3 Ways to Thrive as an Artist Visa Holder During Social Distancing + Beyond

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Photo Source: Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

On the best of days, being an actor in New York, and in America in general, comes with a lot of uncertainty and potential burnout. Even more so when you’re an actor on an artist visa and rules both formal and informal are different for you than for everyone else. At times, as you strive to prove your worth as an artist within the limited frameworks you’ve been given, you might forget to take a step back and take care of yourself. The professional breaks, it may go without saying, are even more capricious than usual now with the current pandemic.

But even in uncertain times of social distancing like these, incredible opportunities through which you can exercise your creative energy, become a better actor, and expand yourself as a person abound. Here are some ways you can not only survive but thrive on an artist visa right now.

1. Cultivating a community.
Red tape is the bane of the existence of artist visa holders. Some companies won’t hire you in any kind of role as a rule. When they do, you may find yourself overlooked as a potential series regular or for many long-term projects. I’ve been there. Once one of the most prestigious agencies in the country approached me about a Swedish-language VO role in a major motion picture. As a humble theater actor, I was thrilled. But I soon learned that in order to move forward in the audition process I would at least have to hold a green card. Let’s just say the news was not the highlight of my week.

Luckily, whatever your status within all the bureaucracy, your peers will always have your back. Some of my most cherished creative experiences began with a referral from a friend or even the occasional stranger who had seen my work. Building a support system of fellow artists is crucial and there are many ways of making connections in between gigs, both in the era of social distancing and for when the world returns to some semblance of normalcy. For example, Backstage launched a series of digital seminars called The Slate where you can interact with other actors, creators, casting directors, agents, and more. Women’s Weekend Film Challenge hosts a variety of online events, including watch parties and Q&A sessions, where you can interact with some amazing women directors, showrunners, and producers. Take a look for other events and opportunities that have moved online that you can take advantage of during this time. 

2. Finding a side hustle.
As a performer on an artist visa, most of the classic methods of supplementing an occasionally precarious income flow, such as waiting tables, are legally forbidden to you. So, if you’re not the heir of an ill-gotten fortune, and especially in a time when much of the industry is on ice, how do you make a living within the bounds of visa laws? Lucky for you, there are plenty of creative jobs that fall under the visa-approved category of actor. 

You can find work as an acting coach, acting teacher, or speaker. Freelance voiceover work can be a great way to exercise your vocal cords. Working in educational theater can be lucrative, stable work that lets you exercise that all-important acting brain of yours too. The School of Visual Arts in New York also has an actor and figure modeling pool that they use for their classes. You can get paid by the hour to do anything from cold reads to improv to modeling whether virtually or when the situation eventually allows in-person. 

Background work when available is a great way to make a quick buck as well. Just keep in mind that once you’ve worked in background on a show there’s a chance that you may not be able to work on the same show in another role, including principal work. Showrunners and their precious verisimilitude, what can you do? Lastly, Double major your artist visa. If you have a great deal of experience in a different line of work, such as production, try getting a concurrent artist visa in that as well. It gives you twice the options for work!

3. Developing your own work and yourself.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the internet has democratized art like never before, which means it’s more important than ever for actors to develop and produce their own work. Who knows? You may have the next “Broad City” or “Insecure” on your hands—both shows that got their start on YouTube. If you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, a person of color, or a person with a disability and you’re not finding the right roles for you, then take creative control and see what you can make with what you have. Your audience is out there!

Also, pursue your interests beyond acting. Paint with oil colors, take piano classes,   learn  Latin. Work on your personal relationships, whether with friends, family, or yourself. Acting doesn’t need to be the end-all and be-all for you to find success and happiness. That would be way too stressful. In fact, being more rooted in the world around you, in the people and activities you love, will make you a better actor. After all, we can’t draw from life to create if we’re not creating a life from which to draw.

Looking for remote work? Backstage has got you covered! Click here for auditions you can do from home!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Isra Elsalihie
Isra Elsalihie is an award-winning Iraqi-Swedish actor. Her credits include “Noura” directed by Johanna McKeon (The Old Globe), “The Invaders” (2018 BFI London Film Festival), “Arresting God” (Diaspora Creative/Sundance Institute Development Track), “Another Girl” (Amazon Prime), “Anne Frank in the Gaza” directed by Shaun Peknic (PCTF Outstanding Supporting Actress award), and LAByrinth Theatre Company’s Barn Series and Installation America at Cherry Lane Theatre. Find her at www.IsraElsalihie.com and on Instagram @isra.elsalihie
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