Last week I met a friend who was considering a new teaching post. 'Sounds good,' I said. 'Well, not so much,' she pulled a face, 'It's hardly prestigious work and the pay isn't great.' I was puzzled, it sounded like a fantastic job to me, and we both started wondering what my own criteria for taking work might be.
1. Is it indoors?
Seems simple enough, most people when thinking about the kind of career they might like, consider whether they are indoor or outdoor people, even if they do so unconsciously. For some, office work would be too confining while others do not have the call for the wild. Some people perceive the elements as a necessary evil of the job. But should they find themselves say, policing a neighbourhood, or supervising Year Two's lunch break, they will, at least, wear a coat when it is raining, which will be absent when it is sunny. That seems like common sense, some employers even provide appropriate work clothing.
They will not be swimming off the coast of Brighton in January wearing a full-length woollen bathing suit and matching cap, all day. They will sensibly refrain from donning overcoats in a heat wave and camisoles in winter fields when the moon is full. This is because they listened to their career advisor and didn't become actors. Of course, part of the wonder of the job is the different challenges that each day brings, but shivering through a thunderstorm wearing nothing but a silk shift loses whatever charm it might once have had very quickly. Since the locations are often charmless themselves (see previous posts on disused mental hospitals, tunnels, caves, quarries) there is much to be said for working in a purpose built studio , particularly on period dramas. Which brings me to:
2. Will I have to wear anything extremely uncomfortable for a long time?
Astronauts probably have to dress up in heavy gear when repairing the hulls of spaceships, and fire workers, while looking obviously very attractive in addition to being well-protected, may get quite sweaty running up and down ladders in the middle of a blazing inferno. But on the whole, if you were told you weren't going to breathe much or eat solid food when wearing your uniform, you might think twice before accepting the position.
The costumes on one film I was in were so enormous that we were unable to sit down and were supplied with leaning boards. Corsets pulled so tight that you regularly faint, sleeves that give you track marks, wigs and hats that cut off the circulation in your scalp. All beautifully made and incredibly expensive and everyone is very sorry that the skintight tweed habit that a child has peed on under the Tunisian sun, cannot be dry cleaned even though you are wearing it for another six months.
Filming days are not short, lights are quite hot. It is something to bear in mind when offered the job. But not, perhaps, as important as:
3. Will I get to wear anything at all?
Self-explanatory this one. Also, remember the indoors/outdoors question and consider the terrain. Naked, usually in close proximity to another naked body of some description, in public, might be enough joy for one day. Add a gravel pit or a haystack to the list and you could succumb to feelings of negativity. I hesitate to mention bodily fluids (exchange thereof) and I refuse to give them their own heading, lets call it 3a, but surely they must figure slightly in the 'how much do I want this job' equation.
Yes, it’s all fairly sordid in this part of the career forum. Moving swiftly on .
4. Will I be working more than a sixty-hour week?
Doctors and nurses often work these hours, emergency services don't look at their watches and clock off as they go into overtime, prime ministers and presidents age visibly by the day with the sheer amount of work. But these are important, life-saving jobs, not involving mascara and tear sticks and magic pants. Well, apart from the politicians anyway.
The standard union contract for an actor in the UK requires that they have at least eleven hours off between filming days and at least one day a week for a rest day, or three days over a fortnight. You might be working for eleven days at a time, fourteen hours a day including travel, in a corset.
Something to think about, when you consider:
5. Will I be well paid?
Ah, the nub. As we are all aware, some actors are exceptionally well paid; they park their jets in the garage and wear new clothes every day. Good for them. They are paid that much by businessmen earning similar quantities and purely based on the 'return'. Stop earning for the suits and those stars will be selling exercise videos before you can say 'The Power of Now'.
And what of the average actor? What remuneration might they expect for an honest day's work? Well, the actor's union, Equity, just tried to get the weekly salary for all West End actors, raised to a minimum of £500. They didn't quite succeed. In the rest of the country, including the smaller London theatres, the average is about £350. Filming can pay better, with the starting rate at about £100-150 a day. Voice-overs and advertisements can supplement/supply an actor's income.
When my friend and I had finished my list, she looked thoughtful. ‘Your bar is set pretty low,’ she said, ‘I don’t think our positions are comparable’. But she took her job.