Actors Stories

The highs, the lows: an intimate account of an actor

I’m a professional Theatre and Television Actor and Voice-Over Artist from the UK.

I won a scholarship to attend the well renowned Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London and graduated in 2010 fully believing that I was destined for fame and fortune within a matter of months. Whilst at Drama school there were discussions of me being seen for a major television series and before I’d actually graduated I had been contacted by Bill Kenwright to audition for a lead in his forthcoming musical. In my final graduation Showcase, The Stage newspaper said that I was “An Actor of note” and I was immediately asked for a meeting with a London Agent. Two weeks after graduation, Sheppherd Management contacted me to tell me I had an audition for the BBC’s ‘Not Going Out’. I must admit, even I was a little taken aback by how swimmingly things seemed to be going. Now, I didn’t get the BBC job or the Musical (both of which I was horrifically nervous in and Drama school had not prepared me for such ‘big’ auditions) but the point was, I was being seen. I was being called!

 

Two months after, I got my first Theatre job since graduating. What a dream THAT was… from start to finish. My audition was at The National Theatre, London with the Director Alex Sims who was also working on Warhorse. The play was a piece of new writing with just a cast of three and I was to be cast, as a reviewer kindly put it, as, “the neurotic posh bird”. I got the job. On the whole it was a very surreal experience with Members of Parliament coming to watch it (it was a political play) and can you even begin to imagine what it’s like to take on your very first Theatre job since graduating and then be approached by your absolute Acting idol, (in my case Sir Ian McKellen) in after show drinks and be told, face to face, that your “acting is superb” and that “you’re highly watchable”? I mean…. can you imagine?

 

A week after the play finished I was offered a short sketch scene on The Breakfast Show for the BBC. I didn’t even have to audition. It was aired on Christmas Day.
Could you really blame me for thinking that I’d made it? That I was going to be a star? Everything was going from strength to strength! Everything seemed in my favour and I was only a few months out of training.

 

So let’s fast forward a little. I’m working in Theatre on and off, and I love it. I wish I was doing more and that I was getting paid more money, but I want to act so much, all the time, it hurts. I take any job I can find in between acting gigs, just to keep a roof over my head. I start to not get most castings I go for and I really struggle with the rejection and start to believe there must be something wrong with me. I’m too ugly. Too weird looking. (I’ve been told by three different agents that with the way I look, they would struggle to get me into a casting… how would you interpret that?) I’m not a good enough Actress etc etc. Three years after leaving Drama school and I suddenly realise…. “Christ. This is going to be hard. Really hard”. You see, I had always just relied on the fact that someone would see my talent and say “Wow! Where has Fanni been all this time? Get her in for the lead role!” You may say I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one.. and yes, I did just quote John Lennon. But it’s true, I’m not the only one. I see plenty of Actors waiting to be plucked from obscurity and instead of taking real, valuable and concise action, they wait it out and make excuses for why they haven’t landed a role yet. I was one of those people. I rode the waves whilst they were high and when when there were no waves, I drowned. Drowned in a sea of other “aspiring Actors”. God, I despise that phrase. I’d always landed on my feet in the past and was used to being praised, admired for my Acting ability and I took pride in the fact that nearly every Director I’d ever worked with said how easy I’d made their job. I knew how to “take a note” god dammit!! Why was it becoming so hard to get my big break?

 

Time passed. I became ill. Gravely ill. At the same time, my then Partner said he wanted to move away from London to the north of the country. He didn’t want to be with me anymore but, for reasons we need not discuss here, I decided to move t’up north with him. From an Acting and career point of view, that’s the worst decision I could have made. Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of your dreams. I was still very ill, in a strange place where people said things like “Me Duck”and “Tara luvvie”, no family or friends around and then my Partner finally left me. I was so very alone. To make matters so much worse, there was no acting work or castings near me and I didn’t know the industry well enough or how to start making new connections in the area.

 

In two years I could count the number of Acting jobs or castings I had on one hand. As I had a London Agent, who didn’t know I had moved so far away, I just couldn’t get to castings quick enough and moreover couldn’t afford the travel fares every week.

