Surviving Your Survival Job

Ben and David are extremely, extremely successful actors who also give free acting advice. If you listen to them you will most likely become famous. If you don’t, things probably won’t pan out for you.

We’ve all had those times. The bills aren’t paying themselves and the acting gigs aren’t coming. It’s just one of those decades where you have to take a survival job. But getting a day job doesn’t need to be difficult, and it also doesn’t have to keep you from your art. The key to surviving a survival job is making sure that no matter what you end up doing, you are taking steps towards making it big. Don’t think of it as time out of the spotlight. Every day should be a new day for you to shine. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before we teach you how to be a superstar at work, you first have to get the job.

Getting the Job
A lot of actors approach the job interview as “professionally” as possible—suit, tie, polished résumé, good manners. Wrong. Boring. Set yourself apart from the pack. You’re an actor. Wear something that shows it. Maybe you want to go with a dressed up look that says, “This tux? Sorry, just got back from an awards ceremony.” Or maybe something more casual that says, “This track suit? Sorry, just got back from an awards ceremony.” In any case, wear something that’s comfortable but also lets them know that your real life is far more interesting than this job. As far as your résumé goes, don’t present it as a single document. You’re a performer. Your résumé should be a YouTube video of you acting out comic scenarios from the various jobs you’ve had over the years. If you have the means, a laugh track would help. And of course, you should play all of the characters to show your range.

When it comes time for the actual interview, just remember, an actor just showed up to these people’s workplace. You’re gonna be a bit of a celebrity, so people are expecting to be entertained. Plus they’ve been sitting around all day talking to boring people, so do some impressions and play around with dialects. Maybe re-enact some famous movie moments. If they ask, “How familiar are you with Excel?” answer, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Then leave. But definitely don’t just be yourself. Who’d you rather hire? Yourself? Or De Niro and that black-and-white movie guy? Congrats, you got the job.

Make Every Day a Performance
Now that you’ve got the survival job, it’s time to make it count, and there’s only one way to do that: Turn whatever business it is into show business. Transform every shift into the finest performance this side of Off-Broadway. (Unless you are lucky enough to get a job at Madame Tussauds on Broadway—in which case, you are already living the dream.) For example, when we got hired together as bike messengers, at first we thought it was going to be miserable, but just ask anyone on our route if they didn’t enjoy the in-motion production of “Guys and Dolls” we performed on our tandem bike. And when we got our first and final babysitting shift, it was clear that regardless of what their parents said on Yelp, our two-man “Next to Normal” shook those toddlers to the core. To get you started, here are a few other possibilities:

Cater waiter. Why else would you be wearing a tux if you weren’t a double agent assigned to serve spinach puffs for six hours?

Pizza delivery person. Think of yourself more as a singing telegram acting like a pizza delivery person. Remember to hand them their breadsticks before the final chorus of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” That last crescendo is a doozy.

Substitute teacher. Yes, these kids need to learn “facts” about the Civil War, but don’t you think it would be more impactful to show up as Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and pretend like you’ve just stepped out of a time machine?

Uber driver. Always dress like a valet from early 20th century England. And remember: Under no circumstances are you to talk with the duke and duchess, and if they catch you making eyes with their daughter Margaret one more time, it will be back to the stables with you!

Take Your Bow
After you’ve been working hard for a few months and consistently reading our column, you will likely get a TV series or Broadway contract. When that time comes, it’s very important to know how to quit with style. Coming from two guys who have had to quit many jobs because of huge high-profile Broadway musical EPA auditions, we’ve got you covered. The key here is drama. This is where all of that sense memory you’ve been working on can really be put to good use.

You can:

  • Break down in tears when you reveal the news to them.
  • Throw things around, scream at everyone, and storm out.
  • Leave a scratchy audio tape saying that you’ve been kidnapped.
  • Or you could always just go with the safe choice by standing on a table and reciting Nora’s final monologue from “A Doll’s House” through a bullhorn.

Whatever floats your boat. Just make sure to dig deep and make a real connection with your audience.

Acting is a full-time job, even when you aren’t working. In our line of business, there’s no such thing as “part-time,” or “temp” work. If you’re someone who really wants to make it, you have to start putting in some serious overtime. So get yourself warmed up folks, because it’s time to clock in. Your next show-stopping shift is about to start.

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