So, today I was in one of my “ugh” moods. I was just hanging around and then I decided to do what I do best – stalk people on the internet. I sometimes think that I would have made a great investigative journalist, because I have a way of finding anything on the internet. Some people also attribute this to my harrowing mental illness. Anyway…
I recently was more than fortunate enough to be signed by Viclectic Artist Management. Yes, I know. Even I sometimes forget that I am actually an actor and not just some sad person who talks crap in blog posts. I went onto the website to look at the other people, when suddenly… HOLY SHIT!
I mean, I realize that it only makes sense that I would be on the website. That’s kind of why it’s there. But I guess that it just didn’t feel real until I actually saw myself there. Because, you see, simply making it onto the website has been a long difficult journey. Let me take you on it…
In 2013, when I entered my second and final year of drama studies, I fell into a deep depression, as I tend to do. Except, this wasn’t one of those depressions that go away after a few naps. It lasted for months, and I began to fear that I wouldn’t be able to recover from it. I believe I had what they call a sophomore slump, which is totally real because there is a Wikipedia page about it. During my first year of studies, I had an absolute blast. I came to Pretoria from the Free State. I lost 15kg. But most of all, I got to do the one thing that I love most in the world. I got to perform on stage. Coming into the course, many people underestimated me because of my quiet and awkward nature, because people tend to assume that actors have to be bombastic buffoons who talk loud all the time. I was a wallflower, still am, but when I perform I do it with all I have. And then they shut up and listen. I was mostly well received by the people at the college and I finished my first year winning two awards. I had great hopes and dreams for my second year, but in hindsight I had too high expectations. And expectations can kill you.
We started our second year with a children’s theatre production, and although I was initially very excited, it quickly faded. I felt that the role I was casted in wasn’t much of a stretch from the roles I had played in the past. And it didn’t stop there. I ended up being casted in that way many times that year. I was always the ugly one, the old one, or the gay one. It’s not that I don’t mind playing these characters, BUT NOT ALL THE TIME. I started becoming very negative about my future as an actor. I felt like a one trick pony. There are so many stunningly beautiful people in the industry who can sing and dance and do all kinds of wonderful things, and here came I. I’m not pretty. I can’t sing or dance. I can act. And it started to feel like I wasn’t a very versatile actor. My lecturers didn’t really seem to take my predicament or me incredibly seriously. I went from being a relatively strong performer to struggling to keep it together, and no one really seemed to care about trying to help me. It was then that I realized how incredibly alone adult life can be. When you are healthy and successful, people celebrate you and kiss up to you, but the moment you start losing your balance on that tightrope, you won’t find anyone there to catch you when you fall. And when I fell it was a crushing blow. I went from living for rehearsals to dreading them, because I knew that nothing I was doing was going to be good enough. I started going onto stage and hating it, wishing that it would just be over. By the time I reached the middle of my second year I vowed that I would finish my year of studies and bid acting farewell. The love of my life had become a nightmare, and I no longer had any desire to do it. The truth is, I didn’t have any desire to even live anymore.
But obviously things didn’t end that way.
I realized that my depression had reached a point from which I could no longer save myself. I started seeing a therapist who slowly but surely helped me get out of the darkness. By the end of my second year I started feeling like a living person again and I remembered why I love acting so much. I had re-emerged from my darkness, but I was no longer the naive little boy that I was before. I realized that it wouldn’t be easy. Perhaps the depression prepared me for that. Because I knew that getting an agent would be no easy feat. I told myself that I would give myself a year to get an agent after my studies. People always tell you to go and chase your dreams, but once you finish your studies you get thrown to the wolves. Suddenly you have to be an adult an make it work for yourself, even though no one really showed you how.