 

Let’s cut this story a little shorter shall we? I parted ways with my agent and as I was so desperate for new representation, I went with the first agency to offer that. Bad move. I had to chase them up to actually put me on their website after months of being with them. They were never available to speak with on the phone or email and I rarely knew what was going on. When I finally had had enough, I kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I got an email shortly after stating that that were “letting me go” because they “can’t get me into a casting”! I had spoken with the agent on the phone ONCE in a whole year and then just an email dropped in my inbox to impart the “bad” news. Even though I was in no worse a position, I felt deflated. My confidence dropped again. Even a cowboy agent didn’t want me!

 

I needed to take some action. I needed to change! Everything needed to change. Either I was going to be another “aspiring actor”, which means “I’m waiting for something to happen to or for me” or I was going to take back some control and focus on what was important to me. What was important to me?

 

Acting. What and who was I if I couldn’t ACT?

 

It took me in excess of a year to get myself vaguely together. The best move I made next was joining a Facebook group and online community of Actors called ‘ActOnThis‘. It kinda saved my life if not my acting career. It’s a positive psychology and motivational group designed to help support and redefine ones goals as an Actor. Ross Grant who set up and currently runs the group is a phenomenal source of inspiration for me and many others. If you’re an Actor and you’re reading this PLEASE do yourself and your acting career, your mindset…. a favour. Join today.

 

With the encouragement of Ross and the acting community I went on to enter a big online casting directory Monologue competition and missed out on first place by a handful of votes. I came second out of over a thousand Actors. My confidence trickled back. I started posting monologues or audition pieces or even songs into the group and the response I would get took me aback. People were so kind and supportive but more importantly they assured me I had some talent. The ego part of me needed to hear that as if it confirmed that I wasn’t wasting my time wanting to entertain. ActOnThis also introduced me to casting directors such as Michael Jackson and Dan Hubbard. I got to know the work of and then worked with Chris Stone, an award winning film director. I was beginning to understand how the industry worked, where it was heading and what Casting Directors and other industry professionals were looking for.

 

I started networking more, attending seminars, I took classes on social media and branding and I worked my socks off on making myself highly visible to the acting community at large. If I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t currently working, well I’ll be damned if I’ll let the public overlook me.

 

Out of the blue, one afternoon, I picked up my phone, switched to camera mode and started talking. Acting. Improvising. I’d always had a talent for thinking on my feet and making things up as I go. I performed a short piece about how my attempt at suicide had failed and maybe, foolishly (I’m a risk taker), posted it on social media. I got way more ‘likes’ than anticipated and people even said they enjoyed it. That it was morose…. but good. Yes! Awesome! I’ll carry on then! Suddenly this had become an obsession for me. It was my outlet. I could act and perform to the public and yes, I wasn’t being paid, but what I got back from the videos was priceless. Before I knew it I’d got my YouTube channel building up with video after video. People started to know who I was on social media and in person just from my videos. I started to understand myself more on camera and watching myself back became a great lesson in the intimacy and nuance of film. I was, predominantly, a Theatre Actress, and although I’d done a little Television and film, I was still quite new to it so I felt as if I was honing my craft too.

 

It transpires that Improvisation has saved me. Saved my career, my motivation and self respect. I’ve not allowed my creativity to dry up and now I get requests for some of my characters I’ve created, Tracee the foul mouthed Northern bird is a firm favourite currently, and this gives me the motivation to keep going. Infact I got an acting job this year from a director who had seen my Improvisation videos….. not from my showreel.

 

In the space of 18 months, I’ve transformed the way in which I’m living but more importantly how I approach my career. I think it was Kevin Spacey who said that it takes at least ten years to make an overnight success, and I’m not near that yet. It’s too easy to give up and to find a 9-5 job that “pays the bills” and especially if you’re not working or haven’t had a casting in months, maybe years. Throw in having no agent, no money and low self esteem and you almost have a done deal. So…. what does one do if you’re out of the acting loop, you have no work on and no one to represent you? You create. Create a brand, create a social media presence and most of all, in whatever capacity, create your own work. And you don’t need money in the bank to do any of these things. You do however, need guts, imagination and the strongest desire to be seen and heard. To succeed. I swear it is possible to get out of the rut you are currently in, be it mental or physical. Speaking of physical, I’m currently five weeks into the most gruelling and intense 12 week body transformation challenge. Yes because I’m a little vain and want to look great on and off camera but also because as an Actor, I believe, it’s imperative to not only look the best you can but to feel and perform the best you can. If your physically unfit you’re not respecting your career. Your body is part of your selling point. It dictates how you move and in what ways. Find every way possible to better yourself be it with your body, your voice, your craft etc. Don’t stagnate.

