Editor’s view: Actors deserve respect when they speak out
Lyn Gardner’s excellent Long Read gently explodes the myths that can attach themselves to successful people, revealing how, as director Christopher Haydon memorably puts it: “The icing of success sits on a cake of rejection letters.”
But, to borrow and expand on Haydon’s metaphor: if a director’s cake of rejection letters is large, it is nothing compared to the many-tiered one most actors have in their larders.
It is difficult to think of another tribe of people who cope with failure on as regular a basis as performers. Indeed, the quality I most admire in actors is their mental toughness.
This is not the image regularly projected. Instead, if successful, the public sees them leading impossibly glamorous lives flitting between awards ceremonies. If unsuccessful, they are portrayed as feckless luvvies.
These are the two caricatures used to discredit performers in the public eye when they speak out about politics or another aspect of public life – they are depicted as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.
This will have been the reaction in some quarters following the recent #MeToo protests at the Golden Globes, when actors took the opportunity to dress in black to protest against sexual harassment in the workplace.
But even the most successful performers will have suffered more setbacks in their first year of work than people in ‘normal jobs’ will receive in their entire careers.
Starting with drama school, the odds are stacked against them to a greater extent than any other profession. Then, upon graduation, they enter a vastly oversubscribed marketplace in which they may even struggle to be given opportunities to work for no (or very low) pay.
Audition follows audition and, even when successful, the job you get is most likely time-limited. There aren’t many careers in which – even if you are 100% successful at interview – you will still have to attend multiple interviews a year and probably have to revert back to a so-called ‘survival job’ in between roles.
It never fails to surprise me how many so-called ‘successful’ actors rely on such jobs to make ends meet – performers who are up for awards one minute and temping the next.
And, as Samuel Beckett appreciated, if anything qualifies you for commenting upon the human condition, it is surely the experience of the relentless pursuit of success in the face of repeated failure.
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