Temp agency with sprinkle of stardust

In his song “(Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage), Mrs. Worthington,” Noel Coward famously advised a doting mother against encouraging her offspring’s thespian ambitions.

Among other things – such as the unfortunate child being “a bit of an ugly duckling” – he ruefully noted that, regardless of one’s personal attributes, “The profession is overcrowded /And the struggle's pretty tough /And admitting the fact / She's burning to act, / That isn't quite enough.”

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

In fact, if anything, during the 81 years since Mr Coward penned those lyrics, the life of the “jobbing actor” has grown ever more precarious.

It’s generally accepted that on any given day, more than 90% of professional Kiwi performers will be out of work – or “resting” in actors’ parlance.

And over an actor’s career, the stats actually get worse.

According to actor Bruce Hopkins, “probably 96-97% of actors do not make a living from acting.”

Mr Hopkins is one of New Zealand’s more successful professional performers – he’s probably best known for his role as Gamling, second-in-command to the Rohan king in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy – and yet, he tells NBR’s Andrew Patterson, he estimates 75-85% of his income over the past 30 years came from non-acting work.

“And yet people think I’m a reasonably successful actor.”

With three kids, “I had to keep income coming in and it certainly wasn’t going to be from acting most of the time,” he says.

That stark reality is what inspired him to start Action Actors, a temp agency staffed entirely by professional performers.

Established five years ago, the business is steadily growing – the most recent financial year was the best yet, with turnover 30% up on the previous period – and has around 400 personnel on its books, across Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Those personnel cover jobs that run the gamut from domestic gardening to corporate promotions, high level role play for management and corporate training, although – not surprisingly given their core competency as trained communicators – the preponderance of work they undertake for the agency falls into the latter category.

“We’ve worked with companies like Air NZ and IRD, Kiwi Rail, Auckland Transport, Youthline, Canteen, Pead PR, customer service survey work through Opus International and GHD – and we’ve done private parties in Herne Bay.”

The company’s books feature a surprising number of extremely familiar faces from stage and screen because, as Mr Hopkins says, no matter how big you get in New Zealand, the market’s too small to sustain regular acting work – and success (or “overexposure” as TV executives call it) can also lead to work drying up.

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