Fraser Ayres (26), actor
How did you get into the job? At the age of seven I told my mother I wanted to be an actor and by 12 I was fulfilling my dream of acting professionally. I joined the Leicester Haymarket Theatre and was acting in their youth core.
Job history: In 2003 I did a run of a play called The People Next Door. I played a half-Pakistani, half-English character called Nigel Brunswick. I won a Herald Angel Award for Best Actor and was also nominated for Best Actor by The Stage. The following year, this helped me to get a part in BBC2 drama The Smoking Room, playing Clint. That year I was also in a film called Bella and the Boys about teenagers in care, with Billie Piper. In 2005 I was in the play Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley. In 2006 I acted with Tamsin Outhwaite in an ITV1 drama serial called Vital Signs. I also filmed a BBC3 drama called Wide Sargasso Sea, which follows the life of Mr Rochester's mad Caribbean first wife, from Jane Eyre. It's set in Jamaica and it was absolutely awesome filming out there.
Best/worst bits: I love the fact that I'm self-employed and I can choose my own work. Acting is also a wonderful creative outlet and, with the right work, you can earn great cash. The flipside to this is waiting by the phone and being constantly broke when there's no work. You have to be very self-assured at interviews too, as you can get a split-second 'Yes' or 'No' answer. You can't afford to let the rejections from castings get you down.
Advice for wannabees: Try not to get disheartened by the audition and casting process. I always try to remember in this business it's not the best, prettiest, or most talented who reap the rewards but the ones who are prepared to persevere. To keep yourself going it's advisable to have another sideline. For example I'm a qualified Reiki master. I offer a range of acting, meditation and Reiki courses. It's best to keep going and to keep yourself busy.
CV essentials: You'll need practical experience in the industry - you can start simply by attending amateur dramatics groups. It's also important to search out an agent as you really need representatives in this industry. Once you have an agent and some practical drama experience you can then get signed to drama agencies, such as my agency, ICM.
Many actors learn the ropes at drama school, which will help you to make contacts and build up your acting confidence, but it can be costly. There are other routes in, such as the National Youth Theatre. It's also important to get an agent; they should get you to castings, auditions and interviews with producers. Appearing on the pages of Spotlight could also aid your career.
You should also belong to an acting body such as Equity. This can be quite tricky when you're starting out, and many young actors find themselves in a catch 22 situation, where they don't have enough experience to join Equity, and they can't get work without being a member.
Each acting experience is different and will vary from job to job. On an average day working at a theatre, you may have rehearsals from 10am until 6pm with a one and half hour break before the show starts. Some days there will be a matinee performance too, so it's no picnic in terms of working hours. TV and film sets can be even tougher. Fraser says he's normally picked up at 6.30am for an hour's rehearsal before filming begins at 7.30am, finishing around 7.30pm in the evening. If you're filming on location or away from home you should be put up in a hotel while you're filming, so expect some periods of time away from your friends and family. The perk to all this, of course, is getting to play some juicy roles that you can really get your teeth into.
It's important to have lots of strings to your bow. "I've learned voice projection, clarity in diction, circus skills, martial arts and juggling," says Fraser. "I've had to work out the niche skills that would suit me. I have also learned skills such as climbing ropes, camera presence, voices and accents for the theatre."
In terms of gaining experience, acting can be the hardest job on the planet. You can't be too choosy at the beginning and may have to settle for random roles in local theatre groups or student films. Studying drama at college or university will help you to build up a repertoire of parts, learn how to study characters and work out what you're best suited to.
It's possible to get on the set and have a runner role, making the tea and generally helping out. Slowly you'll learn what's involved on set and maybe be given lines and you can build from there.
Fraser says he's extremely inquisitive in terms of investigating job roles: "I study for my roles, read lots of books and work on my voice training."
Personality/Who it would suit
Some of the greatest actors are recluses, others are exhibitionists, so there's no set 'type'. You'll need to be adaptable and open to change, able to take direction and mix with new people all the time. If you can cope with living and reacting in the moment, acting will suit you perfectly.
There is very little security in acting. One minute you may have no auditions and the next you could land a top role and be as rich as a lord. Pay also varies a lot, depending on the role, company or theatre. Theatre parts get a minimum of £350 per week. Film or TV can work out a lot better, but again, a lot will depend on what it is and the contract you're working under.
When you're not working it can be hard if you haven't made plans to support yourself in advance, which is where Fraser's advice about a back-up job comes in.
"Acting is not a free lunch and there are no finite guarantees but if you work hard you should be rewarded," says Fraser.
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Pros and cons
by Mariam Manneh