After a brief hiatus while turning 30 I’m back to Jobbing It; reminiscing about A Level work experience, ah the joys of being 17!
Having completed my two years ‘national drama service’ as an extra in Grange Hill, when it came to pick somewhere to do my A level work experience I thought the Grange Hill production office would be a good choice. As with previous work experiences, a more driven person, who knew the value of what they had stumbled upon, would have made this a fantastic opportunity. I, however, never really knew what I was pushing for but did do a fair bit of photocopying, before realising that I still hated offices.
This lead to me trying every department. I enjoyed being taken out looking at locations. We drove around for two hours trying to find the most average suburban looking house front ever. If I’d have known what I know now, I’d have realised that the locations lady had one of the best jobs going. She was a lone wolf who successfully circumnavigated the looking-over-each-other’s-shoulder-ness of the office. It was as if everyone there felt a bit too lucky to have their job and every new person was viewed with suspicion- perhaps rightly so, they have a much coveted career in television and these lionesses were not letting anyone get hold of their cubs. I’m sure our lone wolf, however, still had her fair share of paperwork.
I found my niche in the costume department, the very place that the year before I had been clothed in the shameful grey polo neck. I enjoyed being around the rails of pretend uniforms that had never been taught anything and the piles of socks that needed pairing, just the right amount of ridiculous for me. Dressing characters that had not yet been cast was interesting; creating a person with a personality but no face. It was a bit more hands on than the buzzing computers and ringing phones. A Tuesday afternoon trip to the Llambretta showroom was the wardrobe ladies’ favourite perk. We needed to buy some outfits for a ‘posh’ new sixth former who was coming in. I ended up buying a pale blue Llamberretta jacket at a cut price that I think got worn once.
A week or so in they gave me the task of greeting auditionees for the new series and shepherding them from reception to the casting rooms. This process was familiar to me but from the other side. Can you imagine the torture of herding through the girls who were going for the posh 6th former role? Admittedly she was ‘sporty’, not my forte, but to see these girls in with a chance, while I was already there and willing, was driving me mad. After steeling all my nerve, I decided to ask the producer if I could audition for the role. Though slightly amused by my pluckiness, he informed me after sending me away for 15 agonising minutes, that they had already cast the role, lies all lies as the girls kept traipsing through. Oh the poor, delicate, teenage ego.
You do need a thick skin in this business and it is completely cut throat and it never gets easier. You’d think the more ‘no’s’ that were hurled at you in your youth would thicken the skin of every wishful starlet but every time it stings. The embarrassment and chronic inadequacy shake the foundations of your self-belief. Somehow though, God knows where it comes from, you pick yourself up and try again. It’s masochism really, always, always coming back for more. Once resigned to the fact that you are rubbish and worthless, talentless and far, far less important than every other person out there the phone will ring, once in a blue moon, and it will be the opportunity to go through the whole painful process all over again and you leap at the chance! Profusely thanking the agent or contact for giving you this beacon of hope. It’s quite beautiful really. The blind optimism, the unstoppable desire to try and try again. It’s an addiction to hope, with the odds stacked against you. But to be paid to do the job you love, just the chance, the tiny, miniscule chance that the stars might align makes it all worth it. For now.