I think we should break up, it feels like we already have. I was warned about you, but I couldn’t help myself. You made me feel special; I was more than just another ‘regional creative’, I was from the North West, but long-distance isn’t working. I’m the only one putting in any effort; I’ve had to come to you for the meetings and the opportunities, and I’ve had to come to remind you that this is meant to be a relationship. But you haven’t been to see me. Maybe because you can’t understand what I’m trying to say and you don’t want to pay for that train ticket, and it’s easy for you to forget I exist.
You feel like you have to hustle constantly. And then there’s that guilt when you don’t hustle.
I know that everyone is struggling right now, I can see that you’re definitely struggling. Just like those of us who hang pictures on walls, and host events, and display artefacts. We’re all freelancers and we’re all a bit fucked. You said we’re in the same boat, but it’s so quiet in my boat. In fact, it feels like I’m in a different boat all together. A smaller boat that needs a deep clean and a paint job. Maybe we’re still in the same ocean?
When you’ve got money…you can almost buy your way into the industry.
Some of those people that dance around on your stages, and star in your movies and host your game shows, they grew up in my area. They’re my mates. They grew up watching pantomimes and puppet shows. We went to the youth theatre together. But it feels like as soon as they even thought about you, you took them from me. I know that part of them wanted to leave, and I don’t blame them. You offered them a lot more than this region could, but I wish they’d had opportunities closer to home.
They can’t even get an [actual] Scouser to play a Scouser on telly, so how am I possibly going to work?
Some of my other mates have been hurt by you too. Every now and then you take a chance on someone ‘authentic’, someone who could never have afforded to make a career out of their talent. You pick them up and they’re brilliant. Everyone is amazed and everyone loves them. But you take what you can from them without giving anything back. You don’t teach them how the industry works, you don’t nurture them. You just put them right back where you found them until the next poverty porn project comes along.
Listen to Same Ocean spoken by Jake Hagan and Faye McCutcheon:
The industry paints a picture of ‘Look at all these people that want it…you’ve got to want it more.’
I know you tell some wonderful stories, and I’m glad they’re being told, but why do they always have to be told so far away and why are you always the default? Why can’t you realise that the work I create is just as relevant for you as it is for the people from around here? Don’t get me wrong, I want your stories to be told here too, and sometimes when those storytellers come to visit me, I’m jealous and yearn for them to stay a little longer.
They had a budget and they just didn’t pay us because we ‘needed it on our CV.’
I want you to recognise what I’m worth. I know money is tight, but I was struggling long before all this happened. And I don’t mean to be so negative, but how else can I get you to listen? I can’t afford to be in the right place at the right time. I can’t afford to buy your attention, because I can’t afford to work for free. I know you don’t like it when I scream and shout, and I hate doing it because it just reinforces some stereotype you have about people like me. You think we’re all the same, but we’re not. We don’t want to be lumped into a box, but that’s where you’ve always put us, and so we need to scream and shout together, because that way we might actually get heard.
As soon as you get given an acting job, it’s almost like you owe your life to that [job].
The current situation hasn’t helped our relationship at all, although I know you think it has, and I believed it too for a while. I could visit you without spending £80 on a train ticket, you unlocked doors to virtual rooms I’ve never been allowed in, and let me speak to friends you’ve never introduced me to before. For a moment, it felt like I had a foot in the door, I felt like we were finally getting closer, even though it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for you to notice me. In reality, my laptop is eight years old, the camera is fuzzy, the microphone is temperamental, and I don’t have fast Wi-Fi. I still live at home because I can’t afford to move out, hence the screaming children in the background. So, you still can’t see me or hear me.
Unless you’re the best possible version of who you can be, the narrative is: that’s why you’re not working.
Anyway, I don’t want to do everything online; voice workshops in my bathroom, or dance classes in my bedroom. I don’t want you to see that my house isn’t as big as yours, or that my bookcase is empty. What I really want is to escape from all that; and to escape I need somewhere to go that’s within reach.
There’s this horrible culture of ‘You’re so lucky to be here, why on earth would we pay you?’
You’ve told me to use this time to rest, but I can’t rest. How could I when there are bills to pay? I can’t rest when you’ve made me feel like I might finally have a shot, and that if I don’t make the most of these virtual opportunities then I might never get the chance again. I can’t rest because in the back of my mind I know that once things open up again for you, they will close up again for me, and I’ll have to make my return journey to the back of the queue.
Nick Stephens is a writer, actor and 2020 graduate from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. He is currently based in Manchester.
The featured quotes are from four working class creatives who have chosen to remain anonymous and the audio recording is by Jake Hagan and Faye McCutcheon.
This feature is supported by Arts Council England as part of Corridor8’s 2019/20 critical writing programme.