In December 2016 I began the journey of starting a new actor training company. We decided on a name, I built a website and landed on a logo and began marketing the courses we’d designed. In January 2017 I found out I was pregnant - we hadn’t even ran our first course yet. I figured there’s never really a “perfect” time to fall pregnant or have a baby so I cracked on. Sadly, the pregnancy was really bloody difficult and nothing like I’d seen in films - I had horrific nausea, the hormones rushing around my body meant I could hardly walk most days and I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes which knocked me for six. The running and growth of the company was on my shoulders so I did what I could but I was physically limited in the amount I could teach which naturally had a knock on effect to making the mark we’d hoped for. Luckily my husband Iain had a full time job as a kitchen manager and chef so there wasn’t a huge amount of pressure on me to bring in too much money plus I had a few other jobs on the side.
I ran my last course in August and a couple of weeks later my waters broke whilst I was writing a blog for casting director Nicci Topping. Instead of telling Iain and zooming to the hospital I shoved a towel between my legs in the hope that I could finish it in time. I ate my last childless meal and headed into the hospital. No contractions yet so I sent Iain and best pal Evie home to sleep and, donning my sexy hospital gown and compression socks, I continued with the blog and a spot of admin.
Fox was born 2nd September via emergency C Section and we were all home 5 or 6 days later after some complications.
Iain had decided to leave his job and get something closer to home which meant we had a good chunk of time just the three of us. It was a rather productive work time for me - I couldn’t teach yet but I redesigned the entire website and booking system when Fox was sleeping or attached to a boob and continued the day to day running of the company and future courses. Iain and I had a plan: that when we eventually moved to Wales (it wasn’t looking iminent) we would co-parent so I didn’t have to give up my work. However, things changed when Iain’s new job just wasn’t what it had cracked up to be so, together, we decided to move out of rented accommodation in South Yorkshire into my mum’s house in Derbyshire (which was sat empty waiting to sell since she died), Iain would be Fox’s main carer and I would throw myself into Both Feet.
I have to admit, this is quite new to me. I’ve worked in the industry for bugger all, struggling to pay my bills for many years so for me to be the breadwinner is completely alien. But the fact is, I couldn’t give up my work, I love it too much and Iain had reached a point where he was ready for change. This meant slashing our incomings by more than half but when it’s happiness vs money, there was no question for us, so long as we had enough coming in to pay the bills and keep us bobbing along, we’d be ok.
So for the last few months Bump and I have been traveling a lot: to and from Wigan to teach at ALRA twice a week and then running back to back courses in Manchester which has meant staying away from home for 6-12 days at a time and returning for a day or two before leaving again. I Facetime Fox and Iain every morning and whenever I can. Fox actually thinks I live inside the phone. If I’m away teaching I still have to run the company so in the evenings I make myself dinner (I have Gestational Diabetes again so I have to do serious food planning, no takeaways or grab n go meals!) and then I tend to work until 10-11pm doing the more urgent admin. I try and do enough admin at night so when I have some days at home I don’t have to be locked away in a room missing even more. But it often doesn’t work out that way because we live in a world now where people expect you to respond immediately and if you don’t you lose them.
Iain and I, however, try to implement strict boundaries when I’m home: we all eat together, no phones at the table. I block in the diary days off so I can have guilt free time with Foxlet and Iain (usually spent unboxing/decorating the house!!). I leave my phone downstairs at night. I don’t do any work after our evening meal (usually around 7.30pm) because otherwise I can’t sleep (though sometimes I stupidly break this rule and then pay the consequences). I never have the sound or vibrate on my phone so when I’m with Fox I actually get to be with him. I can’t train actors to be in the moment if I’m not willing to do it myself, can I?
I’m away teaching in Manchester (and London) every other week until the week before I’m due to be induced. Don’t think it’s just about money - it really, really isn’t. I love what I do. Immensely. I must do. I’m working with some stunning actors who are either only just starting their journey with me or have been with me for a while and I don’t want to leave them or lose them. Which means I’m building in as many courses as humanly possible so we can squeeze in as much as we can together before I head off to have this baby I’ve been busy growing.
Every day Fox learns a new word. Every day Fox get’s more steady on his feet. Every day Fox learns a new trick or a new expression or a new animal noise. Everyday he becomes more sure of his place in the world. And every day I ask Iain when did he start doing that?
