It’s Friday night after rehearsals and we’re up in the Flinders University student bar when Shanna Ransley tells me how last week her account was overdrawn by $280. She doesn’t really drink, she says, and she probably shouldn’t, but she won’t say no if I’m buying.
“You want to be famous?” The third-year acting student says five minutes later, a bottle of strawberry and lime cider in her hand.
“Don’t study acting. Go on The Block. Do something ridiculous. Go on a banana diet. Pretend you’ve got cancer. Don’t become an actor.”
Stepping on stage that first time was “absolutely exhilarating” she says. It was natural, like falling back into a bad habit, like it was something she was supposed to do. In a lot of ways, it felt like coming home for the country girl from Lameroo.
Her family have always moved around a lot, she says. When she was nine, her mother moved them to the outskirts so she could be with her partner who worked in a box factory. If it sucked being a singleparent family in Lameroo, it sucked being fresh meat at school in a place like Craigmore North where the girls were mean because that’s just
how it was. Even the friendly ones.
And when she was 14, Ransley learned about money.
“I hate pasta, I hate it so much,” she says. “We ate nothing but pasta for over six months. You talk to me about pasta, I immediately start thinking about poverty.”
To help out, Ransley went out and got her first job at Barnacle Bill where her feet ached and her hands grew rough and she always smelled like fish. Her next job was as a check-out chick in Foodland and then as a kid’s birthday party host at a place called Groovy Chicks and Pirate Ships. For a time she even worked three ‘til midnight at an On the Run.
“The worst thing I’ve ever done with my life,” she says. “For a pittance.”
These days she’s working at the Gold Class Lounge at Marion Cinema and can’t remember a time she has been unemployed in the last eight years and it’s why, when she first applied for university, she tried to be reasonable.
She had enrolled in a teaching degree but learned she hated it, so she looked into acting. As a kid, she’d played make-believe with her invisible nemesis, Mean Queen Madeline and some part of her had always wanted to be an actor. There were four rounds of auditions and 340 applicants and, if she made it through, it was meant to be. If not, well, she’d do something else.
Ransley was one of 11 who made it through, though not without hassle. When she transferred over, she put in to credit her previous study which meant she could drop a subject. Her university said she was full time, so did her student ID, but Centrelink disagreed and after she had finished they told her she owed a $10,000 debt.
That’s how Ransley ended up homeless for eight weeks last year. Others may have given up and gone home, but going back to being just another person without a degree was no choice at all, so she spent the next eight weeks living out of her car and couch surfing while still attending class.
These days she’s living with her cat, Myrtle, in a single bedroom apartment and is making payments on the debt. She even came out a few months on back Facebook, and no one seemed to care, not even her family who told her they already had an idea. It’s why she says it’s been hard watching the government sink $122 million into a national poll on same-sex marriage.
“Oh my god, the things I can do with that money,” Ransley says. “If my family line were to continue, it would mean I could set up my children, and my children’s children so they would never be homeless.”
Next year she’s doing Honours and then after that she’ll graduate. She’ll be the first person in her family to complete a degree. After that, who knows? Maybe the stats are against her. Actors, she says, have the highest unemployment rate in the world. Not that that changes anything though.
No one who made it was ever deterred by the odds.
“I’d rather try now and say I’ve played ‘Woman Thrown on Bed Three’ in some weird indie film than look back and say I could have played ‘Woman Thrown on Bed Three’ in that weird indie film.”