During the Edinburgh Fringe 2019 I and my team noticed an interesting pattern: we would walk down the street together and as you do at Fringe, encounter many, many people walking the opposite way. For each of my companions the groups would part & the individuals would dodge, but me - I just got clattered. It became a running joke. Each time it happened I would sing, to the tune of 'Unlimited' in Wicked, 'Invisible - I must be in-vis-i-ble'. Of course in that situation it was very clear that it was because I was the only woman in the group. That or everyone knew I had broken ribs and they all had a sadistic urge to re-break them!
It is very easy to feel invisible as an actor. There are thousands of us and limited opportunities. For women in particular, the ratio is much more discouraging. And one of the key attributes of an actor is visibility. You are seen on stage, on screen, even 'seen' to an extent on radio, where your performance makes you visible as an artist. We are always told 'to be seen' by the right people: 'get that Artistic Director in, call that Casting Director, you just need to be seen by the right people.' But so often the right people aren't able to see us. They're too busy or their attention is taken by someone else. Again, the density of actors in our world is overwhelming. It's no surprise.
This week things have come to a head for me personally, and I think many others like me as I'm seeing similar sentiments echoed over Twitter and beyond. Just yesterday I lost my last potential income stream. Well, not lost - they will pay me a generous 20% of my normal earnings. My other PAYE job has furloughed me to the tune of 7 hours of work per week and boy am I grateful for those 7 hours a week right now because I, like a huge many others, am not eligible for SEISS - because my acting income is 45% of my overall. Nearly half of my income gone with no support. I have been left to survive on 15% of my normal earnings. Because of an arbitrary line that has been drawn to tell me that despite acting being my largest individual source of money I do not qualify as a valid self-employed actor.
I am, naturally, frightened about my financial situation and, as of yesterday, that has become a more crippling fear, but the really painful thing is the line that has been drawn between those who are valid artists and those who are mere hobbyists. It feels that this financial decision has marked me out as one of those actors who isn't genuine enough to be fully part of the industry. Those who got the grant, or the Arts Council money (or in some cases both, you lucky dogs!) are the real actors, the ones who are able to make their living, the ones who are recognised and whose names are known. The rest of us are invisible: invisible in the industry, as actors, and invisible to HMRC. We haven't 'made it' yet and at this stage I have to say, I'm unlikely to. I have worked solidly for 4 years, never once out of acting work and yet I don't feel that work has been worthwhile.
It gives some hope to see the open letter signed by theatres throughout the country that recognises a need to invest in their freelancers, to give some stability and support. We are all, theatres and staff, in a state of low-level panic & everyone is scared. But there is a very real fear that those of us who have not been visible before will be left behind once more. Our local theatres need us to invest in them once we are able to get back to them, and we will gladly do so over and over again but it needs to be a two-way transaction.
I honestly don't know what I'm going to do now. Today I have reached a point of wanting to stop. It's really painful & scary out there at the moment and though I'm usually the queen of finding a silver lining, I have cast around for one and found nothing so far. I have found the positives in lockdown for sure - the hustle has calmed down a bit and there is space to pause and I love that we have all stopped simultaneously to reflect. But in order to survive I fear I might have to stop more permanently. And that may well be the case for many, many others.