Yep, I can honestly say I feel like a part time mum.
Even though it’s hard, I am deliriously lucky to have Iain support me every step of the way, without him none of this would be possible. He never makes me feel guilty, even though I’m constantly abandoning him. And all he asks for in return is the odd day when I’m home to go and play a bit of golf. Even on the days I’ve promised no work and end up working he doesn’t give me a hard time. His patience and generosity as a husband and a father is something I never knew existed.
At the beginning of July it will all change as another baby Morgan makes an appearance. I can’t comprehend how that will work yet, but no doubt we will find a way, ay? Coz that’s what we do.
I wonder how other mums in the arts manage this juggling act.
I hope I can find (and keeping refining) the balance so Fox and new baby Morgs don’t grow up always feeling second best. I hope that they will grow up understanding that I love them so deeply and in order for me to be the best mum I can be I need to do the work that makes me happy too.
We have many different actors come through our (Both Feet's) doors. Some who have been in the business for years, some who have just finished drama school and are wanting to continue their training, some who are gaining experience before applying to drama school, some who have been trying to live a life without acting/theatre and can no longer suppress the burning fire inside of them and have decided sod it, life is too short. Nicki Davy falls into the latter category (you can read her previous blog here).
Nicki contacted me in July 2018 asking if she would be eligible to train with us. My question was... do you fit into our criteria of professional actor or seriously working towards an acting career? She said she thought so but she was terrified and could she try it, just to see. At this point, I have to listen to my gut - our class sizes are small and so I need to make sure that each person in our space is a good fit which means not everyone is invited to train with us. I trusted my gut told her to get signed up.
By the time she had completed the initial 2 day Intro to Meisner in August she had quit her full time job and signed up to the next part of the training. By the time she had finished The Core 6 day course in September she had booked a hair appointment to help with her "castability", booked headshots, gotten her CV together and started to look for opportunities. She has attended every class we've ran since then including intensives and weekly classes, she's also completed a month of Scene Study with the lubbly Daniel Bradford over at Play with Fire, Manchester, gotten Christmas acting work, gone to several auditions, and been cast in several roles and done a couple of ADP Scripts Aloud nights (and probably much more!). Some "actors" don't to that amount in 2 years let alone a few months. She is a sponge when it comes to learning/honing her craft and it's awesome.
I've spoken with Nicki a lot throughout and about her journey so far, in particular the plight with Spotlight. So I asked (seen as she's so wonderful at writing!) if she'd do a blog about it. Perhaps you've been/are in the same boat? Perhaps you've got a solution/an idea? Perhaps you'd like to take a punt on her? Perhaps you are Spotlight and would like to change your mind? We'd love to hear from you.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Give a determined, hardworking, talented lady a break, eh?
When I quit my full-time job to pursue a career in acting, I knew that it would be hard in lots of different ways. After all, even if an actor is lucky enough to get to auditions, there may just be someone more suitable, more qualified or better prepared that you are up against on that day. This is the business and I’ve learnt pretty quickly that a rejection for a role is not as simple as a rejection; it’s just part of the game. What would be the point in wasting energy fretting about it?
Having said that, what I wasn’t prepared for was rejection before I’ve even got started. Rejection before I even get into the room. A Whole New World of rejection, if you’ll allow me a spurious Disney reference.
As anyone in a similar position will know, this type of rejection is not a lot of fun.
Over the last 4 months, I have applied twice for a Spotlight account and received the same ‘Unsuccessful Application’ email both times.
Quite frankly, I don’t blame them at all for turning me down the first-time round; I would have laughed in my own face had I been sent my own application. But since then I have trained non-stop, been to auditions, secured roles across different types of media, worked for Equity minimum rates on 2 jobs. So, when my second application was turned down with the same template email that I got the first time round, it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
On the basis that I have very little to lose, I rang them to plead my case.
During the conversation with the poor woman who was unlucky enough to pick up my call (she still didn’t accept my application, just FYI) I was told 3 things that really stuck in my throat:
1.‘If you were under 25 or you had been to drama school, we would accept you without any experience’
It’s hard to know what to say to this. As I’m nearly 10 years past this arbitrary cut-off point, there’s very little I can do to change the year that I was born. It turns out that the fact I didn’t have the insight to start my career 15 years ago is an instant mark against my name. Talk about kicking me when I’m down.
