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The Working Actor

Surviving the Survival Job

Surviving the Survival Job

My survival job is sucking the lifeblood out of me. I know I should be grateful to even have a job in this recession, especially since I was unemployed for one year and my husband and I financially hit rock bottom (we have two kids). But I am drained both mentally and physically. Worse, I feel nervous every day! While my survival job in the past has always allowed me to pursue "the biz," my current job doesn't even give me time to go to the bathroom! I was hoping you could suggest some other options for a survival job.

Let me explain. I am now a second-grade classroom teacher. My survival job has always been teaching in the New York City public schools, but in the past it was in a very different capacity. I was a part-time creative movement/ESL (English as a second language) teacher. I taught creative movement for most of the day and for one or two periods taught ESL, where I would pull students out of their classes and work with them. Since my M.A. is in ESL, the principal was able to hire me because I was providing ESL instruction, although the majority of my time was teaching creative movement. My B.A. is in dance, so the job fit me like a glove. I had very little planning, nobody breathed down my neck, and I was able to utilize my creative juices. I really excelled!

Fast-forward: I became pregnant with twins and left to be a stay-at-home mom for four years. Needless to say, my job got snatched up, even though I kept in contact with the principal. Finding another dance position, even in a charter or private school, is like finding a needle in a haystack. They simply don't exist. In addition, there is a hiring freeze within the local board of education, so any job is hard to come by.

For the first time in my life, my confidence has been shaken. I'm in my late 30s and find that I lack so many skills required for jobs other than teaching. Before landing this job, I tried pursuing a concierge position but had no luck. I can't type and have limited computer skills. Due to a groin injury, I cannot teach at a regular dance studio and I can't waitress. For a brief stint, I was a cocktail waitress at a strippers club but made little money. Years ago I assisted an agent, and the job fit me well, but with so many people clamoring for such positions and willing to work for free, I don't feel that's a realistic option.

Is there any hope for me? I feel like a used sponge in my present teaching position. It pains me that it doesn't allow me to pursue the biz with all my gusto. I know in my gut after one year, I cannot continue being a classroom teacher. I'm scared I won't be able to land a different teaching position, outside of the classroom setting, due to the hiring freeze. Do you have any suggestions?

—Feeling Like a Used Sponge


I feel for you. I really do. Pursuing an acting career is really tough, but it's nothing compared to pursuing that career while raising small children. First off, I want to commend you for taking time off from work to raise your twins. It sounds like that choice was a true sacrifice—even more than you might have realized at the time—and I respect the bravery and dedication that it took. I hope you give yourself enough credit for that, even in the midst of your current dilemma.

It sounds like you have been having some tough times, financially and personally. Any transition is stressful, and you've been going through a number of them, one after another, while raising twins and teaching elementary school. No wonder you're exhausted. You need to give yourself a break. Reach out to your close friends—preferably the ones who inspire and encourage you—and ask for their support. If you don't feel comfortable opening up to a friend or relative, find a therapist you can talk with about all the pressure you're under. As trite as this sounds, you need to take care of yourself.

As for survival jobs, actors find plenty of work as temps, waitresses, bartenders, baristas, and personal trainers, but the best day jobs are sometimes less obvious. The most important factor, at least in my experience, is to have a supportive boss—one who lets you skip out for auditions from time to time or make up missed work at night or on the weekends. You seem to have a very clear idea of where you'd excel and some very specific skills, which is a great combination. I have no doubt that a more appealing job is out there for you; I just wish I could tell you what it was or when it would become available.

But here are some ideas to help jog your creative juices: Have you thought about private English tutoring? Working with foreign exchange students? Teaching at a language school, maybe someplace like a Berlitz Language Center? Teaching at a children's dance studio (where the physical demands would be less than at an adult school)? Or teaching your own private children's language and movement class? How about becoming a studio teacher, tutoring child actors on film and TV sets? Or working at a preschool? Could you nanny, even part time? With your teaching experience, you could be one well-paid nanny.

As for computer skills, I can assure you they aren't hard to pick up. If you're handling a room full of second graders, you can certainly manage an Excel spreadsheet. Many temp services let their registrants come in and take computer tutorials whenever they'd like, so you are within reach of those skills. And while talent agencies and casting offices do use interns and other free labor, they pay their more experienced assistants. With your classroom experience, you might have a good shot at a job at an agency or casting office that deals primarily with kids.

There's no easy answer, but take heart. You said you can't stay in your current job for more than a year, but when things get tough, remind yourself that you are not trapped. You're just taking your time, looking for something better, and as soon as you find that something, you'll give your notice.

Finally, I want to assure you that you aren't alone in feeling like a "used sponge." Many moms I know—especially those who work outside the home—feel overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time. Raising twins, teaching second grade, and striving to pursue a career in the arts, all at the same time, is no easy feat. Your confidence may be shaken, but I hope you recognize how amazing you are.

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