Before calling yourself a working actor, you must first decide what that means. The definition could be different for every actor. From my perspective, there are only two ways you can be considered a working actor: you are lucky enough to make your entire living, paying your bills, from acting jobs; or you are consistently busy booking work as an actor but during occasional lean times may have to subsidize income with a part-time or temporary job. No shame in that. If you do not fall into either category, then, in my opinion, you are not a working actor but instead an actor working on booking work as an actor. As you may have discovered, it is a full-time job trying to book an acting job. My hope is that I can provide insights that might bridge the gap for those actors who see themselves on the other side of these two categories, as well as provide advice to the working actor to keep the streak alive.
All actors need to take a good hard look at themselves and ask, "What kind of actor am I?" The sooner you get real about what kind of actor you are, the sooner you can focus your business mind on obtaining roles that are suited to you. You need to look at yourself externally (what the mirror shows you) and internally (what the mirror does not show you) to discover your answer. Most actors see themselves as leading men or women—the "stars" of the show. But the reality is that not everyone can be the lead of a play or TV series. Indeed most roles are not leads. Someone has to play the best friend or the boss in, let's say, a sitcom; someone has to play the best friend's boss, too. There is nothing wrong with accepting that this may apply to you. In this instance your talent is not what is being judged, your type is. If you can accept that you are not the lead, you will start to focus on obtaining other roles. You will have a better relationship with your agent/manager because you will not be hounding him or her to send you out on major roles in films; instead you will be asking if there are any great character roles in projects that are right for you. And there is certainly less competition for such roles. Don't worry about being typecast; you should be so lucky to get so much work that typecasting is an issue for you. Set your mind on obtainable goals; it is a more focused business approach to success.
The internal understanding comes from asking yourself tough questions about your talent level. Be honest and determine where you are today in terms of your understanding of the craft of acting and how that translates into the business of auditioning and production. It is perfectly okay to accept that maybe your ability as an actor needs improvement. If that's the case, it should focus your goals on obtaining small, bit roles in film, TV, and theatre. That does not mean you will always be playing such parts; it means you are putting your focus on realistic bookings. It should also motivate you to get back into class or find a good acting coach whose passion will rub off on you.
If you are a working actor, you are obviously doing something right in your approach to obtaining work, and your level of understanding and application of the craft is serving you well. Chances are, your relationship with your representation is good because you feel supported because you are making money. If you do not feel supported, look to make a switch.
In this case ask yourself, "Am I fulfilled?" Look at your résumé and study the kind of roles you have been booking. If it seems like they are all variations of the same kind of role, then maybe it's time to seek more-creative fulfillment. I am not suggesting that you stop booking and accepting the roles you are accustomed to; rather, let the luxury of your success allow you to do other things. Write a screenplay, direct and produce a short film, produce and act in a play you might never get cast in if other people were making the decisions, direct a play. Use the business contacts you have made from all the work you have booked over the years to get behind any new project you are trying to get off the ground. Teach an acting class and give something back to younger struggling actors. Or even take a class on a subject that scares you—for example, improvisational theatre or stand-up comedy if those are areas that seem lacking on your résumé.
If you are one of those actors who work a good amount but still go through stretches of tough times, maybe you need to re-evaluate your approach to the business. You may be doing okay but still feel a little unfulfilled. First make sure you and your agent have the same philosophy for your career. If you are an actor who wants to work, regardless of the size or kind of role, but your agent/manager wants you to accept only lead roles, everyone is not working on the same goal. That's not to say your team is not looking out for your best interest, because it might be. However, you have to walk in your own shoes. If a conversation with your agent does not get you on the same page, perhaps a change is needed.
Work begets work. I have always believed that. The actors I know who work all the time usually do not say no to many projects. They certainly would not do anything embarrassing, but they are not in the habit of turning down money, either. If you have never worked in daytime TV, you could seek work as a dayplayer. If you've never done a small role on a episodic show because you hold out for big ones, you need to change your approach to seeking roles that come on for one day of work, for which you get paid and get camera time and experience. Why not seek regional theatre work? Many actors do not want to leave the city for fear that they will be missing an opportunity. Yes, that could happen, but chances are you could be in the city and miss the opportunity anyway. There are so many quality regional theatres that are always doing good work. You may get a chance to work on a role in Pittsburgh or Boston that you may never get a chance to do anywhere else. The creative reasons for doing it should outweigh any career aspirations, and you will get paid, too. This is about piecing together a career and keeping the consistency of work going.
If you need additional cash flow, I have a few real-world jobs to suggest. Of course if you can teach acting, that is a great way to supplement income. We all know about temp agencies and working in restaurants. These give you flexibility and some money in your pocket.
Think about being a substitute teacher in high school. You only need a college degree in any subject. If you get on a school district's list of substitute teachers, you may get a call in the morning to see if you are available for the day. You can be on several districts' lists. Try applying to private schools, too. The beauty of the job is that if you are not available, you let them know when they call; if you go in, you are usually done by 2 p.m., which leaves plenty of time to get to auditions and rehearsals. I did this 15 years ago when I got out of college; back then I got paid $75 per day and was happy for the income.
Rob Decina is the three-time Emmy-nominated CD for "Guiding Light" and the author of "The Art of Auditioning: Techniques for Television"