Of all the day jobs associated with actors, perhaps the most common is waiter-bartender. In the early '60s, Dustin Hoffman hustled for tips in between TV and Off-Broadway jobs while sharing living space at various points with a furniture mover (Gene Hackman) and a part-time postal clerk (Robert Duvall). Two decades later, Bruce Willis served drinks at an Upper East Side haunt before making it big on Moonlighting. However, if you talk to a few actors who have worked in the service industry, you will discover it's not exactly the job most conducive to sustaining a fledgling career.
"I would be surrounded by wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, show-tune-singing waiters—it was less than pleasant," says actor Lise Fisher, who worked as a waiter and bartender for close to 10 years. "You're running around for eight to 10 hours straight, which makes it hard to go on auditions…. It really swallows you whole."
"The money was excellent," says Kevin Urban, who worked as a waiter for seven years at a major restaurant in midtown Manhattan. "But you can't focus on your craft. Lots of times you find yourself somewhere in the bathroom or a dark corner checking your voice mails and email."
It can also be a physically demanding job in a high-stress environment that can sap an actor's energy. "Even if I was only working three or four nights a week, I was so shot for the rest of the week, I wasn't even looking at Back Stage; I wasn't even thinking about auditioning," Fisher says. "You feel what you're supposed to do in life is slipping away."
Urban and Fisher have moved on. Urban works with actors at TVI Actors Studio. Fisher is working as a personal trainer, a job that has given her more energy and has reinvigorated her artistic pursuits. Still, waiting-bartending can be a good job to do for a while, Fisher says, "because the money's good. I put myself through school. And you can get a job no matter what."