Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Why they say actors are like herding cats

220px-Sarah_Bernhardt_as_Theodora_by_NadarI think actors have only two states in their real lives, when they aren’t pretending to be someone else. One is a state of arrogance. This is when an actor has a job. It doesn’t really matter what the job is, only that they have it, and one better, that they took it away from somebody else. This arrogance gives them the right to take on other work at the exact same time, mess the director/producer around with dates, be demanding about everything to do with the job, ask the other actors on the job how much they are getting, and generally behave like the most indispensable commodity in the world.

The second state is the opposite. It is desperation. Most actors try and hide that they are in this state. It is the state just before the job, when the job is the most badly wanted thing. Suddenly the actor is polite, on time, has airtime to phone you and confirm things, makes a plan, reads the brief, asks questions, says yes to shit money, and shares with you how long they have waited to work with you. This state either continues, when the actor doesn’t get the job, or immediately flips into arrogance when the actor does get the job.

This is why SAGA (the actors’ union in SA) struggles for membership. Actors in their desperate state don’t have money for subs. Actors in their arrogant state feel invincible. Nothing will go wrong for them! Actors will criticise a producer and swear never to work for them and their shit money, all the way to the audition, and then agree to to the shit money and take the job when others before them swore that nobody would work for that money and those conditions. Actors will take jobs away from others by accepting less pay, and then be so hurt when the scumbags take them for a ride. Actors will cry foul after accepting shit work and shit money and won’t understand why they can’t get the support from others in the industry, even when they aren’t union members, and even when others have warned them that they have been there before, and the guy employing is a psycho and a cheat. Actors always complain bitterly when the job falls through, and call you to commiserate, even though you could have warned them, after they accepted the job that you walked away from, that it wasn’t going to work.

Actors are either or. And they have absolutely no loyalty, yet demand it from everyone around them. Imagine a producer or director offering a job to someone and then suddenly changing their mind and dropping the one and choosing someone else. I have never seen that happen. On the other hand, I have seen many actors accept work with enormous gratitude, only to turn it down days before it happens because something better came along, leaving the entire production in the lurch.

Actors. Can’t live with them, can’t kill them and get away with it.

*I write this from the perspective of trying to secure a cast for a project. When I am an actor I will behave in the exact manner described above.


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  1. Megan, aside from the specifics of the profession (acting, performing) and your personal involvement (frustration, disappointment), it’s important to note that what you are describing is not limited to your profession, it is a psycho-sociological traits that’s been recognised for the last 30 years at least under the general banner of “Job Search Behaviours”.

    The relevant points are -“Job search can be very stressful and the longer the search lasts, the more job seekers are confronted with rejections and uncertainty, resulting in accumulated levels of stress and frustration.” (Barber et al., 1994).

    This “accumulated levels of stress and frustration”, researchers say, often results in “neurotic behaviour” (in your piece – grabbing each other’s jobs, publically committing to work only for adequate payment, while privately agreeing to be underpaid, and showing off while succeeding vs. ‘humility’ when unemployed.) ‘Neurotic’ individuals “reported more job search effort, but less job search intensity” (numerous auditions, less preparations for each audition or willingness to commit to a specific job.) “More neurotic job seekers are more likely to experience negative feelings during job search, thus needing to invest more time in managing their emotions, leaving less time for carrying out concrete search behaviours” (Zimmerman, Boswell, Shipp, Dunford, & Boudreau, 2012).

    The situation is a sad outcome of desperation experienced by many job-seekers in all spheres of life. When one adds issues like personal ambition, self-worth, (negativity reinforced) accumulating bad experiences, financial circumstances, family, children, political and economical constraints – it becomes clear that you and your colleagues are more victims to desperate circumstances, rather than perpetrators.

  2. megan

    Hmm, you are absolutely right Rudy, although I think the free-lance nature of actors and the ‘short termness’ of employment makes it more obvious than in other industries. (And it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek jibe, in which I include myself as one of the cats.)

  3. Beilla Gans

    Rudi got that right. And the longer you’re out of work the harder it is to be hired. It’s a sort of stigma . Tante B

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