You've got talent. You've got some training under your belt. You may even have some bucks in the bank to help when you arrive in New York City to begin driving toward your dream. And with luck, soon you'll be cast in a lucrative project.
But while luck can be a lady, as the song goes, she can also be fickle, so you're probably going to need to find a way to pay your bills in the mean time.
While some early-career performers may pursue and accept a full-time permanent job, such a job can tend to sidetrack you into a situation that has little to do with your performing career. To avoid that pitfall, most performers seek work through temporary services.
Back Stage spoke with representatives from a number of temp agencies to gauge what kind of work is available, what you can expect to be paid, and which jobs offer you the most in terms of flexibility.
First, there is the temp market itself, which has fluctuated through the years. For instance, if you had come to New York City in the late 1990s, you would have encountered an employment boom, with temp workers in great demand. Following the famous dot-com bust -- and certainly after Sept. 11 -- the temp market shrank.
Now things are heating up again. Lenore Indig of Staffing Unlimited says, "Oh, my God, things are huge. We're busy!," and she finds this to be true for all job categories, from custodial work (approximately $10 per hour) to high-end graphics production (about $55 per hour). Staffing Unlimited also places nurses in temp assignments: LNs (limited nurses) can earn $18-$23 per hour; RNs (registered nurses) can earn $30-$35 per hour.
Carlos Cubas, regional operations manager for the Tuttle Agency (www.tuttleagency.com), shares Indig's optimism. "It's a wonderful, thriving business now," he says. Tuttle services the hospitality and warehouse and maintenance industries, but the company's specialty is office support. He also likes what people in the performing arts can bring to the business world: "Actors can manage their language and presentation to meet the needs of clients that have very specific environments. It's another kind of role-playing, really." And Katherine Nieves of Vanguard Temporaries (www.temporarypersonnel.com) concurs, noting how actors tend to have "bubbly personalities" and are reliable and flexible in terms of the jobs they're willing to accept.
Cubas also notes that some assignments call for special skills and that temp companies generally have standard tests to help assess a prospective worker's skill set. Some temp agencies offer tutorials or other training to help get you up to speed.
Yet there may be jobs available to you even if you never learned Microsoft Word or Excel during your college years because you were too busy taking that extra voice seminar or dance class. These jobs -- for receptionists, junior clerks (filing, faxing, phoning), and customer service -- typically pay $10-$15 per hour. Data entry clerks can expect to earn about $13 per hour. Junior administrative assistants can make $15-$20 per hour, while senior administrative assistants and legal secretaries can earn $20 or more per hour. Warehouse workers, by contrast, may start at minimum wage ($6 per hour in New York State, scheduled to rise to $6.75 on Jan. 1, 2006) and go only as high as $8 per hour.
Waitperson and catering jobs have traditionally -- nay, stereotypically -- attracted actors. Catering assignments tend to be short-term, so you can easily fit them into your audition, rehearsal, and performance schedule. Javier Vasquez of Waiters New York & More (www.waitersnewyork.com) says his company maintains a database with the names of more than 200 available workers. Those who've proved most reliable are at the top of the list. It's no problem if you turn down an assignment, but it helps to keep the service informed of your acting-related conflicts. What "cater waiter" jobs pay depends largely on the client's budget. Hourly pay tends to be $15-$20, but gratuities can add up.
Telemarketing -- a job that may aid you in learning how to cope with rejection in your performing career -- is another avenue of employment. Typically, telemarketing jobs pay $11-$12 per hour, but when you close a deal, it may also involve a lucrative commission. Damian Vondenhaus hires workers for high-end telemarketing. He points out that the work is not for everyone. You need a "good ear" to assess the interest of your contacts, along with the ability to tell a story in 90 seconds. But the hours do tend to be flexible.
If you have solid academic skills, you might consider teaching or tutoring. Sue Menon works for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions (www.kaptest.com), which helps prepare students for standard exams such as the SAT. If you've recently scored in the 90th percentile on a test you want to teach, you may apply and be called for an interview. (If you haven't tested recently, you can take Kaplan's own test.) Once you commit to a six-week course, there's no backing out. Kaplan pays teachers $20 per hour for classroom time and $7 per hour for training and prep time. Tutoring assignments are handled through a subsidiary company, Kaplan Premier.
Alan Roberts of the Aldan Troy Group (www.aldantroygroup.com) notes that temps willing to work jobs during the second (evening), third (night), or weekend shifts can earn somewhat more than day-shifters due to a "shift differential." Second- and third-shift legal and financial proofreaders, for example, are especially in demand. A handful of training programs for proofreaders can be found throughout the city; this work typically pays $14-$20 per hour, depending on your experience and expertise.
-- Mark Dundas Wood