It seems this question comes up every single day from one of my students: “How do I make money while still being available for auditions? Do I have to wait tables?” The answer is, you don’t. Having been a professional actor for 14 years, I’ve done everything from temp work, serving food to dolls (More tea?), dog walking, and even working the graveyard shift at a physical therapy office. Working at a bar or restaurant is not for everyone. While the money can be good, it can also keep you up late, leaving you tired and not at your best at auditions.
Unless you can find that dream full-time job with salary and benefits that allows you the chance to pursue acting, you have to be smart, resourceful, and flexible to create a steady income flow until you book that first national commercial, or that first guest-starring role. What other skills do you have? Is there a job (or two or three) you can do that makes you happy (or at least that you can tolerate) while you are pursuing your dream? To achieve this might mean some creative thinking.
1. Temp work. If you are good with computers and can type fast, this is great. I did this for the first two years I lived in New York and loved it. You work in an office environment (with very little responsibility), can make from $12-$20/hour, and you have your nights free. When auditions come up, you either leave your temp job for an hour or call out for the day. You can take jobs that are day-to-day, or week-to-week, and do theater at night, plus you work the same hours as most of your friends, allowing you to carve out a social life. There are tons of temp agencies in New York and Los Angeles, and some even specialize in entertainment jobs.
2. Personal trainer/pilates teacher/yoga instructor. If you are physically fit, work out, and are interested in health and nutrition, this is a great option (with very flexible hours). You decide how hard you work, how many clients/classes you have, and how much money you make. You need to get a certification, and some gyms even offer free membership to teachers/trainers as well.
3. Dog walker. I did this for a year in Los Angeles. If you love dogs and being outside, this is a great option. Early morning, late evening, and weekend hours make it very easy to balance with auditions. You can freelance by putting up flyers and handing out business cards, or you can work for a staffing company (sort of like a temp agency) that will take a cut of the fee and give you lots of opportunities.
4. Nanny/babysitter. Great gig, and potentially very lucrative if you are good with kids. You can work on your sides while they sleep. (Or if you’re lucky, they can run lines with you!)
5. Promo work/modeling. You can find these jobs on Craiglist, or sign up with a promo company. They put out a “breakdown,” you send them your headshot, and they “cast” you. You might spend the day handing out flyers in Times Square, or hosting a cocktail event at a restaurant.
6. Personal assistant. I know a lot of actors who do this, and find it very rewarding— if you are willing to set ego aside and be prepared to do someone else’s chores.
7. Real estate broker. Get your license and start looking to match potential renters with landlords. It’s a tough market, and you work on commission, but if you get your foot in the door, this can be a great side gig.
8. Catering. You’ve seen “Party Down,” right? Paid by the hour, plus tips. Different location every time.
9. Tutoring. You can freelance or work for a staffing company, and they will match you up with parents looking for private tutors in specific subjects. Maybe that geometry class will come in handy after all.
10. Video editor. Your friends are actors, right? Help them with their demo reels! If you have a Mac, go take a free iMovie seminar at the Apple store, and become a master video editor. It will come in handy for the rest of your career, and someone always needs footage edited.
It’s all about finding what works for you, what makes you happy, and what you are willing to put up with while you pursue your dream. Until you land your first big job (and maybe even after), it’s about living paycheck to paycheck, day to day, scrambling around from job to job, memorizing lines, racing to student film auditions, looking for agents, doing free theater, and living a “freelance” lifestyle, making yourself available and ready for when that big opportunity presents itself.
Matt Newton is a highly sought after acting coach, and the founder of the MN Acting Studio in New York City. He is currently the on-set coach for the CBS show "Blue Bloods," the author of the book "10 Steps to Breaking Into Acting," and has been a professional tv and film actor for over 14 years. Matt has coached Golden Globe nominees, Emmy award winners, has worked as an on set coach on feature films and tv shows, and has been a guest talent judge on several reality shows.
Matt’s students have booked roles on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, HOSTAGES, UNFORGETTABLE, BLACKLIST, ROYAL PAINS, GOSSIP GIRL, THE FOLLOWING, DO NO HARM, REVOLUTION, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, UGLY BETTY , BOARDWALK EMPIRE, CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC, SKELETON TWINS, HAPPY BABY, DELIVERY MAN, and countless other films and TV shows.
Over the course of his career, Matt has worked alongside top industry veterans, including Oscar winner Jeff Bridges, Oscar nominees Jeremy Renner and Michael Lerner, Karen Allen, Ryan Reynolds, Amy Sedaris, and many others. Matt has guest starred on dozens of television shows, most recently THE AMERICANS, ROYAL PAINS, and UGLY BETTY. Visit his IMDB link here.