A London Actor’s Guide to Part-Time Work

Article Image
Photo Source: Pexels

People sometimes laugh when I use the term ‘money job’. “All jobs should be money jobs”, they invariably say. And they are right, of course. However, the reality of being an actor means it’s wise and often necessary to have something to fall back on or to top up with. A part-time, flexible, or seasonal job outside of the industry can be used to pay the bills through downtime, can provide you with the ability to say yes to worthwhile low or unpaid projects and also to say no to something you’d rather not do. Even actors who don’t need the money sometimes want the social life or routine of other work.

I’m going to guide you through ideas and tips for part time work in London as well as provide some links, but first, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Having a job aside from acting not an admission of failure. Actors are still actors when they are pouring a pint. Working, respected, well-known actors do it, people who are ‘successful’ by any standards. Some even have whole businesses going on in the background: Rupert Grint is a landlord, Caroline Quentin is a property developer and Tom Selleck farms avocados. Being poor is not fun and neither is being supported by your parents your entire life. Not keeping busy can lead to despondency and frustration. When your career is one giant unknown it can be healthy to worry about something else, something small and relatively low-risk, like, “Can I really balance six full dinner plates?”

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s what you should look for:

Value for money.
Undoubtedly, you have plenty of transferable skills that you take for granted. Make a list if you need to. Find a job where you are valued, respected and get to strengthen your skills and acquire new ones.

Be clear.
With your employer, with your colleagues. There is no point having a job that cripples your aspirations. You will need time off to go to auditions, you will need to leave with little or no notice and there’s no point lying about it. Chances are if you are clear with an employer from the start they’ll be happy to honour this arrangement. Note that if you are looking for a full-time job, it won’t be easy to convince a new boss that you need to take extended lunch breaks to go out for auditions. This is why looking for part-time roles is important.

Find the right job.
I’d suggest a job that is engaging and rewards effort. As an actor, you’ll be confident, great at problem-solving and quick thinking. Pubs and bars mean conversation, offices mean being part of a team and schools mean dealing with the unexpected.

But maybe you don’t want to work with children, customers or even other people. There are plenty of jobs you can do alone or from home. Deliveries and courier work mean you’ll get the most out of your Spotify Premium subscription and helper apps like TaskRabbit mean you work where and when you want. There are also brawn jobs like landscape gardening, removals and personal training where you get keep in shape. Telemarketing, promotional work or charity mugging means utilising your trained voice and improv skills to hit sales targets.

Working in a theatre cafe, bar or restaurant will surround you with other actors. There are pros and cons to this. You’ll have access to a network of support, tips, and tricks but you’ll talk shop all the time. You’ll find great people to work with but you’ll need to deal with other actor’s success.

READ: A London Actor’s Guide to Seeing Theatre for Cheap

Consider your timelines.
If you’re looking for work that is predictable and allows you to plan, then working in established restaurants, cafes or shops is best. You’ll likely have a two-week rota, can pick up extra hours and Leon or Oliver Bonas isn’t going bust anytime soon. If you’re happy with short notice but potentially better-paid work, then temp agencies supply receptionists, office support staff and anything else you can think of. It might be for half a year or half a day. If you’re happy to find other work during school holidays, then cover teaching or assisting at a school can be the right sort of challenging—and you’re done by 3.15 pm.

Look out for yourself.
One temp agency not finding you enough work? Join a second, a third or a fourth. The restaurant you love working at is reducing your hours? Ask for more or leave. Loyalty is important but not as important as paying your rent. Make sure the job is working for you too.

Know when to quit.
If your employer is pushing extra responsibility or asking too much then it might be time to leave. If they’re not giving you time off or demand long notice periods, it’s perhaps time to look elsewhere. If you’re bored, then try something different.

Know how to quit.
Finding work in London is easy. Finding good work is more difficult. So even if you’re off to star in a blockbuster, it’s best not to burn those bridges. Keep your options open because even if you never come back, you might want to refer a friend. Leave politely and save the drama for the cameras.

To PAYE or not to PAYE?
That is the question. PAYE is when an employer or payroll company arrange and distribute your paycheck. You’ll automatically be taxed and deducted for any student loans or optional pension contributions. Temping, teaching, waiting tables and pub work are all generally PAYE. Some other jobs require you to be self-employed and keep your own accounts. You might need to invoice for work or arrange payment. You’ll definitely be doing your own taxes and National Insurance. Cash in hand is, in short, illegal.

Go forth and prosper (and don't forget why you're doing it)!

Do you have any other great tips for work? Post them in the comments for other Backstage.com readers!

Check out Backstage’s London audition listings!