Letters from a voluntary exile: An alternative life …

Hello Greenroomers,

Something unusual happened to me this month; I got work as an actor!

Coming to a new city is daunting. One has to re-establish oneself without any of the support networks (or fewer and smaller ones anyway) that one had in the old city. I have to go out and network. I have two problems with this: I don’t know how to network, and I have no idea how I managed to get known back in Brisbane anyway. So it’s been a slow hard slog and the two gigs were very welcome.

My two acting jobs arrived on the one day, one via my agent, one via a friend (part of my smaller and fewer networks.) The first was a 50-worder on Working Dog’s next film, tentatively titled 25. I’m sure every actor has thought when auditioning for a 50-worder, ‘Oh, why don’t they just go with a photo? They know I can act from my CV or showreel. Surely all they are after is a look.’ Well, Working Dog have heard our thoughts, I gather, and I got the job without an audition. Constrained by a confidentiality agreement, I cannot say more than that, not that I can tell you much more. It was a pleasant afternoon’s work with a good crew.

Incidentally, I got paid for that job within three weeks – superhuman speed compared with my other experiences.

The other job, which I got after the film but did before the film, was at a corporate function for Opera Australia. IMB were celebrating some 25 years of sponsorship (or some such) and the theme for the evening was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I, along with my friend Gavin Ingham, played a magic tree. I was downstairs and Gavin upstairs in the cocktail area. Corporate gigs are good when the crowd is moving, or you are; three jokes are enough to get you through the entire two hours. Here were mine: There were little dancing girls as fairies being guides to the guests. I would indicate one and say “That fairy there, her name’s Nuff. Fairy nuff.” Or I would keep very still until the guests were close, then spring into life wave my branches and say, “Don’t worry, my bark is worse than my bite.” Or as they went up the wooden stairs, I would say, “Be careful on those stairs, that used to be my mate Trevor.” Thanks to Anika Vilé and Opera Australia for the work – all part and parcel of the life of an actor. One of the reasons I became an actor was to avoid doing the same thing every day, and here was that life come to … well, life.

Being an actor often means one leads a double life: day job, and real job or however you want to phrase it. And then, there’s the fear that one’s day job may become the real job. And then what do you do?

Being an actor often means one leads a double life: day job, and real job or however you want to phrase it. And then, there’s the fear that one’s day job may become the real job. And then what do you do? This thought occurred to me at my other job – the one currently keeping a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food on my table. I work for Metro Trains Melbourne, the private company that run the metropolitan trains in the city. They have only been on the job for less than a year. Metro Trains have improved the service, so far as I can tell, but there is still a long way to go. I could go on about public transport but that perhaps is for another time and site.

The bosses held a meeting to keep employees informed on where Metro is at, and where they hope to go – all very good and useful, and, dare I say it, inspiring. The men and women who gave presentations were from all over the world with long CVs and a clear passion for their work. Yes, a passion for public transport and trains. It was quite infectious. All of a sudden I was considering my alternative life. I could work my way up in Metro, from Leading Station Assistant to – well just about anything. There is a wide variety of jobs on offer, actual career paths, promotions, structured pay rises, holiday pay. Creativity has its place here too – even in my present entry level job. It’s also a job I don’t have to think about after-hours. I do my work at work and leave it there. This is also attractive.

I don’t have to rush off to job interviews (or auditions) at odd hours and in odd places, at short notice, wondering what the hell do they want this time, I don’t have to pay for photos or voice reels – on my to-do list for the next two expensive weeks. I could go to theatre just to enjoy it. So what keeps me going?

Till next time, gentle readers,
Love and mercy,


Incidentally, I have started to hate the word passion. A beautiful useful word in itself, it is often used to excuse rudeness, ignorance and anger. It is also a meaningless buzzword in many advertisements:

I have also noticed among some arty types a snobbery, with the odd belief that only artists have passion. What a limited world view! My brother, a pilot, has a passion for flying. My grandfather, an engineer, had a passion for mathematics. I could go on. Let us stop misusing ‘passion’ and give it back its dignity and power.

This post is part of a series by guest blogger Nick Backstrom, a Brisbane actor and writer who is now based in Melbourne.