I started emailing the different acting agencies in hopes of achieving something, but it was mostly in vain. The agencies either didn’t even reply, or they would send me a generic email about how they weren’t signing people at the time. And then they would go off and sign other people who had less experience and references, but had modelling contracts. You see, despite the fact that I was constantly reminded how shit I was in my second year, I still graduated at the top of my class with 10 distinctions and two awards. In my first year we were 14 students. In my second year, we were 7 students, and out of those 7 students, only 3 of us graduated our second year on time. But none of this mattered, because I don’t have a pretty face or a sexy little body.
I decided that I would wait until the annual Krêkvars Arts Festival before I would approach anyone again. I performed in two shows that year and I told myself that it would be my final chance to try and get an agent. I emailed them all again, including an agency that I contacted in the beginning of the year without getting a response, probably because I sent it to an info email address and it probably got lost somewhere. The agency is called Viclectic Artist Management. One of my lecturers had told me before that I would be a good fit for the agency, because “They cater for actors who have a different type of look”. I have a feeling that by “different” he meant ugly, but I looked at the website and I understood why it would work for me. Many of the people signed there aren’t world famous, but they are active in the industry. They are artists, not “celebs”. One of the artists signed there is Weslee Lauder, who is totally still going to do South African Horror Story with me (I’m still waiting for Ryan Murphy). I knew that this would probably be the best fit for me, so I decided to try a different approach. I stalked one of the artists who are signed by the agency on Facebook and got hold of Althea Greenland’s (the owner of the company) personal email address. I sent her my CV with the topic ATTENTION: ALTHEA GREENLAND, because who doesn’t open an email that demands attention? We started corresponding and she wasn’t able to come and watch my shows, but she agreed to meet me. This was a good sign, but I didn’t put my heart on it, because I had met a very reputable agent a few months prior who made me believe that he was going to sign me, but he didn’t. I later on realized that he knew from the moment he first saw me that he wasn’t going to sign me, but he just wanted to mess me around.
On the day I met Althea, I told myself that this would be my ultimate make or break moment. If she wouldn’t take me I probably wouldn’t ever find someone to take me. I arrived at the coffee shop and waited. I was early, as usual, and a friend of mine had to come with me because I didn’t have a license yet and I wasn’t allowed to drive alone. My friend hid in the background, because I didn’t want to look like I needed people to hold my hand in situations like these. I mean, I’m crazy, but not that crazy. When Althea arrived she walked past me where I was hiding my face and thinking she’s going to think I’m an idiot. For a split second I considered just running away, but then I got up and did my best Hi-I’m-a-normal-person-who-would-like-to-join-your-agency impression. She immediately turned around, hugged me, and spoke to me as if she had known me for years. We spoke for about an hour and I was surprised by how incredibly genuine she is. Normally when I speak to people in the industry they make me feel like a complete idiot, but Althea treated me with a respect and compassion that I hadn’t seen before. She agreed to take me on for a trial period and I was in Heaven.
Shortly after our meeting, things took a sudden turn for the worse when my friend Jodie passed away unexpectedly. Her funeral was on the same day as the very first audition that Althea had scheduled for me. The audition would be about an hour after the funeral ended and I would have to drive from Johannesburg to Pretoria. I was perplexed, because I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to audition after the funeral. I was too broken. I gritted my teeth and contacted Althea to ask if it was possible for me to audition early that morning before any of the other people. She responded by firstly offering her condolences on the passing of my friend and then told me that it was fine. I smiled. And then I went straight into the ugly cry. Because I realized that I finally found someone who cared about more than just the money and the prestige, but also the people.
So, after this lengthy tale, I hope you can understand why finding myself on the website meant so much to me. Because I travelled to Hell and back to get there. And also because I’m from the Free State and we have a tendency of getting super excited about the smallest things.
But most of all…
When I was 13 years old and I told a family member that I wanted to be an actor. He told me that I was too fat, ugly, and untalented and that I should give up before I even tried. To this very day I can’t get over how much that hurt. When I performed at an eisteddfod in high school, the one judge singled me out and tore me to pieces in front of everyone, telling me that I was making a spectacle of myself by dressing up as a woman and going on stage. That I had embarrassed myself.
But by signing me, Althea crushed them.