Adding a String to the Bow

25/07/2016 11:34 | Updated 25 July 2016

For hundreds of fresh faced drama graduates, these hot July days will see their dream turn into a job. Three years of Meisner, mime and motivation, and £30,000 of debt later and they can step out into the world and call themselves an actor.

Or can they? They may have been taught how to act at drama school, or as I believe, been taught techniques to embellish and improve their natural talent, but have they been taught how to be an actor. Because now they're out there in the wide world, the first thing they have got to do is get a job, and for the greater majority of them, that job will not be acting.

As soon as you step out of the hallowed halls of student life, the clock starts ticking and the costs start ratcheting themselves up. For many, one month out of drama school without any income can be seriously debilitating. It can take a long time to recover from. In all probability, they will have to move home to somewhere cheaper, or back to the parental abode which may not exactly have its finger on the pulse of showbiz. Three years at RADA can easily be scuppered by a return to Nuneaton. Not that I've anything against Nuneaton - my home town of Rotherham would do just as well - but a sudden move away from the networks you have built up and the friends you have made can be almost impossible to recover from. Graduates can be doing well and getting interviews, but when commuting up for every audition from Bristol is costing £50 a throw, the bank balance starts to go down.

And getting that job won't necessarily clear money worries. The other week I was lucky enough to be sent up for three castings, and in a career first, I was offered all three jobs. One clashes with something else I'm doing, but had I done all three jobs in August, a situation much envied by many, I would have earned just shy of £2000. At nearly 60 years of age it's not a great deal. With episodes of poplar daytime serials and soaps paying around £500 an episode (or as a friend of mine recently found out) £575 for two episodes, none of these graduates will be sitting back and living of the spoils of their labours.

In fact many will be coming home from their day filming and heading to a bar job to turn their acting salary into a living wage. Recent figures show that just one in fifty actors make more than £20,000 a year from their work. The actors trade Union Equity constantly fights to improve minimum wages, but the trouble with the Equity minimum is that it becomes the standard wage for the job rather than a guideline as to what is just acceptable. And the Equity minimum agreements can be quite frightening. £208 a day on a low budget film, £500 for a half hour sit com with small increments of around £60 if it takes more than one day. It's possible to make quite a mark in a BBC1 primetime drama with several scenes and film them in one day on an Equity approved agreement netting you barely £600. These fees are fine for a day I hear you cry and indeed they are, but for most actors, they won't be earning these fees every day. Perhaps that one day on a tv job may be all they do for a month - and suddenly £600 doesn't go very far.

While the graduates aspirations may not be about money, their need for food and drink often means that they have to revise their targets. Easy for an agent to advise a young actress to turn down a six month theatre play starting out of London with a guaranteed London run as "not what he feels she should be doing", but harder for her to live with the fact that she has just waved goodbye to a salary of £26,000 for the next six months. And that happened.

So increasingly important for all drama graduates to realise that, for the majority of them, acting is only ever going to be part of their life and they should seriously start thinking at the earliest possible opportunity what it is that they can do to earn money that will also provide them with a level of fulfilment. They needn't think that this will be just for the next few years. Two very successful actress friends of mine, both with significant profiles in television work,and now in their fifties, have found that other business interests become necessary. For one it's running a shop, for the other it's a gardening business. I, myself, am very lucky to have a busy career in the corporate sector which I'm lucky enough to be able to fit around my film and television jobs.

So perhaps a drama school that endeavours to train its students how to be an actor, should enlighten graduates as to just what is possible. Promotional work, corporate work, work that uses the skills they have learnt as actors to engage with the public. Somebody has to wear that Sponge Bob Square pants suit in the shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon. How much better for all concerned if it's somebody who can really make it look fun.

After all, it's another string to the bow.