Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Still no clout!


I was forced onto a crowded commuter train this morning for the first time in an age. I’d forgotten quite how hideous the experience can be. The trains were so crowded that I found myself for at least 20 minutes in an ever-growing scrum of people at Highgate waiting patiently as train after train pulled into the station and left again without anyone being able to get on board. These cattle trucks seem to go more slowly the more people there are on board, obviously just to add to the general hell of the situation. The sweat starts to pour from your forehead and then trickles down your back. You lose your balance as the train inexplicably lists to one side. You fall against someone, who loses their patience and gives you a dirty look. You arrive at your destination, starting the day feeling angry and uptight and smelling of wet dog and someone else’s breakfast...

I had a rather unpleasant email exchange yesterday with a theatre director. A friend of mine has written a pretty decent play, which I’ve promised to help him to promote. The director I contacted on his behalf is a good friend and a highly-respected director and I thought they might both benefit from an introduction. My writer friend had already written to the director (on my advice) a few weeks ago but heard nothing, so I thought I’d give him a nudge. The ensuing exchange was a little upsetting, and I ended up feeling rather worthless.
Thing is, we all know that there are two lists in this world; the list of people who are recommended by trusted colleagues and the list of people who are, well, unsolicited. Whenever I feature on the second list, the horrible truth is that people are very unlikely to bother to reply to me. It’s the nature of our industry. There are thousands of wannabes, all talking the talk and chancing their luck. When I worked in casting, for example, we’d get 20 or 30 letters a day from actors, which immediately went in the bin unless they really stood out! If an agent, however, or fellow industry professional went to the effort of contacting us to say we ought to meet someone, we’d go out of our way to see them, if for no other reason, just to let them know that we valued their judgement and their status in the industry. It’s the same in every profession. I guess it’s why head hunters exist.

Problem is, when you put your neck on the line and make a recommendation, it can be really humiliating if it’s rebuffed. Maybe my friend’s theatre has a socialist policy where everyone goes to the back of the queue regardless of status or quality? Perhaps all plays are read blind so that no favouritism takes place? Maybe he’s snowed under at the moment, and sick to the back teeth of industry professionals getting in touch and asking him to read plays? But if Lord Lloyd-Webber contacted my director friend suggesting he read a play, would he be told to submit the piece as per instructions on the theatre’s website...?

Seventeen years in the business, and still no friggin’ clout!

October 3rd, 1662, and Pepys and Elizabeth ate herrings for lunch, the first of the season. Pepys spent the afternoon with Captain Ferrers, a man who seemed to draw trouble and mayhem towards him like a magnet. I suspect these days he’d probably be diagnosed with some form of mania, because, in the heat of the moment, he was apt to throw himself out of first floor windows for dares of his own making. On this occasion he was nursing a cut hand from a sword fight he’d picked with one of Lord Sandwich’s footmen. Ferrers, who had been in the Huntingdonshire delivered a letter from Pepys’ father, naming October 13th as a day for the family to go to court to settle some outstanding financial business. Pepys decided that Ferrers must have been walking about with the letter in his pocket for some days, writing; “it is great folly to send letters of business by any friend that require haste.” He’s not wrong. I once gave a card to a friend who said he was going to a post box. The card never arrived!

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