Archives for posts with tag: Fringe

A few days ago I drafted a blog about the joy and sorrow that the fringe has brought us this year in terms of theatrical delights and actor’s livelihoods driven woe. It read a little something like this:


This year I have spent a lot of time visiting and loving fringe theatre. Indeed, this year was my first (can you believe it?) trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it’s safe to say I fell head over heels in love with the whole thing. Fringe theatre offers unparalleled opportunities in creativity to actors and creatives alike – taking risks that mainstream theatre entrepreneurs wouldn’t dream of – resulting in exciting and innovative productions that have the industry raving and flocking in attendance. The questionable conditions that its creators work in inevitably become part of the charm – especially when up in Scotland, on the Mile, in the rain, still going strong – but they are equally the reason that the fringe ends up under the firing squad. Whilst watching the show it’s hard to forget that the actors are being paid a pittance (if anything) and have probably come from an 8 hour shift just so they can pay their rent and buy the occasional value sandwich. Consequently, it’s also hard to escape the accusations of acting increasingly becoming a career solely for the middle/upper classes because it’s boiling down to those who can afford to a) train and b) sustain a life on predominantly no income!

I’ll be honest and say that I feel like I’m on a see-saw of opinions – never settling on what I think is the right option. On one hand, I am an actor and of course I should be paid to do what I do. It’s not a hobby, it’s a profession and all that jazz. But then I consider the flip side suggesting that the fringe simply wouldn’t exist if everyone was paid (the investment could never be matched and therefore wouldn’t go ahead in the first place). The latter has been brought to light recently with the director of a “profit-share” fringe show winning an appeal against his actors demanding minimum wage for the work they had done. The result was applauded with “sense” prevailing and producing for the fringe remaining financially viable.

Read the full article in The Stage HERE.

Whilst I believe that actors should be (or should I say are) entitled to at least minimum wage such an ask would likely prevent producers from producing and then we would be robbed of the exemplary work that we do have on offer on the fringe scene. It’s of a high standard, it’s highly regarded and some of theatre’s biggest and brightest talents come to use it as a creative outlet – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And I know I am not alone when I say that my favourite works of 2014 were to be found on the fringe. In The Heights and Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse created storms of inspired audiences, Carousel at the Arcola had broadsheet critics bowing down, Drunk at the Bridewell brought together dance and theatre audiences and left them craving Happy Hour, Sweeney Todd (both in Twickenham and currently Tooting Arts Club) had us blood-thirsty for more, the Howard Goodall season at the Union (which is still running with ‘Girlfriends’) had us swooning at the scores….I could go on and on (you know I could). If an enforced minimum wage had prevented the producers from bringing us these pieces just think how deprived we would have been.

The same can be said of Edinburgh – “don’t go to Edinburgh if you want to make money”. However, that doesn’t stop thousands of people (this year 3,193 shows ran) being mad, making art, sharing it and having a bloody good time in the process. And it’s no wonder – the whole experience is intoxicating. (If you haven’t been, it’s truly impossible to try and imagine what kind of effect being surrounded by all that creativity will have on you. There’s nothing like it. You simply must go. But anyway, back on topic.) In Edinburgh, I was working with an American and he said that with their union standards, nothing of the sort could ever happen in the USA. Isn’t that such a sad thought? With all that talent that country harbours they don’t and can’t have the same creative playground. I then started noticing the numerous American companies present at the festival. People had come to our little island in order to put on a show and revel in the unique collaboration of actor and audience that we have on the fringe (you know, when you could be the only person in the audience but the company still give you their life and soul at 11 in the morning). So here I am torn again between having the strength of a union (that I am sure many of us crave) or having the chance to frolick around Scotland for a month and be a deliriously happy thesp. I’m pretty sure I favour the latter.

2014’s fringe offerings have truly been a theatrical treat, providing solace from the increasingly treacherous West End. I did three shows on the fringe this year – two in London and one in Edinburgh – and I’d do them again in a heartbeat. That’s the problem with us actors, we do it because we love it. Therefore we agree to things no normal (sane?) person would and accept a nomadic lifestyle (as my physio put it so nicely) all for the love of the craft. I truly feel caught between a rock and a hard place – where the rock is the right to earn a living in this profession and the hard place is the life rich with inspiring art. After all, the earth without art is just ‘eh’.


So that was the draft (NB: DRAFT).

