I was already in an extended lean season before the lockdown, not for want of trying to get cast or create my own projects.
As most actors know, it is the hope that work will come from around the corner that keeps you going. The lockdown put paid to my day job and, even though the company has now reopened, it isn’t taking back casuals like me.
As for acting work, I know there are some small positive signs for the industry in general, but I have decided it is time to call it a day.
A cousin has offered me a full-time job in a non-acting role. I’m not asking for advice on whether to take it – I have already decided to. It is just that, as a self-represented actor since leaving drama school, I have nobody to send my resignation letter to. I have no one to tell how much I have loved this business and to express how gutted I am to leave it. So I hope you don’t mind that I am sending it to you.
While the current crisis may have made this difficult decision more common, it is one many actors and theatremakers have to make every year. Whether the cut-off point is forced on us for personal, financial or health reasons, it is rarely reached without a lot of soul-searching and pangs of regret for what might have been.
Even former actors I have spoken to who made the move for ‘happier’ reasons, such as to work in a different area of the business, tell me that no matter how much they enjoy their new career, they still miss their time on the boards.
The reason I am starting off on this rather sombre note is to encourage you to give yourself permission to grieve the loss of what has been an important part of your life. Please let go of any feelings that you are a failure or not ‘tough enough’ because you have reached this point. If showbusiness really is a business (and there wouldn’t be a Careers Clinic if it weren’t) it requires us to make good business decisions, and sometimes the wise choice is to shut down rather than keep running at a loss.
Thankfully, that shutdown doesn’t have to be permanent – over the years I have had just as many enquiries about comebacks as about quitting, and it has often been experience gained in other areas of life that has enabled returning actors to bring something new and unique to their craft. Occasionally, that ‘something unique’ has made their subsequent career flow more smoothly than the first time round.
In the short term, do what works best for you to make the transition as painless as you can. For some people that might involve stepping away from every aspect of the acting scene for at least a short time – this means not scrolling through acting-related social media, not browsing castings and not watching every TV show and film with a ‘that should have been me’ mindset (actually, the latter caution is just as useful for actors who stay in the business).
Other ex-actors are perfectly happy to stay connected with the industry. Whatever you decide about industry news, do stay connected and in communication with friends you have made in the acting world. If they are real friends, they won’t judge you for taking time out or keep reminding you of what you are missing. What I hope they will do is support you as you enter this new chapter.
If you don’t have friends like that, the ArtsMinds website has great links to professional support. In wishing you every success in your new career, I also remind you that the welcome mat is always out if you decide to return.