 

So…. I mentioned bettering your craft as an Actor and prior to that I spoke about staying creative, keeping fresh and about networking/marketing yourself. This gives me a great Segway into my latest venture. I’ve recently set up a group on Twitter called #improvdareandshare and this is an awesome opportunity for Actors and performers to think on their feet, gain skills, have fun and to show people their unique talent.

 

The basic premise runs on that, I give out a line on Twitter every week. As soon as you recieve the line you set up your camera and press LIVE. You have two mins to improvise a Monologue that either starts or finishes with the line given. It’s that simple. You then get to share that piece out on social media and whoever gets the most likes, wins. It’s great exposure and really gives Actors a chance to test their skills and have fun in a supportive environment. I also give personal feedback to the first five entries that get back to me. I’ve had some amazing responses from Actors,  saying it’s given them their confidence back and last week, a regular improviser said she got a new agent after they had seen her entry into #improvdareandshare. Improvisation is becoming a big thing now and it’s becoming common for auditions and agents to ask for this skill. It’s quite unbelievable how many Actors shy away from this element of Acting.

 

I think Actors should come join #improvdareandshare on Twitter whether they’re new to the industry or even if they’re  a veteran of the stage and screen. Creativity can be lost if it’s not used and if you’re not currently working that’s an even better reason to come join us. Keep yourself active, keep yourself creative and never think that there is nothing new you can learn. It’s like a free, miniature acting class, every Thursday.

 

I set up #improvdareandshare, yes, because I adore Improvisation and think it’s an overlooked, massively important skill, but also in the hope it will inspire other Actors to find some focus, to tap into their creativity and as a tool to connect to other Actors. The industry is packed to the brim with Actors and yet, it can still be an incredibly lonely career path. With #improvdareandshare we get to know other Actors and their work and we support one another on that journey of self discovery. There are no mistakes, or not being “good enough”. Everyone is there to learn, to create and to connect so come and join us @IMPROVDARE on Twitter. Now!

 

 Without Improvisation I wouldn’t be where I am right now. It has allowed me to express myself whilst still feeling I have something to offer the world as an Actor. Hell, I got a like and comment from the comedian Russell Kane last week after watching one of my videos. Get yourself out there as you never know who is watching. What’s the alternative? You give up? Get a “normal” job? Sink into despair? Moan about the fact that you’re never cast in anything?

 

If any of what I’ve said resonates with you or you feel lost, unsure of what to do next or you’re just lacking the push and the motivation to take the next step, then I strongly suggest the following:

 

  • Join ActOnThis on Facebook or go follow on Twitter @ActOnThisTV and come see how friendly everyone is as well as highly supportive.
  • Follow @IMPROVDARE on Twitter and come join us every Thursday at 6pm UK time and hone/fine tune your Improvisation skills.
  • CREATE, CREATE, CREATE! Write, dance, sing, improvise, make a film…. whatever fires up your soul and gets you excited…. create it. And then show it to the world! (If you’re still using the excuse of, I’ve no funds or professional set up then take a look at just a couple of my YouTube video links here to see how simple and no-budget my filming is)

 

You have heard that old quote: If you can believe it, you can achieve it. Right? Well, I’ve not achieved ‘it’ yet but I sure as hell believe it. I believe it because I work and create it everyday. Every action I take is directly or indirectly linked to becoming more successful within the Acting Industry. I’ve gotten to a point where I refuse not to be noticed. I refuse to not be seen and to do what I love just because I’m going through a transitional period with no Agent. I also believe that my next agent will see my passion for my craft and what I do and that will stand me in good stead in terms of proving that I’m self motivated and proactive. That I love what I do.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @fanni_compton or subscribe to my channel on YouTube or check my photos out on Instagram.

 

2 thoughts on “The highs, the lows: an intimate account of an actor

  1. Fanni you are so inspirational and TALENTED! Thank you for sharing your story from the heart. I can so relate to everything you’ve said and 100% agree with your comments regarding Ross Grant he has also inspired me to keep going and believe in myself. A truly inspirational guy. Iwould love to me you in person someday. Keep the faith Fanni you’re amazing.
    Love Dawn 🙂 x

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