When I tell people I’m actor, their first questions are usually something like, “but… is that your real job?” “Do you get paid to do that?” “Isn’t that just for fun?”
These questions are always a little complicated to answer. The answer is yes, as a member of the Actors Equity Association (the actor’s union) I have a salary that enables me to pay all of my expenses and contribute to savings, and provides me with benefits, such as health insurance and a 401k, like a member of any other union. Therefore, I am able to make a living as an actor, that is, when I have a job as an actor. But that’s the hard part- employment consistency.
As an actor, jobs are very temporary, so you spend a lot of time in pursuit of the next job. Even when you are working on Broadway or a National Tour, arguably the most stable of theatrical employments for actors, your job is only secure for a finite amount of time. Few shows or employment contracts last longer than a few months! So in-between acting jobs (or even during), you are constantly auditioning, which is a consuming full time job that you are not paid for. During these times, actors generally find ways to supplement their income.
My friends and I usually turn to jobs with flexible, and primarily evening hours so we are still able to audition during the day. I’ve tried waitressing/ hosting, babysitting/ nannying, temp work at offices, and working at the desk of salons and fitness studios. You often have to piece multiple jobs together and just ‘make it work!’ While I’d of course prefer to be working in theater 365 days a year, I find that in the times I’m not able to, it’s refreshing to spend time with people who aren’t involved in theater. Also, having a consistent and structured work schedule is very helpful because the theater schedule can be so haphazard it can be difficult to always generate your own schedule and stay motivated and productive.
My last side job was working as a temporary secretary for a building maintenance company in New York- I did not know what I had gotten myself into! The phone rang off the hook all day with very upset people who mainly spoke in Spanish! I had to decipher what they were saying to field calls and figure out who to transfer them to- that high school Spanish really came in handy! …Talk about a ‘making it work’ moment!
Keep an eye out for the next post! I'll switch gears and write about different types of theater jobs!