Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Worth Less or Worthless?

If I had to define an actor, and I am not trying to generalize, but I would have to define them as: a person who volunteers a lot. I was listening to a CBC program (Ontario Today) the other week, and the discussion revolved around grunt-work/internship/unpaid jobs that exist in many businesses. So,  it's not just actors who slave away for free! Many different career paths begin with an un-paying position. But my question remains-- when is it time for the individual, willingly working their buts off for free, to get paid? It's the transition period between gaining experience and being experienced that gets a little fuzzy.

The structure of the performance community is built in a way that does not allow an individual artist to gain experience that will lead to a paid gig. The beauty *cough trouble cough* with acting is that we either: A) take on these "learning opportunities" in hopes that we gain a valuable credit that will look great on a résumé and connect us with the right people. In turn, these "right people" will remember us for future union/paying-projects, and will call us so that we too can be a paying/union performer OR B) by doing these non-paying productions, we are scouted by the most amazing talent agent/casting director/manager who will sign us and help us achieve fame and fortune (or maybe just reoccurring work?). What happens when these two (most likely) options do not occur? Well...If you land a role in a non-union, non-paying production that's great, it's amazing and it will probably, most definitely lead to more non-union, non-paying productions. But, unlike other businesses, these "internships" that actors throw themselves at (not to sound desperate) often do not turn into a paying opportunity. So, as I previously mentioned, this volunteer/learning experience that the actor takes on, is not usually in hopes of getting paid...but rather in hopes of getting paid for a different role, with a different company in the future. Meaning, if I were to start out as an intern, let’s say in a commercial real estate office-- if this works as the acting world does-- it would actually only be a temporary internship that would hopefully lead to opportunities with other companies and not the one that I have put all my energy and effort into for the past three months. A little bizarre, wouldn’t you say?

The catch 22 of this business (and yes I have yet to read this novel, but I will!), is that in order to be union you need union experience, but in order to get union experience, you pretty much have to be union. (Yes I realize that this is not always the case, that there is a ratio that allows union productions to accept a certain percentage of non-union performers/ you can also just get cast and buy-in to the union), all I am saying is that this catch leads individuals to accept non-union, non-paying/volunteer roles. In consequence, this reoccuring acceptance of the non-union, non-paying roles allows many productions to hire actors on a volunteer basis (whether or not they have a high production budget) while leaving the rest of their money (or no money) to pay for other (more important?) things such as the venue, the crew, the set etc. Don't get me wrong without these things the production wouldn't go up-- but just something to think about-- rarely does a venue allow someone to use it for free, so why should we? As actors, as workers, as individuals aren't we worth more than that?

I am not saying that it is criminal to put up art for art’s sake. This is wonderful and it keeps are community growing and expanding and failing and succeeding. And while some of us can afford to be this kind of artist, there are some of us who love the art/business, but also want to make a career out of it. In a crazy way, we are killing our own artistic industry by trying to make art for free. It's like the kid who learns how to play three chords on his guitar, says he can play guitar and runs to the local bar asking if he could play for the sake of playing (aka for free) leaving the actual guitarists and musicians little opportunity to make money off of their craft and forcing them to follow suite and play for free. Yes, perhaps no one is forcing the musicians to do this, but that's like saying they don't have to be an artist...well you don't have to be a lawyer but we all have our callings.

Another good example of this is that during the 2012 Olympics there was a huge buzz about the fact that bands were asked to play at the Olympic ceremonies for free. It was considered a volunteer gig-- while the architects, the designers, the ushers etc would be paid. (In the end the bands did get paid). Why are the musicians worth less? And even if that was not the intention-- why is it then that the artists are considered last? As well (something that was mentioned during the Q program on CBC radio with Jian Ghomeshi earlier this year), benefit concerts rarely pay their artists to appear on/during their program—it is expected that they perform for free. While this is something that many of us will agree should happen— because in dire times our people need to pull together and do all we can for one another-- I believe this should be on the basis that everyone involved is doing this for free, not just the artist. I am also not saying that artists should never volunteer, either. But artists should be treated like any other respected professional, and it should be their choice to donate their time and art.

In the end...I am a hypocrite. I mean, I have signed on to countless productions where I am either acting in or choreographing for a non-paying position in order to build up my résumé for experience. Yet, each day as I check mandy.com, equity E drive, the face book exchange group, TAPA Blog or any other place I can think of, I get more and more irritated when every single (yes I am exaggerating) position is non-paying. I can understand the schools that are in need of actors for teaching purposes and have no budget. But what about the rest of the countless non-paying productions that hundreds of actors apply for everyday? Are there to many non-paying productions being produced? I don't think that all non-union, non-paying productions should stop because that would take away a lot of amazing work that has been produced (although it might help to stop a lot of the not-so-great stuff) but, let’s face it, even fringe (in an ideal world) is profit share. I just don't think enough projects are completely thought out and are doing the best they can for themselves and for those involved. If we all took a little more time to plan and to fundraise so that we could have a well-worked script and a budget that can support artists, perhaps we might find that the non-union work being produced is all around better because individuals have invested more into them. As an actor I would like to do art for art's sake...but I also need to live-- and so do you! I guess, all I want to tell you is...you are worth something, so demand more for yourself!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Sometimes I feel like I have an uncanny connection to certain individuals. For instance my father looks like John Lennon... and by looks like I mean he could be John Lennon's younger twin brother. Of course he used to play it up with the beard and the glasses (not so much anymore). Thus, because my father is pretty much John Lenon's long lost twin-- I am the long lost niece of John Lenon, and therefore am closer and regardless of what I actually know about Lenon, know more then you do about him. I once had a woman walk up to me and state "your dad looks like John Lenon...you look like your dad" so from this statement I can only conclude that I look like John Lenon.

There is something very weird about looking like someone else. There was a doppelganger month that took-over facebook where individuals were changing their profile pictures to someone who looked like them. Naturally, I had to join in on this fun so I posted a picture of this model from one of the seasons (because there are about 120 seasons) of America's Next Top Model. I got a bunch of comments asking if this was me...then I got some comment about her/my nipple. Somehow I missed that she was wearing a see-through shirt...if your doppelganger/life-twin chooses to reveal themselves in front of an audience-- they should have to clear it with you first. Otherwise they are just flaunting what you have.

Speaking of flaunting it, I once saw a guy with his pants down on the bus. Luckily his giant shirt was long enough to cover all his bits and pieces, but he had duct tape around his legs and smelled bad. Did I mention he was sitting on the bus...I would hate to be the person who sat on that seat after him.

When you have a seat on the TTC you have a golden ticket in life-- otherwise (during rush hour) the universe seems to be trying to match you up with someone by smooshing you against them. Have you ever noticed that the other person that you are smooshed against tends to be incredibly serious? As long as they are not breathing on me I am okay. If not, I carry with me a pack of gum so if they have stinky breath I toss a piece in their mouth. My favorite passengers are the people who think that they don't need to hold on to the rail but they actually do. I think this would be a good time for a ‘Yoga classes -- the first one is free!’ Advertisement: 'We'll teach you how to engage your core so you can actually surf the subway'. Of course, if someone isn't surfing into you, then you are being preached to by the woman sitting diagonally across from where you are standing. She is never speaking to someone in particular, but just the general mass of people. She felt compelled to speak and once she is done she gets up and leaves at the next stop...no one wants to sit where she was sitting for fear that they too might be compelled to speak about what they are thinking of…