2.‘We can see that you are working, but we can’t accept any of your credits’
For me (ie. middle-aged, non-drama school alumni) it turns out that to be accepted onto Spotlight, I need to have 4 professional credits in ‘named, speaking roles in full-length theatre, film or television’. As such, the paid promenade work I did before Christmas doesn’t count; neither does the web series that is an ongoing project over the next year; nor does the full-length but unpaid play that I’ve been cast in for later this year. Apparently, not all work is created equal, and the irony of this eligibility criteria hasn’t escaped me: I can’t get access to ‘worthy’ castings without already having had access to ‘worthy’ castings and secured ‘worthy’ jobs – probably via Spotlight – which I can’t get access to because I haven’t had any ‘worthy’ castings… Crikey. Ultimately, if I was being cast in ‘professional, full-length theatre, film or television’ productions then I wouldn’t be tearing my hair out to get access to castings, no…?
3.‘Sorry, but we do have to keep a certain level of eligibility criteria. Everyone is in the same boat’
I was already on the edge by this point; this just pushed me over it.
Because by virtue of the conversation I had just had, quite clearly not everyone is in the same boat.
Did I go to drama school? No, so I’m not in the same boat as everyone who did.
Am I under 25? No, so I’m not in the same boat as anyone who is.
Am I working? Yes, absolutely. And I’m getting castings off my own back, without an agent.
Oh, you mean am I working in the things that Spotlight deems worthy? Erm… no. Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong: in no way am I suggesting that I am somehow more worthy of getting auditions than any other actor. On the contrary, I know and work with dozens of wonderful actors who are so deserving of all their success. I know that everyone out there has worked ridiculously hard to get to where they are, whatever their path has been, and I would never begrudge another actor for getting a job over me.
But the frustrating thing is that me and all the other people ‘in my boat’ (ie. the boat full of over 25s who haven’t been to drama school and are working but not working in the ‘right things’) are starting at a disadvantage. Despite working hard, securing paid work, throwing myself at this industry with everything I’ve got, I’m still not deemed ‘eligible’ to pay for the same service and be put up for the same castings as other actors.
So, what to do? Clearly everyone in my ‘boat’ just needs to continue doing what we can, making connections where we can, hoping that someone somewhere will give us a punt and lets us into an audition room when they can. Because I’d like to think that once through the door I can prove that I’m worthy of doing this, that I am wholly committed, that I will be a positive energy in a rehearsal room. Let’s just hope someone takes that punt one day, eh?
In the meantime, at least I’ve saved myself 154 quid of my hard-earned money in membership fees. Beers are on me.
About 8 months ago we decided to start a Both Feet blog, it's been a while in the making but it's finally here. Over the coming months we’ll have top tips, musings and discussions coming from us (me, Adam and Laura) and casting directors, theatre and film directors, agents, writers, photographers, actors and whoever else we can pull in. If you're in the industry or figuring out if there is a place for you, we'd also love to hear from you. If you have a blog relevant to our industry burning inside you, we'd love to read it, and if it feels right, we'll get it up. Perhaps it's a struggle you've faced or something positive that's happened that you want to share or a question you'd like to pose. If you’d like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
One thing at the forefront of our classes is “cutting through the bullsh*t”. In class we tend to be referring to acting and this concept of “performing” and the forcing of emotions. Actors trying to be interesting. But it resonates through everything for me. I really struggle being in places where everyone is putting on a show or working a room (you know what I’m talking about). I’d rather just cut through that bullsh*t and have a real and honest conversation with someone. Anyone who’s ever been to an “event” with me knows what I’m like. My mum used to say “but you’re an actor Stephanie, you should be better at this” when referring to my attempts at lying or my struggling in bizarre fake situations, so I know I’ve always been the same. I believe if we could just be honest with each other we’d have more energy, more time, people’s mental health would be better and we’d generally just be happier human beans.
SO the aim is to keep these blogs honest. Which may work against us, because people can tend to not like honesty, I don’t know (oop a song just started in my head, see below). We’ll see how we go. Hopefully some interesting conversations will start up. That would be ace.