Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Working Class Actors?

We Shall Overcome

Actra Maritimes announced today that they will be joining the strike. And, as actors through and through (our "camera-whore" tendencies notwithstanding...meant with due affection), we sought out the very cameras that did not seek us out. That's right...the press didn't really show up for their part of the "press conference". Where were they? Covering Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's address to the Provincial Legislature. Granted, it was an historic event for the province, but which is more relevant; a pseudo-royal figurehead addressing a roomful of capitalists or a unionized labour-force striking for the first time in its history in response to an industry wracked with turmoil? Hmm...arguments could be made for both sides, but let's stick with the tagline.

Are actors really "working class"?

Yes. It's hard to believe that an actor can be working class, what with the catered lunches and the pretty headshots printed by the hundreds, but actors are about as working class as you can get. Until they actually start working as actors, that is.

It's completely understandable that a producer (who only sees an actor "on the job"), could become embittered by seeing a "day-player" chowing down on a "substantial" snack after a luxurious twelve-hour turnaround, only to spend the day fraternizing with the cast and crew (that should be working) between naps in the trailer. I can see how a producer may get in the frame of mind to cut some costs. Reduce overhead...that kind of thing. But that's "on the day".

What about the rest of the year?

As an independent producer, I budget for the time that I spend developing projects and factor that number into my overall costs. I try to make a reasonable return on the investment of my time, knowing full-well that my producing "fee" will be the very first budget item to be "taken out of the equation" by a funding agency or a broadcaster (for development, that is...no-one works for free in production). I'm poorly paid, I'll admit it. More people have made money from my projects than I have (I've made nothing, yet I've paid thousands). Sad reality...boo hoo...I'll go stand in line with the other independent producers.

Fact is: in order to retain the rights to my "brainchild" of a project, I need to pay everyone what they expect to be paid as professionals. I don't quibble with my sound editor. He quotes his price, if I can't do it and he can't do it; we don't do it. I don't call him names or berate him publicly or chide him for not giving me my way because it would be unprofessional to do so.

So, how are actors working class?

As an actor, I've become a far better bartender than I had ever hoped to be. I've served dignitaries, I've served celebrities and I've served grease-monkeys. I can tell you with absolute certainty that they are all the same when it comes to an open-bar or whether they're the ones picking up the tab. They work hard and feel "entitled" to your service. That's not a glorious life in art; that's working-class.

I know actors who are more practiced at customer service than they are with their "art"; actors who make more money through carpentry and drywalling than from the commercials that supposedly "pay the bills" between "real" auditions. I've seen actors spend more money on acting classes than they have made that year as "talent". I've watched colleagues spend years paying "dues" not only in theory, but actual financial dues just to "belong" to the industry. These people work multiple jobs in other industries (industries that are actually in a position to give them paying jobs), only to fund the habit of auditioning with the money that they make. For the average Canadian actor (not the ones you see on TV regularly), landing a gig or two does not exactly become a "cash windfall", rather, it may just cover the costs incurred due to the lifestyle of just "being an actor".

Are artists "working class"? You bet we are.

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