Sunday, April 04, 2010

Grumpy Old Bat

Why are actors' agents renowned for being grumpy old bats?

Well, the usual explanation is that it's caused by years of dealing with actors.

But actually, I don't find that this is the case.

Just occasionally, true, there is an actor booked for a day's work somewhere who doesn't write it down, or who writes it down on the wrong date, and it all goes pear-shaped and causes chaos and a deep hole and sometimes I have the job of digging us out of it and I don't enjoy it. It is on such occasions that my "I went to girls' grammar school" voice comes into play - for some reason, I seem able to sound reassuring on the phone. Phew.

I remember once a "wannabe" actor - - without many credits on their cv (ie roles that they have played for well-known companies) or any training - applied to an agent for representation. The agent replied thus:

"I have neither the time nor the enthusiasm to kick-start your career". And that was all she said.

It was, I am sure, the truth - but it was rude and unnecessary.

What would I have said? Well, I don't believe in giving false hope such as "please reapply in the future" if you know perfectly well that you are NEVER going to be interested in this person.

I would have said something along the lines of how we wouldn't be able to represent you successfully because of your lack of training and cv - - but I would put it politely, at least.

Actors in general, though, are perceived as being unreliable - - and believe me, the ones who are doing it for a living are anything but.

I've had video companies say to me "But what will happen if the actor doesn't turn up on the day?" And my answer is along the lines of "When you go to the theatre to see Hamlet, you're not worrying all the way there in case Polonius or Gertrude haven't turned up, are you?"

Some people in "ordinary" jobs can get away with doing it at half-measure for years and years. Actors never can. If they are unreliable, or late, or difficult to work with, or badly prepared, word will get round at top speed.

I could, if asked, list a good number of actors in Yorkshire, and quite a few further afield, whom I wouldn't touch with a barge pole because I keep hearing bad things about them from lots of different sources.

But compared with the numbers of actors, there are really very few of these. So actually, what makes me mad is the people who mess actors about. And there are SO many of them!

Say a client wants to advertise, for example, a new kind of hair spray. Let us call it Lovely Locks. The client employs a casting director and issues, say, a casting breakdown for a television commercial. They want actresses with natually blonde, curly hair. Dozens of actresses attend a casting in London: some travel hundreds of miles to get to it. Then the client changes their mind. Now they want actresses with ginger hair instead.

So all the ones with blonde hair have had a wasted trip. Wouldn't it be good if the client ever apologised to them? But they never, ever do.

Then - - oh, don't get me started - - there are all the unpaid, or low paid jobs. "But it will be great for his cv, and for his showreel". Would you say that to, say, a garage mechanic? "You can tell everyone that you mended my car for free, and tell them what a good job you did."

And then they only want an actor for half a day, so can they just pay them half a day's fee? Well, a tricky one, this - sometimes we will agree to it if it's part of a big block of work. But in general, the actor can never get any other work for the other half of the day, so in effect it halves their pay. And the person doing the booking never, ever, thinks of this - - because they are on a salary where they get paid at the end of every month.

And that's the thing that many people find really hard to grasp. They think that somehow an actor must have a regular wage to fall back on - - that they're working as an actor as a kind of hobby.

They don't. It's their job. The hardest part of an actor's job is not the acting part - - it's trying to get the next job. Because otherwise, when the work stops, so does the money. And people who employ actors, and who mess them around, or take ages to pay, annoy me more than just about anything.


Blogger Jennyta said...

If you are ever asked for someone to play the part of Cassandra in Trojan Women, Daphne, I'm your woman! Or to be in the chorus of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas...;)

5:03 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:42 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

DF- Genuinely fascinating insights into the back stage world - something that ordinary theatre goers and TV observers like myself would never ordinarily think about.

Regarding the "Lovely Locks" hair spray, I think they should hire a gruff dark haired Yorkshireman. Standing in the bathroom in my string vest and Y fronts, I'd poke a can of the stuff at the camera and deliver my subtle punchline - "It makes your hair stiff and you can buy it at your local supermarket". Fancy being my agent?

7:45 pm  

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