I've recently started a big drive to get myself and my various businesses out in the social networking arena. The internet is a wonderful tool for this and it makes me sad that it wasn't available when I started my acting career in '96.
It's got me thinking though, about whether it's really been a good thing. Is the internet a wonderful open market where anyone, from any background can realise their dreams? Or is it a place where dreams are constructed with the promise of new opportunities that never materialise?
If we look at this from the point of view of an actor, for example; has the internet opened up the world of acting to a huge new group of people from every background, reflected in the work we see on mainstream television and in our theatres up and down the country?
I’m not convinced. Opportunities certainly exist in abundance. Low budget films, fringe theatre, even television can offer unpaid work to anyone, regardless of background or training. For some, it’s the only way to gain experience and build a CV.
The problem is that these opportunities aren’t in fact open to everyone. They are solely open to those that can afford to work unpaid. For those saddled with huge debts after drama school, or those that have financial commitments it becomes a struggle to equate one’s art with one’s bank balance.
The Arts in particular are prone to that particular problem. The image of the impoverished actor; chained to a profession that does not sustain them financially but purely creatively is held in high esteem.
There are those who can still claim to be nourished purely by the Art but it reflects a very narrow cross section of our society. Are we heading towards an age before John Osborne where a theatrical career was only for those that could afford it? Are drama schools to become finishing schools for the elite?
There is a huge gap between those who can earn even a modest living in the Arts and those who earn nothing. Some of this unpaid work is genuine collaborative enterprise; creative minds getting together and working towards something new and exciting. This is balanced by companies that can trim their wage bill by employing those that purely need the experience, driving down the cost of an actor to zero. We see it in other walks of life where competition for jobs is high and unpaid internships abound. You cannot stop the personal freedom of one job candidate undercutting the going rate of the next. Or can we?
Is this a necessary evil of a supply and demand labour market? Can perceptions be changed? Are some jobs destined to become expensive hobbies instead of careers? Should we care? Are the National Minimum Wage laws in the country robust enough? Or too harsh on those that purely want to enjoy the artistic rewards and not the financial ones?
My way through this minefield is to find the money to pay every contributor that works on an Ermine Street Project CIC production. I don’t have any personal funds to bankroll it myself, so it’s pretty tough. But my ethos is that nothing worth doing is meant to be easy. I have nothing against collaborations but there comes a time (maybe when you’re galloping towards forty) when you have to make a decision on how you want to live your life and make a difference.