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Rachael Garnett: There is life for actors outside London – and it’s not a struggle to survive

Should more young actors consider leaving London for more affordable cities? Photo: Shutterstock
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I moved to London when I was 18, ready for the adventure of starting my acting training at drama school. Blinded by the stunning views of the River Thames at night, the West End shows, that endless fizzle of noise and energy really had me. I felt home. I felt free.

Then I graduated. I couldn’t afford the cost of the rent of my rundown house share and my daily commute. The days I spent at auditions and not at work started to take their toll.

The theatre trips, which had once filled my diary, dwindled to nothing. Meeting up with friends became sporadic.

I had begun work at a call centre, desperately trying to make a living on a zero hours contract, and was constantly under threat of being sent home if sales targets were not met. With no holiday pay and my wage not even hitting the legal minimum requirement, I became stuck. However, I was one of the lucky ones.

My career as an actor has not been unsuccessful – I have worked for some truly wonderful theatres. My battle with being an out-of-work actor has totalled 27 months in 5 years. I am so grateful for this.

No one can prepare you for the struggle of being an actor in ‘the real world’. Getting non-acting work is difficult. Many employers will not let you attend auditions or will not accept you back when you return from an acting job.

Often, your choice of career is mocked: “Oh, you’re an actor? How’s that working out?” Much-needed singing, acting and dance lessons became completely out of reach, and with increasingly high living costs in the capital, I began to flounder.

Returning to my call centre/teaching/whatever-paid-the-bills job after a few joy-filled months acting did real damage to my mental health. I began to wonder whether those few months were worth it for the misery I was living in the remainder of the time.

We shouldn’t need to sacrifice our well-being and the enjoyment of our youth in order to pursue this career.

I recently moved to a city up north, where the cost of living is lower. I earn the same wage as I did in London, but have no daily commute fares. There are brilliant theatres nearby. The train to London takes two and a half hours. Auditions are still coming through and I’m saving money for the first time ever.

We actors are always told London is where it’s at. But we don’t have to live in a city where we can barely afford to survive, where we are forced against our craft.

London isn’t the be-all and end-all and, until a London living wage is instigated, it will forever be unaffordable for the young working classes. A career in the arts can be and should be wonderful. Remember: the arts are not exclusive to London.

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