Living with a Bird on the Wire: On Actors and the Arts

First stage   A few of you might know my partner, ‘Cadence’, works in, as it’s currently called in Australia, the ‘Creative Industries’. Cadence has been an actor for over forty years. He has also been involved with the union that protects the conditions and pay rates of people in his industry. At the same time he has raised a family, paid his taxes and given considerable support to young and emerging actors.

Until I met Cadence I, like a lot of people, imagined acting meant opening nights and accolades. I’m embarrassed to think I once believed that, but it’s the image the media foists on us in order to sell newspapers and magazines. Having lived with Cadence for just over five years I know acting, like any profession, involves rigorous training, finding work, learning more about the job while working, and ongoing professional development. Add to that long hours rehearsing and performing, plus the creative (and emotional) challenges demanded during every performance, and there is, believe me, nothing at all glamorous about being an actor. Being the partner of an actor isn’t all that glamorous either. I’ve been to a couple of local opening nights; it involves standing in noisy theatre foyers balancing canapés, a glass of champagne and trying to remember people’s names. I have to add, however, I’m a bit of an introvert, so any large gathering tends to leave me nervous and uncertain.

But back to Cadence and the Creative Industry he loves. I’m going to share three things about him that is a feature of not only his life, but the life of all the actors, musicians, playwrights and back stage crew I’ve met through Cadence :

  • He is often asked to work for nothing.
  • When he is paid, it’s usually at the same rate as other members of the cast who have recently graduated; actors are generally not remunerated according to their length of service.
  • Since I’ve known him, there have been months where he hasn’t worked.

I’ve had a forty-plus year career as an educator. In that time:

  • I have never been asked to work for nothing.
  • As my experience grew so did my wage. I was rewarded for my long service and broad experience, as is right and just.
  • I’ve been out of work for two reasons; to have my babies (and my job was waiting for me if I wanted to return) and because I decided to leave teaching (but returned later).

Mask   Have you ever been asked to work for nothing? If you’re of a ‘certain age’ is your experience and length of service properly remunerated? Does your job end after several weeks with no prospects of further employment, other than competing with dozens of other (equally talented) people for the next gig? If your job is like this, how do you cope? If your job is nothing like this, how would you cope under these conditions?

Cadence and most of his friends are not famous, in demand, jet setting practitioners of their art. They are hardworking, talented, creative, generous men and women who love what they do, but who sometimes pay a high personal price for their dedication. The link below will explain what I mean and why I wrote this post:

Without going into any details, Cadence has, in the past, experienced depression and anxiety related to his career. So, you may ask, why does he keep doing it? The only answer I can give is, ‘Asking him to stop acting is like asking him to stop breathing.’ When Cadence is at his best on stage I am reminded of a dolphin in the water; he is in his natural element. I sometimes wonder about the anxiety and depression he would have experienced if he hadn’t been an actor. That kind of self-denial is something I know a lot about.

Living with an actor isn’t easy. It’s spending long nights alone; it’s facing financial uncertainty; it’s watching him cope with first-night nerves and then, when the run is over, watching as he farewells the role, the cast and the crew and faces another period of unemployment. It’s also going to the theatre to watch friends perform and long, intense conversations about the theatre, art and creativity. It’s him encouraging my creativity, understanding the bad days because he’s been there, and celebrating the good days, when the words flow, because he’s been there too. And I have to admit, it’s cool when he says ‘I love you,’ in either a French, Italian, American or Irish accent.

In 2015, our Federal government savagely cut arts funding and our State Government is planning similar cuts. What kind of nation will Australia be without the arts? What will inspire, delight and annoy us? Who will hold up a mirror to our culture? Who will present us to the world? If we lose the arts, who will tell us who we are, what we’re doing wrong and what we’re getting right?

It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing. –Steve Jobs, when introducing the iPad 2 in 2011

When was the last time an actor, a painting, a novel, a poem or a piece of music made your heart sing? Did you ever wonder how much the actor, musician, artist or writer was paid for the hours of training and work it took to create that one piece of art? Did you think about where their next job was coming from? Have you ever considered the emotional cost to the artist of practising their art?


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