Monday, 6 August 2012

In Search of Becoming an Actor

I was reminded last week of the time when I wanted to become an actor. Like so many others at the time, I thought the best way into the industry was by trying to get some work as a film extra. I had already looked into getting into drama school or joining a repertory company, but both were pretty prohibitive. Both the drama school and repertory company options presented financial hiccups. Neither I nor my parents had the finance to make it happen. And as my parents considered it the kind of career that was precarious to say the least, where you would spend more time out of work than in, I suppose the repertory company seemed the most ideal out of the two. But in the 1960s, local repertory companies would take young hopefuls on as stage hands, and if you were very lucky, you may end up with a walk-on part, but it was an almost impossible way to live unless you had some savings or came from a wealthy family. I think the going rate at that time was £5 salary per week and out of that you had to find your own digs, in the same town where the rep company was based, so it was pretty much of a no-no.

Then I came upon the idea of perhaps trying to get a job working as an extra in films. I seem to remember that some studios hired people for crowd scenes, so I did some research, wrote a few letters asking to be seen, and made some phone calls, and ended up getting an appointment with the casting director at MGM in Borehamwood. But even then, it was not that simple. All the casting director told me was that it was pretty much impossible to do anything without an agent and without an Equity card. Equity is the actor’s union and back then you had to be a member even to be picked to do crowd scenes in a film or television drama. The casting director knew such an agent who may be able to help, so from MGM I was sent back down into the West End of London where I would meet with the recommended agent and reiterated with her what I wanted to do. The agent told me the first thing I had to do was to get some casting photos done. It just so happened that I knew this photographic studio in Brighton, close to where I had an office job at the time, and so I booked a photo shoot. I don't think I could afford many prints, but I remember doing a whole session of photos with the photographer, who also owned the studio. We did a range of different scenarios in different outfits, from portrait to character shots. I remember it was quite a poky little studio but well equipped to get some professional looking pictures done. We got some good results, for what the London agent had requested. I sent off what I could afford at the time, but never heard and never got a call even to attend a casting audition, not even as an extra.

Many years later I joined an amateur drama group. I was cast in about nine plays in all. The rehearsals were about three months for each play, two or three nights per week, and then the run of the production was usually nine days long, opening on a Friday night and running through to the Saturday of the following week. It was hard work, and I don't think until then, I realised how gruelling it was to be an actor, but it was always good fun though and was a great taster for anyone who was thinking of becoming an actor. But by the time I joined the drama group I wasn't looking at it as a profession, just purely a hobby. When I was thinking of it as a career, I wasn't really interested in stage acting, I just wanted to act in films or television and that was one of the reasons I went off to MGM Studios in Borehamwood. That and thinking I may get onto see some the stages where films like Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra had been filmed, but I didn't. I got nowhere near the actual studios where they were filming. I got as far as the admin offices and that was it!

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