In Spain, as everywhere, working in your trade—and not any other area—is not easy for everyone. Spain is a country where all doctors work as doctors, all dentists work as dentists, all podiatrists work as podiatrists. Only one out of ten aeronautical engineers, for instance, is not employed in aeronautical engineering: figures to bear in mind if you are considering choosing a major, or pushing your child towards one.
However, it is not that simple. Only one of every two actors works as an actor. Research conducted by AISGE (Performing Artists Management Company) on actors and dancers’ living conditions in Spain revealed that 54% of actors did not manage to work one day in their trade between 2014 and 2016. That is, only forty-six actors and actresses out of a hundred could find work during three years– a situation that has forced half of the professionals to juggle acting with other professional activities, waitressing, sales and telemarketing being the most popular ones. According to the study, only a fifth of the sample could find an acting-related job, normally in teaching speech or in production duties.
What seems most significant is that out of that 46% that managed to work in their profession, 29% received less than 600 € yearly. In other words, thirteen out of every hundred actors earned a monthly average of 50€ in the last three years. 50€ per month. Out of the remaining eighty-seven actors, only eleven obtained an average of 3000€ per year (250€ per month). To sum it up, almost a third of the acting professionals live under the poverty threshold and almost two thirds move between meager and just decent earnings. Only 4.9% manage to earn more than 2500€ monthly.
“But, what does it mean to be an actor?” asks Sergio Pazos. That question is a direct blow to the liver of his interlocutor. “Who is an actor and who is not? For instance, I’m an autodidact but I work as an actor. Being an actor is a profession. If you haven’t worked as an actor since 2013, maybe you are not an actor.”
A BURSTING PROFESSION
I guess it was because of questions like this that I knew for certain that I needed to chat with Sergio: “In order to work as an actor in a stable manner you have to be good. It’s no use to be the cute boy who gets called once and you don’t see again because after three years he’s stopped working. And on top of being good, you have to be incredibly lucky basically because we’re so many actors out there. There are kids who decide they want to be actors and go to a school and get a diploma. But that guarantees nothing. Even the demand for admission in those schools lets you see we are too many. Just imagine how it’s like if you want to work in a production” Pazos says.
Sergio’s statement is a snapshot of a heartbreaking reality that explains—actually, confirms—why 54% of actors have not been able to work as such since 2014: demand for a job exceeds job supply. That’s all. Math does not lie. Even if you add the key factor of who might be unfair to consider actors to the equation to soften the unemployment rate.
It seems funny. When I called Carlos Martínez Carbonell, from Crémilo (Cultural Projects and Spectacle Distribution), the first thing he commented on this topic was: “What are we calling an actor?” The conversation went on in a very similar way to that with Pazos. A boy wanting to be an actor and appearing a couple of times in a television series does not mean he is a professional actor.
Carlos works on the other side: he is in charge of hiring shows for the companies. Like Sergio, he considers that the profession foundation lies on the theaters. And he exposes a fundamental problem that can help understand the situation depicted by the AISGE study: “Throughout the economic crisis, the programming has gotten polarized. In order to decrease risk and enhance results, we have supported either high-profile shows or local shows– leaving private theaters aside, which do dare to program other types of shows, even if they represent a minority. Politicians want to see full theaters, so they will hire famous or local people. In that way, developing loyalty for theaters is jeopardized. Everything in between famous and local disappears, gets erased” Carlos laments, as he asserts how difficult it is for companies to hire performances with the reputable theaters.
For Carlos, the way this situation is affecting actors’ opportunities is evident: “If in the National Theatre Network, where this polarization is challenged most often– even if not completely- there are around 5 000 theatre companies, each with a cast that requires weeks to rehearse, but 81% of these companies only manage to perform one night, who can live with this? If the larger venues program in this way, how do you produce a show that, if you’re very lucky, will only get fifteen performances? How many actors can afford this? If they are not working in television, how many projects do they need in order to survive? Same goes for producers: you are either a legendary badass producer, or you’ll suffer.”
THE PARTY IS OVER
Pilar Bardem said regarding the AISGE study that there are 364 nights a year in which there is no red carpet. The idea commonly held of actors and actresses involves party nights, photocalls and bohemian lifestyle, but we seldom consider their precarious labor situation or the amount of work behind that life.
Sergio expands on this idea: “Young people want what’s immediate: being famous and quick money. Working on your voice and your trade is not interesting for them. They think that if they land a television show all is done but daily shows, for instance, require eight hours a day of shooting. When the season is on, you have no life. It’s not all parties and social life.”
On the theatre programming polarization between high profile and local shows, Sergio comments that famous actors work really hard in order to make every assignment work “because maybe no one will call you tomorrow. It would be terrific if we could all forgo opportunities so that everyone could work, but a famous actor does not know for how long it will last. In a year, you could be working four days a month. But you still have to pay your taxes.”
Talking about possible solutions, Carlos tells me that Partido Popular’s administration designed this system named Programa Platea that essentially consists in supplementing the funding of public theaters. These theaters count with public funding with which it is possible to cover some of the costs.
Programa Platea makes up for the companies’ fees whenever they do not manage to do so with ticket sales. “The problem,” Carlos explains, “is that town halls, which support theaters that no longer have regular audiences, in order to reduce risk completely use Programa Platea to program more expensive shows. This promotes high profile pieces and thus increments the polarization.”
Crémilo works in distribution, production, funding and direction for scenic arts, musicals and cinema projects. According to Carlos, some middle-term solutions can come from this endowment. “But also from the professionalization of culture programming and departments, which are impoverished. It is necessary to support cultural publications. In the news, anything regarding the cultural panorama is mostly a closing anecdote. There is no real commitment to promote culture. We need to reduce the culture VAT. Costs are eating away everything,” he says.
The usual networks and tours are not happening anymore and that’s why the fees are being reduced. Sergio Pazos agrees with Carlos on the necessity of reducing costs: “When the VAT went up, the profit margin was reduced. In many cases, it went away completely. Most production nowadays can only employ four actors at most because otherwise, it’s impossible to face the costs.”
This Galician actor agrees that it is necessary to firmly commit to culture, but he qualifies: “We must commit to culture, yes, but with a certain quality. That is when audiences respond. It hurts to say this, but we need to filter what’s being programmed. There are amazing theatre companies like Kamikaze, Chirigóticas, Ron Lalá, Animalario, etc. Audiences are not dumb and these companies always find work. We have to create high-quality products. Many create their own company and work in it as actors, directors, producers and even playwrights. Maybe that’s another solution. You’re not getting called? Become the person who does the calling.”
Maybe the culmination to Sergio’s arguments might be the expression “misery loves company.” If most of the acting profession is screwed over, don’t wallow in self-pity and start changing things. It is possible–although I suspect that, considering how badly things are right now, believing you are not the only one in distress offers some consolation. Knowing that there are others out there going through the same as you is one of those experiences that warms your hands when it’s cold outside. And if not, you can just wait until the warm red carpet nights. Only once a year, that is.
This article was originally published on El Español. Reposted with permission. Read the original article in Spanish.
Translated by Aida Rocci
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.