what can I do? Pay for a course in ‘’how to network’’ at some over-priced drama establishment, billing itself as an acting nirvana for the disenchanted, the lost, the desperate nobodies….Fuck-off! I’ll keep screwing it up myself thank you very much; safe in the knowledge that everybody else probably hates it too.
And lo and behold, what’s that at the end of the month? What’s that glittering ball on the horizon? An answer to my networking anxieties perhaps? Ah, alas not; quite the opposite in fact. It’s time for Christmas. The season of glad tidings and smug gits. The season, where it’s perfectly Impossible to escape the looming shadow of a new year. A new start; a chance to begin again, to regroup, to renergise and to tackle life’s little challenges with renewed vigor. And I for one AM. UP. FOR. IT. I cannot wait. I’m going to batter aside that traditional time-of- year question; ‘And what do you have lined up next year Richard?’ with gay abandon. ‘Fuck all’ I’ll reply, ‘I’m pissing off on holiday for three weeks’, I’ll chuckle, ‘and I don’t care that by the time I return I won’t have worked for months!’. Why should I? The industry certainly won’t.
And there’s the nub. The beautiful truth. I can be invisible if I want to be. Sometimes, like at the press night, it feels as if I am involuntarily so. But you know what, come January, I jolly well intend to be. Until I need some more work that is.
Read Katie Elin-Salt’s article tomorrow for her Actors’ Guide to Surviving Christmas.
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