This was the mantra we heard from day one at Drama School. Nothing else seemed to matter. This was the goal to which we were all driven. As far as we were concerned once you had the card, then fame and fortune were mere formalities.
The moment I left Drama School (alright, I was kicked out but this is neither the time nor place to discuss that) I did what I could to obtain the Thespian equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. I started a sketch group, started a comedy club and started a Theatre-In-Education Group (although to be fair this was just me and the wonderful actress Tanya Franks, dressed as clowns, teaching children not to talk to strangers – which was counter-productive to the Q&A at the end).
The moment I had reached the requirements I applied for, and received, my Equity card. This was in the late 80’s (yes, I know I look younger) and I have been a member ever since.
Over the years I’ve called on my Union three times. The first time was in the early 90’s when I was unemployed (a rare event for an actor) and tried to join the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. I was told that ‘being an actor’ didn’t really qualify as looking for work (they sounded like my mother) and I therefore wasn’t eligible. With Equity’s help, we persuaded them otherwise.
The second time was when I was arrested for obtaining a driving licence in the name of the Home Secretary for my Channel 4 documentary How To Steal An Identity. They advised me to accept the Caution I had been offered by the Police instead of trying to fight it in court. I was later BAFTA shortlisted for the documentary, which might not have happened had I gone to jail.
By the way, just in case you’re interested, this is all explained in depth in my book Heard the One About Identity Theft: http://www.amazon.co.uk/HEARD-THE-ABOUT-IDENTITY-THEFT-ebook/dp/B00TCHB5AQ
The last time I sought assistance from Equity was three years ago.
I had been the after-lunch comedian at a large event at a hotel in Cardiff. After the event, the owner of the corporate event company that had booked me (who I can’t name for legal reasons) thanked me for my performance and gave me a cheque.
A week after paying the cheque into my account I received a letter from my bank informing me that it had been cancelled – and I was obviously being charged for the privilege.
I attempted to contact the owner of the company but to no avail. I then discovered that the person had been running events for charities – including a children’s cancer charity – and had never handed over the money raised. This person also sold tables for events with the promise of meeting celebrities. These events were all fake and the money was never returned to those who bought tickets.
Although I only had a Post Box address for the company, I managed to track down the owner’s address (I’d learn a lot from my documentary) and contacted them. Although I had no response to this I did subsequently have a barrage of abuse both by email and text.
So, not knowing what to do next, I contacted Equity.
Over the subsequent months they worked incredibly hard on my account. I won’t go into all the details but suffice to say, although I didn’t receive the full amount – the con artist knew how to play the system too well – they managed to recover a sizeable sum for which I am very grateful.
Of course Equity is neither insurance nor a guarantee, but as being an actor or comedian etc is a lonely enough profession at the best of times, it’s good to know that there’s someone there who’s willing to help you and fight for you. Oh, and you get a lovely free diary.