Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre
Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer
Jon At the beginning of January, this newspaper published The Stage 100 for 2020. Ian McKellen was number one.
Beryl As in, the most influential people?
Jon Yes. A mixture of producers, creatives, actors… It got me wondering, what does it mean to have influence?
Albert It’s not what you know – it’s who you know.
Jon But is an actor, however brilliant and beloved, more influential than the people who programme work and hand out jobs?
Beryl Surely it means you get to choose what you want to do?
Jon That’s interesting, the idea of not being accountable to anyone: being allowed to do what you want and, to quote something our contributor Vivian has talked a lot about in this column, being allowed to fail?
Beryl I don’t see how an actor can influence.
Albert I think influence is a mix of power and the size of your audience.
Jon Size of audience is interesting.
Peter There are two types of influence. There’s a public forum, with campaigns such as #MeToo, Act for Change and Parents and Carers in the Performing Arts, but there are behind-the-scenes discussions between government departments, Arts Council England, the National Theatre, Equity and other organisations.
John That’s pretty spot on.
Jon But that’s all structural. What about individuals? Directors, designers and choreographers can be influential in terms of aesthetic.
Beryl I don’t really see how an actor can influence. Am I mad?
Jon That’s my question: how do we influence?
Albert Through leading. Robert Icke does Hedda Gabler and suddenly everyone is doing Ibsen in a cardboard box.
Jon Someone like McKellen can influence by saying ‘I fancy doing play X’ and that means the play will be done and that it will be full.
Beryl I recently met a young actor who asked me for a chat. She later felt more positive about how to move forward. Did I influence her?
John It’s difficult to judge until after the fact.
Jon Beryl, I’d say the answer to your question about the young actor is yes.
Beryl Isn’t this Instagram language? I can’t bear it. Influencers, really? It feels like we’re admitting our sheep-like qualities.
Albert A lot of younger people have a big influence on social media.
Peter A few years ago, Equity and other organisations had talks with George Osborne about the importance of the arts to the economy. It was a useful argument, which he accepted. At a time when local funding was being slashed, he protected national arts funding through backstage influence.
Jon Good point: influence as lobbying.
John Can influence also come down to the loudest voice? If so, it isn’t always a good thing.
Annie I think actors can influence by their actions outside of work. Emma Watson has massive influence.
Beryl Maybe there are small, unknown influential actions as well as big statements and gestures.
Albert I think there are.
Peter We’re back to the ‘cast people with a large Twitter following’ issue.
Albert Some people who shout out never work except on projects they are shouting about – and that they have set up themselves – so I’m not sure how influential they actually are. I’d say influence means the ability to change things. Surely many of us have that.
Beryl Is being renowned different?
Jon It’s interesting to see Emma Watson mentioned next to the idea of influence not always being a good thing. There’s a lot of pushback when actors (particularly film stars) get involved with political or social issues.
Peter Some people get angry about those they see as ‘luvvies’ making political statements.
Beryl Yeah: “Shut up and get back on script!”
Jon It’s funny how – and I say this delicately – many of the people who say “we don’t care about what clueless actors have to say” didn’t seem to have the same problem when Laurence Fox said what he did. Although whether actors have a place on Question Time at all is another issue, I suppose.
Albert I’m restricting myself to actors’ and directors’ influence in our business. I really don’t want Michael Sheen or Janette Krankie telling me how to vote.
Beryl I don’t want anyone doing that though, whatever their profession.
Jon The counterpoint is that we have the right to express our opinion just as anyone else does. It’s a sticky one.
Annie So should actors be impartial to political views?
Beryl I think you should be able to speak your mind freely. Some people have a bigger platform and how they choose to use it is the issue, I guess.
Jon I bang on about politics all the time on Twitter. If I were to be in a big film, something that hasn’t bothered anyone until now would suddenly be a problem.
Beryl Me too.
Peter Actors are entitled to their political views – and to express them. The press will pick up on that. Whether the public pay attention is up to them. It’s not the actor’s duty to stay silent.
Albert And we can influence the market by all saying no to low fees. But we don’t.
Jon Influencing the industry in that way is a huge call. I agree that we’re all too timid. When I don’t get paid for a voice-over for six months, I should name the client and agency publicly, but of course I don’t.
John Running the risk of never working? There isn’t enough work as it is.
Peter I’m influenced by hearing new voices making points I hadn’t previously considered.
Albert Surely influencers are people we aspire to be like? They influence us.
Jon In which case, I think I’ll say my biggest influences are the actors who never stop working. So we can be influential after all.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email firstname.lastname@example.org