Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Rare is the job that doesn't require an actor to leave home for most of the week, perhaps for several months.  Many British actors live in London but films and television shows only use the studios on big budget or long running productions and the streets of London itself can be expensive places in which to film. Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff are regularly used location cities but most of the actors who could claim them as their birth places have moved to London to look for work. There is, of course, plenty of theatre in London but the majority of plays go on tour or are funded by regional theatres. Voice overs usually record in town and some audio books are even being recorded by actors in their house, a lonely arrangement in what was already a pretty isolated occupation. For the most part though, actors are on the road. What follows is a small guide to what they will need to pack.

Dressing Gown
On set or in your dressing room, this is an essential garment. You will need it while you are in the hair and make-up chair so that you don't ruin the hours of artistry when you take your t-shirt off/put your costume on. You will need it when you are eating your breakfast/lunch/dinner, which three meals are nearly all consumed at work when you are filming. You will need it when you have to run to the tiny toilet two floors below your dressing room in the theatre and you will need it when you are crying/fooling around/sleeping in your caravan between takes.
My own dressing gown is plain white and covers all sizes of costume. Whilst wearing it I resemble nothing so much as a decently medicated lunatic. If the coat fits.
It has to be said that men don't embrace the dressing-gown culture quite so readily and perhaps that is as well. They often make do with item number two...

A Big Coat
Like the dressing gown, this is sometimes supplied by the wardrobe department. But it doesn't hurt to have one packed and it is less fun being warm when you have the name of the production spray painted ten inches long in florescent green across your back.
The days that a coat is not required on a British location can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Theatres are often kept at refridgerated temperatures, the countryside likewise. Although I have to confess that on my last tour it was mentioned (by some of my colleagues a little less than thrilled at the prospect of another week spent in shared accommodation with the heating up to 80 degrees every night) that I would only ever be truly warm on the surface of the sun, long days, night shoots and wildly inappropriate costumes all mean that a great big coat is often the ultimate comfort.

A Hobby
Books, newspapers, crosswords and knitting are all useful activities when standing by. During filming, the location will probably be in a field/quarry/abandoned hospital. Electricity will be provided by generators and there won't be any spare sockets for your iPhone/laptop/Playstation unless you are in a special relationship with the Facilities manager.
You will need a hobby without batteries (special relationship aside), preferrably something that is easy to pick up and put down without too much preparation or distress. In particular, the hobby must make no noise or require too much concentration but be engaging enough to stop the actor from planning a revolution/wandering off/being fired.
See Accomplishments for advice about which hobbies not to bring.

Coffee or other drugs
Most of us have some special titbit that keeps us going for the day. For advice on how to get by without the more destructive addictions, please see your sponsor. For the legal highs, the trick is to be prepared. Make sure you have your supply of cigarettes/candy bars/spirolina in an accessible form, close to hand. There are never any shops near your location, it's like a rule.
For many of us, a good cup of coffee can make all the difference and yet it is the one beverage that is surprisingly difficult to access once away from the main drag. Giant canteens of hot water poured into styrofoam cups of instant granules don't quite cut it. Carrying around a glass cafetiere is not practical and for those with a serious coffee habit and a big budget, that espresso machine is going to need a power supply.
The answer? A coffee flask or mug with a built-in plunger. But of course, I hear you cry, I'll dig mine out from the back of the kitchen. They do exist. If I carried advertisements, I would endorse the brands, but as it is I can only say that there are two manufacturers that I know of that make these products and both are great. Keep a small bag with said mug and ground coffee ready to pack at a moment's notice. With my fresh cup of coffee, I am ready for the make-up chair at 6 am or the evening audience at 6 pm.

So we have sweets, costumes and games. All very helpful in making the day run a little bit smoother, all more than slightly childish. It has probably occurred to you that none of these things are exactly life-saving and certainly none of them are necessary for the job. And that is the point really. The only thing necessary for you to do the job is you. It's quite old fashioned; no equipment, no special tools, the dressing gown is about as far as it goes. But you might as well be comfy.