Peter Mawson is an actor and writer who has worked extensively with Hull Truck Theatre and played a key role in the 2014 York Mystery Plays.
He is part of The Anna Scheer Theatre and will be performing at the Madame Renards Mini Fringe in April 2015.
Honestly, acting is the most work when you’re unemployed. For me, the actual acting part is never hard. It’s the politics and basically everything around the acting that is difficult.
You just can’t escape it as an actor. It’s that elephant in the room which blows it’s trunk whenever someone asks what you’ve been in recently. It’s the ghost that likes to haunt you in your bed when all you want is a good night’s sleep. It’s also what goes through your mind when you’re at your desk or waiting a table, handing out dishes of hot food to those who are more well off than you. Every actor likes to avoid it and some every try and use it to deter the competition.
In some ways you have to be mad to be an actor
I am of course talking about that good old fashioned “Resting” problem that every actor, or artist has had to confront in their lives at some point. In some ways you have to be mad to be an actor. We all know the rather dire stats so who in their right mind would want to go into a profession in which £350 a week classed as a good salary when you could be a doctor or investment banker and earn £150,000 a year no problem? The answer is that whilst most sane people would take the second option, an actor is a unique specimen in that they see their worth not in their financial assets but in their individuality, the desire for control over their lives and their ability to create a unique world in which they can question and challenge the human condition which western homosapians blindly follow.
There’s only two givens with choosing acting as a profession: one is you will always be unemployed, always, and it doesn’t matter how much money you make, you’re still always going to be unemployed; and that you have no power.
One of the most common issues with the acting profession is the balance between two realms just as Germany was challenged with fighting a war on two fronts in 1914. An actor has always had to fight this war but on a social and financial battlefield. Many have won and some have lost. Sometimes it feels like Passiondale where the lines advance hugely but more often it’s the Somme where the lines advance a little and usually at heavy expense to your own resources. We can safely say that impatient people may not apply. But the other main issue with being an actor is not with the job itself but how society perceives it. For most people when you talk about acting their minds are automatically sent back in time to the 1930’s, where Hollywood crowned all the stars and they only entered our lives via the cinema screens. For most people an actor is someone famous who has been on TV or film, rather than someone who externalises their internal world for all to see and gaze at in awe and wonder.
The 21st century might actually be the best time to be an actor
Being unemployed is not good for an actor. No, it isn’t, no matter how unsuccessful you are. Because you always remember getting fired from all the restaurants. You remember that stuff very, very strongly.
There is also modern society’s obsession with certainty and expectation. We now live in a world in which we leave nothing to chance anymore. When we apply for regular jobs a company expects us to know how to do said job before we apply for it and that we be perfect on our first shift. Banks and landlords now need to know that they are guaranteed to get their money back on any investment they make in someone when they offer them a house or mortgage. Car insurance companies need to know that you will never have an accident in your life from the second you pass your driving test before even daring to offer you a quote. This is hardly a welcoming environment for a profession that specialises in expressing what happens when the order of society is disturbed. However, thanks to the recent instabilities of the last few years and the advancements of the internet. One might argue that the 21st century might actually be the best time to be an actor.
This is indeed a bold statement to make as we all have grievances towards the internet but the arrival You Tube has proved one thing to us all: the don’t need to rely on the TV channels to solely entertain yourself at home anymore. People can now snuggle up with an Epic Rap Battle of History, the Nostalgia Critic or even a talking cat. These shows aren’t just voluntary projects though, the You Tube partnership program enables content makers to earn royalties if their videos get over 1000 views. This is what earnt PSY his fortune and even more can be earnt if your video is popular enough to goes viral and endless parodies of it are made. Furthermore getting funding for projects like this this needn’t relay on borrowing money from banks, we now have more innovative sources of capital at our disposal such as crowdfunding, which is a good way to get your friends and other close business partners involved.
We also have to thank the bankers
I went being unemployed for three years to being the lead in a British feature in the days when we only made two a year, 1990. It was ridiculous really.
We also have to thank the bankers. You heard me right, thank the bankers. This because also the fact that the economic downturn has made many jobs for young people no more than a temporary assignment. This means that fixed term jobs are now the norm and are no longer excluded to just actors or people who work in the theatre or broadcast sectors. There are now people who work in retail and even teaching who’s contracts rarely last for longer than 6 months or even two weeks. In some ways this is no different than to what quite a fair few actors have been offered for performance work. Even the transition between one tempory Christmas job and finding another job to keep you going for the rest of the year can only be the result of over two months of searching. In addition, most people only gain work experience through a voluntary capacity these days, and it’s not just restricted to artistic professions. Any prospective vet or doctor will happily tell you that.
The Actor is a master of their own fate
All of these advancements just go to show that the idea that an actor’s life is only on the stage and that only they can be “resting” is one that seems incredibly bygone. Employment gaps it seems, are common in all professions in Britain these days. We can also see that the entertainment industry is now more entrepreneurial than it has ever been, with the opportunity for web series to stand on the same plinth as the highest rating TV shows. The internet therefore has given the average actor more control over their craft than they have ever had before. With the advancement of social media an actor can no longer be in the dark about concepts such as marketing, finance and promotion. Now they are a master of their own fate. They even have a say about how their own work can be distributed and make it available to anyone in the world. So when you are tucking into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, or staring at endless websites whilst you are resting, just remember this: in the 21st century you are not alone in doing this.