Grab a coffee (or a summer cocktail!) and join Matilda Moran and Joel Granger as they ponder how to respond to the obligatory “what do you do?” question…
We’ve all been in the situation: You’re at a bar celebrating your friend’s birthday. You’ve known them since high school; you’ve grown up together in your small country town. The room is filled with ‘normal people’- none of your drama school buddies in sight. You are introduced to one of your friend’s colleagues. A highflying businessperson: Chief Executive Chairperson of the Board of Commerce Programmes. They work 9-5 at the top of that tall, shiny building you walk past everyday. You engage in a spot of small talk, classy glass of red in hand. After their 10-minute success spiel, they turn to you and ask, “and what do you do?”…
Being an actor is an ambiguous life at best, and the task of trying to explain our lifestyle to ‘normal people’ can actually be quite a challenge. No matter what action you play on them, to enlighten, to transcend, they will never fully understand your transaction abilities, and your scenic objective will never be achieved.
There is no doubt that actors have big personalities. Just put a bunch of them together and make them walk up a busy street, and you will have them singing obnoxious harmonies as they pirouette across the pavement in no time. But often the confidence exuded is a misrepresentation of the actual life we lead. Unless you are lucky enough to be on a primetime TV slot, it is often difficult to explain the projects you are working on, and how seriously they should be taken. And if you just happen to be in between projects, it is even harder to justify that performing is your genuine career.
A few months ago, Joel happened to find himself in a taxi ride across Melbourne. The overly friendly taxi driver tried to make the typical small talk spiel…
“Where are you from? What are you doing in Melbourne?”
“I’m just about to graduate uni, and am here completing my course.”
No matter how blunt Joel tried to make his answers, he couldn’t seem to avoid the imminent:
“What do you study?”
“Oh! So you learnt music?”
“Kind of. I studied acting, singing and dancing.”
“So what kind of music?”
“A variety of things, but mostly Music Theatre.”
“Oh! So what instrument did you play?”
“Well, none really. It was more about training to be in musicals and plays and TV shows.”
“Oh! So you’re a DJ?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m a DJ.”
It didn’t even stop there. By the time Joel had hopped out of the taxi, he’d managed to convince the taxi driver that he had frequent DJ gigs all across Melbourne and arranged a plethora of club remixes. All because he couldn’t be bothered actually explaining what Music Theatre was.
Even if actors are lucky enough to have supportive families who understand what you do, we’ve all been at the family dinner that turns into a group of drunken adults’ best attempts to make you get up and sing for everyone. Because apparently the thought of standing less than a metre away from a couch full of adults and singing an emotional power ballad acapella in the middle of a lounge room isn’t as awkward to them as it is to you. Or when you go out to karaoke with your friends, and the scrutiny from them is worse than an audition panel because “you chose this as your career.” Or even when your parents force you to cry on cue to prove that you’re an accomplished actor. Because regardless of anything else you do, that is the epitome of Oscar worthy.
If you do happen to be in between contracts and have to supplement yourself with retail work or children’s parties, it can be even more confusing to those people whose careers provide a consistent income. The passion behind this career choice can be such a personal thing that it’s often difficult to justify to a perfect stranger in a small talk session. As such, it isn’t unlikely to be judged for your choices and for people to try and explain what a risky life you’ve chosen, as if the thought had never occurred to you before.
To be fair, it’s absolutely understandable that these ‘normal people’ may not quite grasp our lifestyle. A career in the Arts involves such spontaneity and variety, that we live such a different lifestyle to the consistency of the 9-5 day. Which in turn is understandable as to why performers often surround themselves with like-minded people and remain in an industry bubble.
But then again, what do the 9-5 people actually do each day? They tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen. That’s what they do.
While the unpredictability within this career often provides an excitement in our lives, it can be difficult to communicate to those outside of the industry. Although embracing this diversity and being proud of the life we’ve chosen can be hard, it is such an important part of consolidating the importance of the Arts within a greater society. So you can turn round and proudly tell that Executive Chairperson that, “I am an actor!” Because let’s be honest, his mother’s dentist’s nephew is probably also an actor too.