If it wasn’t for my impending move to the Midlands yesterday I would have posted this on the fence piece without knowledge of how the fringe could move forward to exclusively spreading joy (no equity woe). Then, as if by some miracle, the heavens above answered me in the form of Paul Taylor-Mills & the Morphic Graffiti team Stewart Charlesworth and Luke Fredericks.  On Friday it was announced that the team will be bringing us a revival of ‘Bat Boy’ to the aforementioned gem of a fringe venue, The Southwark Playhouse in January 2015. Great news right!? But the ever greater news is that they have agreed with equity to ensure that everyone on the production will receive at least the National Minimum Wage. WOOOHOOO. 

Emmanuel de Lange of Equity said: Equity members want to see a fairer fringe and I am commited to tackling the endemic culture of low pay and no pay in theatre, but we often hear management claim it’s just not possible to pay. This agreement shows that we can work together so professional performers are treated ethically, even when they’re starting out their careers.

Paul Taylor-Mills said: We’re committed to doing everything we can to prove better rates of pay for our actors and at such our break even point for Bat Boy is terrifyingly high. This is a risk we are prepared to take if it means we are moving in the right directions to try and make the fringe a model that can work for everyone. It isn’t a battle; this is a dialogue and requires openness, humility and a greater understanding from both actors and producers.

I don’t think show announcements come much better than that. But you’ve heard the man, the break even is high so make sure you book (…ASAP….CLICK HERE) to show prospective producers that it can be done and that they should follow suit. Don’t be like the hundreds who flocked to see Dogfight in the final week and were turned away disappointed when they could have booked without trouble in the weeks prior. Guarantee yourself a seat to say “I was there when”!

We’re having art created for us AND people are being paid to do it. That’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year rolled into one and it’s only November. If I thought fringe was on top this year, I can’t wait for 2015.

Please let me know your thoughts on any of the above. Have you ever boycotted fringe on principal? Do you think we’ll be able to move forward in this way? Any other fringe joys you’d like to highlight? It’s truly something I could talk about all day so please join in the discussion.

In the meantime, happy fringe working/attending!

Final walk down the Mile on the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Final walk down the Mile of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 

“If we prove that they’re wrong, they’ll come round before long and we’ll all sing a song full of comfort and joy!”

– Rebecca Ridout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I posted a blog (‘No more questions, please…’) about the fear of being asked “what’s next?” as an actor. At the time it didn’t even occur to me that I was in the best possible position to be answering that question. I was a recent graduate (who am I kidding? I still am) and didn’t have the added pressure from previous successes begging the question of how long it would be before the next. It’s become increasingly clear to me – through working with some incredible people –  that after each successful stint you have as an actor many people expect that something else will automatically follow. The questions people ask you change from a vague “what are you up to at the moment?” to “what have you got coming up next?” (sometimes with an added time frame) and I  have started to put a huge amount of pressure on each step I take in the industry as a consequence. For instance, it has taken me weeks to write this post and writing isn’t even my profession! I found that the ‘pressure to please’ following the success (more readers than I could have imagined) of my last post ground me to a halt on what was to follow. If “what’s next?” had me shying away from writing, can you imagine the amount of ‘pressure to please’ I feel when the “what’s next?” is to do with my career? I’m sure many of you can.

To add to that pressure of instant success, there are many other pressures that I know people can relate to. At the moment I’m struggling with the fact that, in an industry as small as this one (there’s only one degree of separation instead of the usual six,) it’s impossible to not be connected in some way to the people up for the same job as you. When you’ve already built yourself up for having to succeed at that next audition, a la the opening of A Chorus Line, you then add to the pressure pot by directly comparing yourself to people you know in the room. “They know so-and-so…”, “They’ve got ____ on their CV already…”, “They’ve done a West End show. Kill me now” when really this might not be the right show for them at the right time but you’ve stuffed up your chances by psyching yourself out before you’ve even started. It’s a vicious circle of ‘not worked, wont work’ that I know many of my graduate friends are in. But there are also people who’ve been there, done it, got the cast sweatshirt and are out there looking for the next job (which people are expecting them to automatically get) who are just as in need as you are. That’s why you have to remind yourself that (*CHEESY METAPHOR KLAXON*) we’re all running the same race just at different paces and with different goals in sight.

