One dilemma many actors have is how to earn a living while actively pursuing an acting career. It can seem overwhelming to find the perfect “survival job” that gives you flexibility for auditions and bookings, as well as a wage that enables you to live in an expensive city like New York or Los Angeles.
I worked many different types of jobs in the early part of my career, and I’m here to tell you that not every job is a survival job. In general, jobs don't exist to be flexible—they exist to help the company prosper. So how do you know if a job is truly survival job material? Here are four things to consider during your job search and before accepting a position:
1. How are you paid?
It’s safe to say that if you’re paid a salary (an annual sum, paid out monthly or every two weeks) with benefits, you will be expected to be at work and not take time off for auditions or bookings. Jobs that pay you hourly or by the shift—like waiting tables, bartending, etc.—tend to be more flexible.
2. How easily can your work be covered?
If you had to miss work because of a paid acting gig or audition, would it affect the company workflow or would someone else be able to step in to fill your shoes at a moment’s notice? This is why restaurant work is still a very popular survival job—just get your shift covered and you’re golden! If you work in an office environment, however, you may be part of a team that relies on you to hit deadlines or deliver work regularly that only you can do.
3. Are the hours flexible?
If you’re expected to be at your desk from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, the job is probably not a great fit. That said, if you’re a contractor or work on a by-project basis where you’re expected to get a project done by a certain date but it doesn't matter what hours of the day you do the work, this could be a contender.
4. What’s the culture of the company?
How open is the employer to working with an actor’s unpredictable schedule? If you don’t know, ask. Honest communication can save you and your potential boss a lot of headaches.
When I was just starting out, I worked with a temp agency. I honestly thought temping would be flexible enough that I could take off at a moment’s notice for auditions. I mean, it’s temping—the job title itself sounds super-duper flexible, right? Well, not in the way I was expecting. You see, a temp job is flexible for the company but less so for the temp.
Once I actually booked a temp gig, I realized I was required to be at the place of business during certain hours. (Duh!) I mean, my boss didn’t care that I just got a last minute commercial audition at 3 p.m., she needed her phones answered! I did manage to squeeze in a few auditions during lunch hours, but really, temp work was not the flexible survival job I was expecting.
So while you’re on the hunt for the perfect survival job, keep in mind that not all jobs fit this description. Save time and focus on jobs that will enable you to pay your bills AND give you flexibility to nurture your acting career!
Actor and web designer Amy Russ helps actors showcase their cast-ability, personality, and professionalism with simple, effective, and affordable websites. Find out the crucial "5 First Steps" to creating a website that stands out in her free video training.
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