Acting and why you shouldn't do it

Acting. Don't do it!

 

Seriously, if there's anything else in the world you think you might be able to do instead, do THAT. An acting career is, without a shadow of a doubt, a ridiculously hard nut to crack. I'm still working on it.

 

Ever since I trod the boards at university as Charity in the psychedelic musical "Sweet Charity" I've had the acting bug. The theatre bug led to me to trying my hand at being an extra while I was at uni and THAT was when I fell in love with film and tv sets

I was earning cash and immersed in a world of waiting around, being herded like cattle, kept for hours longer than you were promised and always being a little bit hungry and I LOVED it. I loved watching those untouchable beings, The Actors, transforming in front of the camera.

 

And, having watched them for a bit, I knew that's what I wanted.

 

So I became a primary school teacher.

 

I taught for several years until I had my kids. Eventually they all piled off to school and suddenly, suddenly I was going back to work. And there it was. The Chance. That mad dream I had, of one day being able to transform in front of a camera, had a window of opportunity. Of course, it was never going to happen, I could see that. I had no money or time to go to drama school. But although It Was Never Going To Happen I decided I'd find a way.

 

So I went back to being an extra. I just got myself back on set. I did regular stints for Casualty, Dr Who and Torchwood. Skins, Mistresses and Gavin & Stacey. I made a name for myself being a reliable, well-behaved, professional extra and I got lots of work watching actors doing what I wanted to do. Then one day I was offered one line of dialogue - could I handle it? "Yes", I said. I managed to look the wrong way for camera right (which is, in fact, left) but I styled through it. I delivered the line, I took directon and I didn't overstep professional boundaries. I got offered more one-liners.

 

Suddenly I had enough paid dialogue to qualify for the Holy Grail - Spotlight membership. I got it. But I knew I needed an agent. That was my next goal.  My Spotlight "headshot" had been taken by my hubby (copying the then-popular Actor In Front Of Brick Wall style) and whilst perfectly serviceable it wasn't really screaming top-notch talent. And I had no showreel, nothing to prove I could act on screen. Until those two issues were sorted there was no point approaching an agent worth their salt.

 

I registered with Star Now, Casting Call Pro and Talent Circle and scoured them for suitable castings. I got myself a gig as The Mum for a series of promo idents for Ideal World and with the money from that (ALL of it!) I had enough to go to John Clark, who was a recognised name in actor headshots. Bingo. Another milestone to cross off the list. Then I discovered collaborative short films. I applied for lead roles, got a few and cut them down to a no-frills showreel. Cross that off the list, too.

 

Approaching agents needs to be strategic, so I ogled websites and if I saw another actress on their books that looked like me, I passed. I also aimed for agents who looked like they meant business, had vision. I found a handful, emailed them my headshot, Spotlight link and showreel and pretty quickly got a call for an audition with Simon & How. Now I didn't have anything to perform! I found whysanity who have a massive store of searchable SCREEN monologues, decided to go for a short but searingly poignant monologue from The French Lieutenant's Woman, turned up, did the piece to camera and got the gig. I've been with Sam ever since.

 

My point?

 

My point is that in life there will be all sorts of reasons why people tell you "It's not possible". There MAY be a reason, but it's often their reason. Or the system's reason. I was told categorically that people don't cross over from being an extra to being an actor. Actually, now I think it's far more common. Boundaries are being broken down, people are creating their own opportunities, re-writing the rule book. In fact, they're throwing the rule book away.

 

(I was also advised not to make this film. So I did. I'll be blogging about that soon)

 

So yes, if you truly can't do anything else as a career then acting is the best pain you can inflict on yourself! But you'll need to get out there and make it happen.

Comments: 8 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    OBI JAMES (Tuesday, 20 January 2015 22:41)

    I love how your dedication, drive and that humility which I observed when I met you, is nicely captured on your first blog. Excellent and inspiring blog! I look forward to reading more and can't wait to watch Three Days.

  • #2

    vanessabailey (Tuesday, 20 January 2015 22:56)

    Thankyou Obi! That's really kind of you. We're so excited about Three Days, we have some extra shooting days coming up which I'll be blogging about, too! Can't wait to get it into post and then up onto the big screen :)

  • #3

    Julie Binysh (Wednesday, 21 January 2015 09:34)

    Hi Vanessa, just read the blog for the first time and it really hit home. (My local pals and I were extras in your scene in the bar, by the way). I too returned to acting after the kids had grown up, taking a similar path to you, doing tons of short films, unpaid stuff to build a showreel. I now have an agent, Equity card etc. I would encourage anyone to follow their dream, at any age. Look forward to seeing the film.

  • #4

    vanessabailey (Wednesday, 21 January 2015 10:36)

    Julie - knew I recognised your name! Thankyou so much for reading this and your comments, I think it's great that women like us are able to re-write the rule book a bit and take back control. Actually, we'll be shooting some extra scenes again soon in the bar (with a director called Chris Jones, the one who wrote The Guerilla Filmmakers' Handbook) and inviting our extras back - so I do hope you'll be free to come back and work with us again for that, maybe we'll have chance for a quick natter! Either way, I'll see you at the premiere, hopefully! :)

  • #5

    Annabel Cleare (Thursday, 22 January 2015 11:47)

    Brilliant. Great advice (at the beginning and the end!) and a really inspiring, well written blog - more please?!

  • #6

    vanessabailey (Thursday, 22 January 2015 16:21)

    Ah thankyou Annabel! You can count on more. I'm just squeezing in a massive re-write of a short film, too - that will be a whole blog series in itself!

  • #7

    Sean A M Brennan (Tuesday, 27 January 2015 19:17)

    Hi Venessa
    Love the blog.Being rather a late starter this part of your blog is really the way im feeling towards being a extra.Almost drug like wanting more,being on set really felt across between going on a first date and going to the dentist.
    Afterwards feeling like I had just passed my driving test.I did find being with a small group of cast and crew more personal.Cranleigh school was a eye opener I never knew it existed rven living in Surrey all these years. Anyway love your blog x

  • #8

    vanessabailey (Thursday, 29 January 2015 12:30)

    Hi Sean! I love your first date and dentist analogy! SO accurate - and I can completely relate to the addiction part of it, too. Yes, Cranleigh School was beautiful...
    Thanks for your kind words, I hope the blogs continue to be interesting! :)