By Aidan MacColl
I'm a year out of drama school and my framed degree in my parents living room isn't showing much for itself at the moment.
I'm currently out of acting work, working in my local pub and living back at home with my parents. Picture the scene; it's a Sunday evening, I'm feeling a little low after seeing friends successful Instagram posts working around the world as various different types of performers. I'm working a closing shift in the pub. I pour the customer their usual order and they say to me, "Aidan, you're still young, why don't give you up the acting and get a normal job and make yourself happy. You're never gonna be Tom Cruise". It couldn't have been timed more tragically perfect. And in that moment a million thoughts ran through my head; fame isn't success, success isn't fame, I've gone to drama school and I have worked, I don't want to be Tom Cruise (I'd much rather be Meryl Strep). Somehow calmly and not through tears I told the man, actually you're not the first person to tell me that and I've worked too hard to get here.
Here's the thing fellow unemployed drama school graduates. We have achieved something. Whether it feels like it or not. We have chosen to follow a career that makes us happy, we are actually chasing our dreams and for that we are so lucky. There's the slog. The slog we all face at different points in our careers. Even our fellow employed performer friends have faced it and will face it again.
We are not failures.
Let's remember we are still human and we're doing the best we can. I'm 22, and I've only just realised that I am still allowed to celebrate that. It's important to have things that keep us happy whilst we are not working. I actually just travelled to America to work at a children's summer camp for a month and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I had people say to me, "but is your agent happy?"
"Will this not put you at a disadvantage?".
Why wasn't one of the first questions people asked, "will this make you happy?"
It was a far more difficult decision than it should have been to go and do the job in the States. I felt as if I went I was admitting defeat of I'm not doing anything... but here's the beautiful thing... I wasn't doing anything! This was the time, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and grab the opportunity of my current break in employment and go. I knew that if I were ever in work again, my problems wouldn't all be fixed and I think back to this opportunity and wish I had went. I felt judged and as if this wasn't something I should be doing, I was no longer a student. (This was my 2nd time going to work at the summer camp, I'd done it in a summer break at drama school). Even though I was asked silly questions about the choice by friends and colleagues in this industry, it was still a pressure I then began putting on myself (a theme I think that's reoccurring). I was also scared of what if I miss an audition? And I had to tell myself that's not a healthy way to live my life. When people take a month's break from any other job it wouldn't be questioned. So why should my month's break be debated?
I can honestly say I had the time of my life. I met old friends and hung out with them. I met new friends and built such a special bond. People who have nothing to do with our industry and didn't care whether I had mostly recently been on the west end or performed in a care home tour. (Both of which are still employment). I helped with some things to do with drama and their summer musical, I worked in the arts and crafts shop, I worked in their office and ran evening program (different games of big glorified tag, dodgeball, other sports, organising movie nights and discos and more). I moved away from things to do with my degree and my art form (yet still using all the skill sets I've been trained to do - guess what actors are like really employable people in other areas) and I still felt fulfilled, happy and like I'd achieved a lot.
I returned from the States, a little blue of course because reality is so very different, but mostly ready and re focused and with a much clearer head than I'd had in a very long time. I honestly think it may have saved me from a very dark place in my head I was starting to get to before I went.
I'm lucky enough to have people around me who encouraged me and understood it's what I needed to do at that moment. But even if that's not the case for you, I urge you to put yourself, your happiness and wellbeing first. So I suppose what I'm trying to say is whatever your thing away from performing is, do it and do it with bells on. Do not apologise for not performing. We should never be ashamed to not be acting and we should never feel bad to have a B job or other opportunities that make us happy. Which is a reminder, let's check in with fellow actor and performer friends as humans first. If someone has something they want to share, they're more than likely going to share. More "how are you?" And less "how are auditions?"
However, actor friends, I feel there's a certain pressure we put on ourselves when someone asks "how are you?" Or the dreaded question "what have you been up to?" (My personal least favourite). We want to answer in a way that's to do with our acting stuff. I've recently been trying to fight that with real honest answers. A friend of mine phoned me recently and asked, "how are things? What have you been up to?" My answer went a long the lines of, "a lot of Netflix, I finished two series, I went to the gym more than once this week - so that's kind of good, and I'm starting to think I might nap too much".
We are more than our careers, we are people. We can have other interests and have many of them and we are allowed to have a bad day, week or month. So why don't we put these things to the forefront of our mind when we have these conversations? When I think about my parents over the years socialising with their friends, or working in the pub and watching straight men with other straight men (it's fascinating), when they're asked "how are you?" They don't immediately reply with what they're doing at work or the current stage of their career. They actually talk about how they are, even if that's a simple "aye, awryt you?" (Translated for non Scots: yeah, fine you?). And correct me if I'm wrong but the person doing the asking doesn't necessarily want to know how successful they are in their line of work at that moment. So why do we put that pressure on our ourselves?
Success can be measured in many ways and not just by the amount of performance opportunities and jobs you've had since graduating. We can be successful by building a supportive community for others and ourselves (shout out to 98% podcast). We can be really good at and enjoy our B job. (Which don't get me wrong I do, I just had a bad day). We can venture in to new things like writing a blog (why not?!) or discovering other creative outlets. There's so many things we can do to be successful as humans and not just as performers.
It's difficult but the less we compare ourselves to others and the more we focus on ourselves and helping others we can feel happier and successful in the strange life and career we have chosen. And when someone tells you you're never gonna be Tom Cruise we can stand with pride and know it's about so much more than that. That's what I'm telling myself.
Aidan is a dog lover and actor from Glasgow. When he is not performing you can find him teaching, working in his local pub and attempting to write (yay, he did it!). Aidan is a big fan of The 98% podcast and tells almost every actor he meets about it. Follow Aidan on Twitter @aidanmaccoll96 for some professional things but mostly just thoughts about Ru Paul's Drag Race and the importance of Mamma Mia.