In case you’re one of the people that read the last post and are thinking “hold up, Ridout, you’ve used that one before” it’s because I had previously aimed that cheesy metaphor (I do love a good metaphor) at people wanting to audition for drama schools but I believe that the same thinking can, and should, be applied to life on the other side of training.  If anything, training is only the starting line and you’ve got a whole marathon ahead of you to pace yourself for. In addition, like in any race, it is hard to take your eyes off the people running past you and focus solely on what you have to do. It’s easy to want to give up or to expect someone else (eg. your agent) to push you along but you have to do it for yourself – cheering crowds or no cheering crowds. I’ve certainly needed reminding of that in recent weeks and I hope that it strikes a chord with people in a similar situation.

Now that the cheesy metaphor and soppy bit is out of the way, I want to be able to share with you some stories of people at different stages in the race (okay, the metaphor isn’t over, I lied) so that hopefully you’ll feel comforted that you aren’t alone. To put some of these stories in perspective, I asked some friends of mine to tell me a bit about their experience in the industry so far and if they had any advice they’d like to give. In amongst the answers there are people who waited years for a West End debut, people who walked straight into professional work, an Olivier award winner, a National Theatre original cast member and people who are still running towards these measures of success that people (or, indeed, they themselves) put on them. They’re all doing what they love though. I say they’re successful before you even begin to read what else they have to say.

On running your own race…

No. 1 (guess who)

I graduated, signed with an agent and went away with the National Youth Music Theatre to work on their production of ‘West Side Story’ over summer. Somehow, I thought that was me set (clearly because I was playing the ever hopeful ‘Somewhere Girl’). I then didn’t work until Christmas. I did a revue show at the Jermyn Street Theatre and have since been very lucky to be swing in Molly Wobbly. No, I didn’t get seen this year for the show that I  had always intended to jump straight into but, do you know what?, that’s showbiz…kid. And by that I mean that everything happens for a reason. I’ve worked with some amazing people and I’ve kept my passion, that’s the most important thing. I’m in it for the long haul. 

No.2

I don’t know why we do this. We just don’t know whats round the corner do we? Even when we are lucky enough to be rewarded with a West End contract it can quite easily be ripped out from under us.  I mean, look at We Will Rock You and The Full Monty. It’s happened to me, I was making my West End debut and we were given our notice 5 months before our contract was due to end. At the time I was devastated. I’d have stayed in that show until they kicked me out. But looking back, it paved the way for the rest of my career. If I’d have stayed in that show I wouldn’t have got my next West End show. This was certainly a high point in my career, an original cast of a high profile show. I stayed in that company for 2 years and had a truly wonderful time. I was then out of work for 8 months. This was the lowest part of my career by far. Sometimes not getting recalls, sometimes not even getting seen for stuff. I recall auditioning and getting to the finals for the tour of Guys and Dolls, I’d convinced myself I’d got it. I’d looked up the tour venues, I’d practically spent my first few weeks pay checks. I can also unfortunately remember word for word the telephone conversation when my agent called to say “It wasn’t going to work out”…. I was stunned. I actually cried, TO MY AGENT. But yet again fate led a hand and within a few weeks I got my next West End job which has led on to other jobs since. I believe that things happen for a reason.

No.3

I remember being offered a Christmas show at the Tabard Theatre one year. I spoke to my agent who told me about the money, which wasn’t bad for a fringe venue. I could probably pay my rent but not much else so after careful consideration, I called my agent back to say I couldn’t afford to do it. I said I could earn more doing my reception job than the play, to which he replied, “But you’re not a receptionist, you’re an actor”. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Of course the thing I wanted most was to work in the West End. I wanted to experience the community and live in London for more than a few months without going off on tour. But the longer I waited the more I started to give up on it. The prestige of it seemed unachievable. I felt like I was the boy who would always tour and do regional theatre, not quite good enough to do West End. At my lowest point out of work, a period of about 2 years, I was blaming everything and everyone. Then I thought to myself, ‘Oh fuck, it’s me’. I literally changed my whole demeanour. I was active. I changed agent, I quit my job that was taking over my life just so I could pay my bills and took a more part time position. I made more time to go to theatre, I started hanging out with theatre people I hadn’t seen in a while. But mainly I said YES to everything. It took me 7 years to finally land a job ‘in town’. I didn’t strive for it by then, it didn’t covet it as much as when I came out of drama school. But the sense of achievement was great. You know, the way your parents can say, “Oh, my son is an actor in the West End”. If I’m honest, I much prefer regional theatre than any other kind but I had to experience West End. I’m very lucky to have done so.

