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Katie Brennan: How much does it cost to be an actor? More than you’d think

Signing up for all the 'essentials' can quickly become expensive. Photo: Lasse Kristensen/Shutterstock Signing up for all the 'essentials' can quickly become expensive. Photo: Lasse Kristensen/Shutterstock
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It struck me recently when shelling out for my latest set of headshots just how much it costs to be an actor. The dreams that performers dare to pursue in the ruthless world of showbiz are ripe for reaping money from; such is the desire to make them come true. So many products and services are now marketed to performers as being essential, and part of me can’t help but think that performers are being taken advantage of. How does we tell what is essential and what’s not?

Performing is an industry and performers must therefore take themselves seriously as a business. That obviously requires a certain amount of investment for a return. To create a product, one must spend a little first. So, the first investment is training. On graduating – in crippling debt – you then pay for your first set of headshots, and your Spotlight membership. So far, so essential. But then you might also need a showreel so you’re eligible to be submitted for screen work. And perhaps a voicereel for voice or radio work. Heck, why not invest in some professional song demos whilst you’re at it?

Obviously there’s no guarantee of actually getting any paid work

It’s a given that everyone is a Spotlight member, but what if you want to be proactive and submit yourself for work via other routes to give yourself the best opportunity to actually carve out a career? Well, there’s a plethora of other casting websites you can pay to join, although obviously there’s no guarantee of actually getting any paid work through them. Equity membership is another cost, although increasingly I’m seeing among my fellow performers that only a minority are actually signed up. It’s not, in their eyes, an ‘essential’ expenditure.

Of course, as a performer, you never really stop training. To keep your skills sharp, you’ll need regular singing, acting and dancing lessons, which must be paid for, as well as being tempted by the many one-off ‘unmissable’ masterclasses or short courses in audition technique, stage combat or any other niche skill you may need.

Just skimming through the listings online and at recent trade shows designed for actors, there are now so many companies dedicated to offering services to performers – all promising to help further their careers or skills. Dialect coaches, yoga for actors, TV presenter training, confidence for performers, accompanists, rep coaches, recording services, website designers… I could go on. And on.

There’s no getting around it, the more skills you have, the more employable you are. It would be fabulous if actors could genuinely afford to invest in all these things, but here’s the thing: we can’t.

I’ll be honest, my last acting job paid me £100

I’ll be honest, my last acting job paid me £100 for six weeks work. I appreciate that low pay/no pay work is a whole other can of worms, but the point is that wasn’t even enough to cover my travel costs.

Things like rent, food, central heating – the things that actually keep me alive – have to come before renewing my Casting Call Pro subscription in life’s great list of priorities.

There’s overwhelming confusion about what’s essential (especially when everything is marketed as such) and businesses play on performers’ fears. What if you’re not giving yourself the best chance in such a competitive industry? What if you’re not taking yourself seriously as a professional? So, someone tell me, what’s the best way for actors to spend their pennies on their business?

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