Samuel Beckett would love me right now. For the past few months, I have been the talking, walking embodiment of his adage: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Despite my best efforts and intentions, I just can’t seem to land an acting job. There have been plenty of near-misses and a handful of lovely jobs that just couldn’t be worked out around the circus that is life with two young kids. And as much as I feel immensely fortunate to have a day job that I enjoy, lots of creative exercise from my writing and plenty of love and nourishment from my family, I have to be honest and own up: it’s been getting me down a little.
Beckett’s 12 words have got me through many a dry spell in the past – this is certainly not my first run of bad luck – but it never fails to amaze me how hard it can feel.
If you read on in Beckett’s Worstward Ho, he goes on to say: “Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good.”
So many times I have contemplated walking away from this, finding something else to fill my heart with. Let’s be frank: we don’t do it for the money, we do it for the love. And so frequently that love is unrequited.
There is a wonderful, older actor who has been a professional and personal mentor to me. She does incredible work but has not, to my mind, ever been properly recognised for her unique and extraordinary talent – because she is a she and, while things are getting better, women still have so far to push.
Once, she referred to acting as being a kind of abusive relationship. The emotional cost of the repetitive rejection and failure is big. But we keep putting ourselves in the way of it.
I am not in any way equating a failure to get a job with domestic abuse. I do, however, think there’s something a little unbalanced in me – and in many actors I know – that keeps us seeking affirmation from the thing that knocks us back time and again. It makes us feel like we’re not good enough, not thin enough, not old enough or not experienced enough.
Sure, it doesn’t kill you and in a weird way it does make you stronger. But at the same time, it chips away at you. And the deep irony is that it’s precisely that fragility – the strange ability to drag your innermost vulnerability right up to the surface – that is the actor’s gold.
That endless cycle of highs and lows, then higher highs and lower lows: that’s how they describe addictive behaviour. And it’s what we do for a job. So I’m going to make myself a strong cup of tea, hug my kids and hope the rain comes soon.
Stephanie Street is an actor, writer and co-founder of Act for Change. Read more of her columns at thestage.co.uk/author/stephanie-street/