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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

A star is born

This month we have found some very heart-warming evidence of the diversity of creative talents out there in the actuarial profession. We interview Joan Freed, an actuary from the US who gave up her actuarial day job to move into full-time acting. And we showcase the talents of Ashley Weaver, an actuarial student from Wales who has spent 40 hours recreating Cardiff City’s glorious FA Cup run using Lego, turning it into a minor internet phenomenon in the process. We salute you both.
Matt and Finn

It isn’t often that you find someone making the jump from a safe actuarial career to the blinding lights of the stage but this is exactly what US actuary Joan Freed did. After two decades as a consulting actuary based in Oregon, Joan decided to see how the other half of her brain worked. Fast-forward several years, she now has a successful acting career, having starred in many different productions all over the US including a number of self-penned, one-woman shows.

It’s great to see an actuary getting fully involved in the arts. You’ve been writing and starring in your own shows for a few years now. What is it like doing a one-person show?
Solo shows are very rewarding but, as they say, the cast parties can be lonely. Plus, in order to get the leading role, I had to sleep with myself.

Tell us about your latest show.
Chocolate Confessions is a one-woman musical comedy about love, life, and chocolate. In the show, I portray chocolate shop owner Coco Bliss as well as her mixed assortment of amusing customers. Over a dozen characters are presented, along with comic vignettes about the world of chocolate, like the surprising origins of M&M candies. While the show has played to enthusiastic audiences in more than 25 cities across the US, we always caution our patrons that Chocolate Confessions may contain nuts.

Actuaries are known for their risk-adverse nature, so swapping a well-paid, safe actuarial career in order to tread the boards is a huge shift. How did it happen?
The transition from actuary to actress was dramatic. And the transformation began a few years back when I was asked to speak at an actuarial conference on the relative merits of defined benefit (DB) versus defined contribution (DC) pension plans. It’s a dry subject, so to spice it up, I presented it as a lively debate between two opposing personalities. Staid and proper ‘Jane’ defended the DB plan, while hip and gum-popping ‘Janet’ extolled the virtues of the DC plan. Before long the arguments heated up, tempers flared, name-calling ensued, and a fist fight was narrowly averted! After that, I had to make a choice. Either commit myself to a career in theatre or just commit myself.

What is your inspiration when creating the characters in your plays?
One character somewhat inspired by my husband (also a former actuary) is named Rocky Road. She’s a renegade who demands: “Put the chocolate in the bag and no one gets hurt!” And she just happens to wear the same black leather motorcycle jacket he wore when we first met in college.
There’s also a comic piece about M&M’s, where I portray duelling executives from Hershey and Mars as they create this new candy in the 1940s. I fashioned the characters after swaggering insurance salesmen I’ve worked alongside.

Anything you miss about your previous job?
The people. While actors can be fun, I still feel most at home around geeky math types. Go figure!

Any advice for budding creative actuaries in the UK who want to follow a childhood dream?
Yes — keep your day job. Just kidding. I believe anyone with latent childhood dreams should get out there and let your artistic side shine. Anything we actuaries can do to shatter the stereotypes should be encouraged!

Recommended game: Grand Theft Auto IV
Yes, everyone has read about how GTA4 is turning us into a nation of gun-toting maniacs but play the game and you will be blown away. Ask anyone to name the film they associate with the criminal underworld and The Godfather probably tops the list — GTA4 should be considered the video game equivalent. The action centres on Niko, an immigrant trying to work his way up the crime food chain. What makes the game so incredible is the amount of things to do as possible diversions. Watch TV, listen to a standup comedy gig or go for a walk in the park. The choice is yours.

Client entertaining: Pétrus, London
If you can get your expense claim approved, Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus in Knightsbridge, London is the place to go to thoroughly impress your client. It is everything you would expect from a two-Michelin-star restaurant. Frenchthemed food cooked to perfection, a wine cellar so big that you need to be a powerlifter to cope with the menu and service so smooth it makes silk pyjamas feel like a hessian sack. If this meal doesn’t win you that contract, then nothing will. For more information visit www.gordonramsay.com/petrus

Art by an actuary: Ashley Weaver — Lego Football
Combine the passion of a Cardiff City football fan, buoyed by his team’s best cup run in years, with the attention to detail that is close to any actuary’s heart, and the result is this animation. Ashley Weaver, an actuarial student, has painstakingly recreated Cardiff City’s 2008 FA Cup run using the medium of Lego. A labour of love, the video took more than 40 hours to make and involved tackling such problems as how to make a Lego man kick a ball into the air. Complete with commentary and black-and-white action replays, the videos have had more than 25,000 hits on YouTube and received press attention from the BBC news website. Although Cardiff eventually lost in the final, we hope Ashley sticks to his new-found talent. To view the videos, visit www.youtube.com and search under ‘Cardiff City Lego’.