 No. 4

However much people wish to acknowledge it, pressure to rate yourself amongst the success of your graduating class is intense! This industry is competitive and solitary, fuelled by news and gossip. I’ve spent too many hours trying to analyse the success of others and apply myself to their given set of circumstances. ‘Who got what agent’, ‘oh… they got to that final’, ‘I never thought they’d get that’, ‘they were always gonna do well’. This way of thinking primarily comes from fear. Fear of not getting what this dream offered you when you first signed up. You can’t control the success of others, nor what those people on the panel are going to think about you, so why bother to think about it. The only controllable factor in all of this, is you. You look, sing, dance, act the way YOU do. I’m a big believer of acknowledging what I have to offer and staying true to that.

I’ve had a decent run since college. I got my first job before graduating. I’ve gone from literally thinking the sun shines out of my back side, to trawling through items to possibly sell on eBay. Which brings me to another key point. This is a money making business and every job will have its last performance. And I cherish the times in which I’ve been metaphorically burnt by this business as highly as I do the times in which it’s brought me acclaim. Why? – the lessons.

No. 5

When I graduated I did the fringe circuit – profit shares and unpaid work – and I learnt very quickly that it’s a difficult world and it provides no living! However, one of the greatest step ups was when a production I was in, unpaid, had a paid transfer and it was the right show for me to showcase myself – casting directors knew me for it for a while. I have since slipped out the loop mind and most work has been through recommendation and I’ve had some amazing opportunities and diverse characters to play. I used to want to jump into the National or the Donmar, but the more I’ve worked the more I have appreciated actually getting the opportunity to play. That is exactly what I’m doing and making a living from it. I’ve got my whole life to work at the National, whats the rush? All I want now is to be creative, learn, make  a living and meet amazing people.

No. 6

Having graduated from Drama School last year I was in the lucky position of moving straight into acting work. Rehearsing and performing in my first professional show was fantastic and I loved every minute, although in retrospect, and using the wonderful power that is hindsight, I can see I probably didn’t appreciate quite how lucky I was at the time!  After performing and touring for 5 months, the first job finished and I began the process of moving my life into London. My first experience of moving, was the sudden realisation of how poor I was going to be. And it is completely true what they say – that we do this job for the love of it, not for the money. And certainly not for the terrible jobs actors find themselves doing between jobs. Since graduating I have answered telephones, made cold calls, poured drinks and served food all over London and that is only a few months! I can’t say I have much experience living this life yet but I can say that doing all these terrible jobs will be worth it for when you nail that one audition and get the acting job you want. I read an article recently In the stage about acting being the “long game” and I firmly believe this is true, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first!

No. 7

After drama school I had 18 months agent-less & miserable. I did do 2 small jobs – a musical in Pontefract & then an unpaid musical at The Union (from which I signed with an agent). I took a full time job with Halifax on their phones, but then landed the BIG ONE – the West End contract that was the game changer. I had massive success, and then afterwards… For about 12 months, not much at all. Things have been steady since and I’ve ticked some things off my list. But everyone told me I’d be a superstar by now… But I’m not. Depends on so many things! (And depends on what you class as ‘superstardom’) I do believe a little bit in what will be will be and that we all have a path to tread, but that you also have to go out and make it happen. My 30th birthday is getting closer and I can say now, that life is about so much more than just booking the next job. I am a very happy lady (and Mama); still performing, and loving it.


When I first told people that I wanted to work in Musical Theatre I was told by my choirmaster (yes, my choirmaster) that a girl who attended the choir before me went into the industry and spent 5 years waiting for her big break. She may have waited 5 years but she did it, she got there, and is now doing famously well – and I mean famously (I’ve kept everyone else anonymous so I’ll keep this one anonymous too, even though it might be killing you). Since knowing that I’ve been determined to wait as long as it takes to do what I love but, sometimes, I need to remind myself of that when my self-belief starts to slip. Knowing that my friends have, and are, going through the same thing as me makes the rejections, the auditions and the waitressing in between jobs so much easier to handle. But not everyone likes to admit they are struggling (understandably) so I hope that in putting this out into the world some people gain some of that comfort they are otherwise scared to seek.

One last addition to the metaphor (I know, I’m sorry): ‘The Wall’. In a Marathon, runners attest to the existence of an invisible obstacle which makes you body and your mind want to give up near the end of the race. Many people experience it but it doesn’t have to be there at all. Research has shown that if you train and race intelligently you may cross the finish line without ever having to “hit the wall”. You need to find your pace and your target and stick to it. Apply that to your career and I think you’re onto a winner. Happy running your own race!

“My friends you have to run run-a, run-a, run freedom, run away!”

– Rebecca Ridout