Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Dream job for an aspiring actor who does not enjoy starving to death
August 16, 2010 6:51 PM   Subscribe

"Does my dream job exist?" Or, "What are some good fallback jobs for an aspiring actor who does not enjoy starving to death?"

I'm hurling rapidly towards post-collegiate life, and my inability to choose a career path is frustrating me. I've spent entire days brainstorming ideas and working through different career paths in my head, but I can't figure this one out.

I love to write and perform sketch comedy, act in other capacities, and generally be involved in some creative art. That said, I would never want to bank on a creative profession. I don't want to plan around making a living as an actor or a screenwriter, because I know how much pressure bills place on the creative process.

I would like to develop a marketable skill that I could perform for 3-5 hours each weekday as an employee, freeing up the rest of my time to work on material, audition for parts, etc. Because it's the center of film and television casting, I'd like to be able to live in Los Angeles. In order to live on the better side of the poverty line, I'd like to at least be able to make $750 or so each week.

One job I considered: SAT tutoring. This would allow me to move around tutoring sessions to accommodate audition times, charge $50/hour or so, and learn one skill (SAT prep) well enough to have relatively high job security.

Is SAT tutoring a feasible fallback job? What other jobs or career paths meet these conditions, and what should I do while in college to prepare myself for said jobs or career paths?

I am going to need to talk to Career Services and other actors about this, but I appreciate any help I can get from Metafilter.

One last note: my major is currently English, but I'm not opposed to changing it or spending a few years in graduate school for a fallback job. I came into college hoping that I could head off to the Yale School of Drama or Tisch when I got my bachelor's degree - now grauate degrees from those programs seem overly restrictive career-wise.
posted by Wanderboy to Work & Money (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
If SAT tutoring pays $50/hour, and you work 5 hours/week, you won't meet your $750/week goal. Did you mean you'd like to make $250/week? Or, if you did mean $750/week, at 5 hours/week that's $150/hour.
posted by Houstonian at 7:07 PM on August 16, 2010


"3-5 hours each weekday"

I was envisioning a 15-hour workweek at $50/hour, for a weekly total of 750. Working five hours each day would bring that weekly total up to $1250.
posted by Wanderboy at 7:12 PM on August 16, 2010


Can you teach theatre to kids? Are there children's acting studios where you could work? Actors are a dime a dozen in LA, but if you have a good amount of experience directing at a decent school, you might have a good chance of getting hired at one of these places. Rich kids' parents pay a lot to send their kids to learn to act.

As a note: all of my acting friends in LA are servers, so anything else may not be feasible in LA on a part-time basis unless you have a strong non-acting skill that stands out.
posted by elpea at 7:17 PM on August 16, 2010


If you are not hungry enough to perform that you will throw your all into it and wait tables on the side, you probably need to switch majors and do something else and then do community theater.

I'm not snarking.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:20 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


SAT tutoring isn't so simple.

How do you market? Build a reputation? Get referrals from schools/guidance advisors? How will you market yourself? Will you go to their homes? What about being alone with minors? How will you be available? Will you charge for phone calls? (SAT parents like to talk for hours.)

Will they pay you in cash? Check? What if it bounces? Credit cards?

What taxes will you file?

And what about curriculum development? What materials will you teach from? This is no minor task.

SAT kids come in 3 flavors (generally): superstudents looking for a few more points, learning disabled, and rich(er) not bright kids. How will you deal with each? Do you have training in disabled education?

Anyway, sorry for all the questions, but tutoring for a living is a serious business and you need to be prepped for it.

IMHO, you're bette off working through an established company and learn the ropes.
posted by k8t at 7:22 PM on August 16, 2010


My son wanted a career in creative arts, his initial love was graphic art. He completed a B.A. in Film and Communication from a small midwestern college, packed up the wife, dog, and cat loaded a trailer and moved from Michigan to L.A.

The key to the move was knowing someone that could connect him with the business, his cousin who had been producing commercials for a number of years. (Dad, of course, was worried that he would be tossed into a pit of drugs and terrible things in L.A., and encouraged him to stay with the menial graphic art job in Ann Arbor instead!).

He spent a number of years doing Production Assistant tasks, the bottom of the bottom, and loved almost every minute of it.

He worked commercials, he worked music videos, afternoons, nights, lift, carry, physical labor.. he eventually worked his way up to doing an assistant to the art director gig on a TV special...

A few years into this effort one of the commercial directors he worked with said he needed a personal assistant. This involved taking care of a slew of details for the director, such as being the construction manager for a house remodel, taking the kids to soccer practice, walking dogs, you name it.

