This week’s question comes from the lovely and talented Beth Hicks. Beth is an actress, comedian, and budding improv star. She is also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and her question is one I’ve heard over and over. I also think it doesn’t just apply to actors, but also directors, writers, producers and anyone striving to be in the business full-time who is not yet in the position to pay the bills with acting/ directing/ writing/ etc.
Is it possible to juggle a 9-5 job that pays the bills with a desire to get out there more for auditions and parts?
The short answer to your question: NO. It is nearly impossible to have a steady 9-5 job and audition and then take on roles in theatre/ film/ TV. The nature of a 9-5 requires you to be there every weekday between 9am and 5pm which happens to be the time that most auditions take place. Also, if you do make it to an audition, and then you get the job, you will very likely be rehearsing and/or shooting during the day. Working with off-off Broadway theatre companies will usually allow 9-5ers the opportunity to have a job and still do theatre because rehearsals and performances tend to be on evenings and weekends. Also, student films and shorts often times are shot on weekends or over just a few days, so you can bundle together a few sick and personal days to work on short projects. However, there is little room for advancement in the off-off Broadway and student/ no budget realm and the gigs rarely pay much if at all.
I think it comes down to a choice. Is your career the 9-5 or is your career acting? If your career is acting then you need to be prepared to leave that 9-5 at a moment’s notice to take on a film that may only shoot for a few weeks or a play that has a run and rehearsal of only three months. After that film or play, there will not be a job to go back to and you need to be okay with that. Or, if your career is the 9-5 then embrace that and find time for acting gigs in the evening and on weekends.
It can be difficult for creatives to make ends meet, but there are jobs that can provide the flexibility you need to pursue acting while still putting food on the table. I know actors who do all sorts of other jobs: sure waiting tables, tending bar, and catering are still popular but there are other options as well. I know actors who are fitness teachers and nutritionists and this often allows them the flexibility to take on projects that arise and go on auditions. Also temping works for some. Finding a way to turn your skills into your own small business may seem like a lot of work for your non-career but becoming a consultant can bring in extra dollars and allow you to work on your own schedule.
Short story: There was a young woman a few years ahead of me at college who was a great actress. She was smart, beautiful in and odd and striking way, and very naturally talented. I remember seeing her and thinking that she would become a Broadway star. When I graduated 3 years later, this woman came back for a visit to the alma mater. She had moved to New York, but was now a journalist. I was shocked! How could someone so talented give up on her dream? I told her that I was so surprised that she had given up on her dream of acting so quickly, especially since she was so talented. I didn’t mean for this comment to upset her, but I think it did. I saw her a couple of days later, and she told me, “I didn’t give up on my dream, I just found another dream that I love more.”
About six years ago, I had a full-time job in a field that had nothing to do with my creative aspirations. I was full-on miserable. Sure, I was directing plays in the evening and I had just received the Artist of Color Directing Fellowship at New York Theatre Workshop, but my schedule didn’t really allow me to take advantage of most of the benefits the fellowship offered. I was also part of the Resident Director program at Ensemble Studio Theatre and my work there was really demanding. I left my job and dedicated myself full time to working at EST (for no money) I worked as the associate producer on the 2007 Marathon of one-act plays and it was some of the most taxing and rewarding work of my life. In the midst of my associate producing duties, I was tapped to coordinate the casting process: I served as the associate to two very busy casting directors and I got to work closely with 10 playwrights, 10 directors, and dozens of actors to bring that project to fruition. After those whirlwind months were over, I knew two things: I was broke and I wanted to work in casting. As fate and luck would have it, I got my first full-time job in casting later that year and now I own my own casting company.
So, I say find a way to make money doing something you love. You may be able to carve out a nice acting career or you may find something you love even more.