More and more of the work became film/commercial/video related, he had opportunities to prove himself, showcase his skill and talent, he eventually was "assistant to the director" on a film.

He was in that position for about three years, worked his butt off. He developed trust, relationships and never, ever, fell short of the expectations of the people he worked with.

The next film he was listed as a producer... and so it goes.

Bottom line, the key was being involved in the business at whatever level was possible, working hard, exhibiting the ethics, talent, and creativity people were looking for, and being willing to work until the dream came true.

My advice, whatever you do to pursue this, focus on getting connected, networking, and work harder than anyone else is working.
posted by HuronBob at 7:37 PM on August 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


I had three theater-y friends I can think of in college. One decided that she wanted a more stable career, so she gave up on acting, stayed on the East Coast, and went into education. Two moved to LA and are picking up PA work when they can find it, and subsisting on a mix of food service jobs and checks from their families when they can't.

Is there a reason you're ruling out food service? There's a reason it's popular among aspiring actors/musicians/writers/etc.-- it's flexible enough, quick to break into, and the pay (when you factor in tips) can be pretty good.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:37 PM on August 16, 2010


If you are not hungry enough to perform that you will throw your all into it and wait tables on the side, you probably need to switch majors and do something else and then do community theater.

See, now, this "all or nothing" proposition is the reason so many people give up in despair. Sure, it's romantic, but there's no need for you to be miserable while you pursue your creative goals. Colleges do acting students a grave disservice by not preparing them for the realities of working life. Actors come out thinking, "I'll wait tables and slave and starve until I make it," but the truth is, if what you mean by "make it" is making a living solely from performing, you're probably not going to get there. Most of the actors I know whom I consider successful still have to work temp jobs.

And since you're probably always going to have to have a "day job" in some capacity, you might as well make it something tolerable. Do you know Microsoft Office? Learn that. You can sign up with a temp agency and take short term assignments in different environments until you find an atmosphere you like. One of my actor friends is working now gathering research for an investment fund. He doesn't know anything about finance, but he does enjoy researching.
posted by Evangeline at 7:42 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


PS - parents are very demanding about schedules. If you're supposed to meet with Madison Tuesdays at 4pm, what happens if you have an audition at 1pm on the other side of town? Which do you bail on?
posted by k8t at 7:43 PM on August 16, 2010


ETA: these kids don't drive and have incredibly tight schedules with sports and activities.

And with LA traffic, you may have to factor in hours on each end. (Kids can't be tutored for more than an hour and 45 before going nuts.) Is $100 (2 hr session) worth it if your total time (prep, driving, communication) could be 6-8 hours?
posted by k8t at 7:48 PM on August 16, 2010


I wouldn't recommend SAT tutoring unless you have good reason to believe you rock at it. I put myself through grad school this way (and doing a couple other things-detailed below) - I taught SAT and LSAT and the first question everyone asks is your score. Were you at the top? Because if not, no one will trust you to tutor their kid. Moreover, you'll need to demonstrate results to garner new clients via referral so not only do you need to have rocked the SATs but you'll also need a plan to help others rock it.

Suggestion-you're an English major, can you edit? I edited text books/essays/journal articles to supplement my income-very dry and boring work, thus it pays well. Can you type? A lot of professors write their books longhand, they need a person to type it, then edit it, then proofread it, etc. The nice thing is that it can be done long distance, so you can keep in touch with profs from where you are now and take jobs nationwide. Again, you need to be good at it-I got most jobs on a referral basis; once I was up and running, I didn't advertise at all. Hope that helps-best of luck!
posted by supercapitalist at 8:19 PM on August 16, 2010


For some reason a lot of working actors have day jobs in DVD quality control. They get paid to watch and listen to a shit-ton of material—much of it banal, but some of it quite interesting to performers. English majors can get work checking, editing and writing subtitles and closed captions.

Sorry, we're not hiring at the moment.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:19 PM on August 16, 2010


You can make damn good money waiting tables in LA, more than $750/ week at a top joint and it's night work which frees up your days. Don't knock it.
posted by fshgrl at 12:52 AM on August 17, 2010


One of the more undervalued part time jobs is cleaning homes. I knew more than a few students who had comfortable lives cleaning homes on the side and carrying very full loads. The main thing was that they were organized and thought out cleaning processes and connecting well with client needs (want only organic cleaning products? Not a problem!)

People pay well for a few hours of cleaning and if you get a good reputation then you have steady clientele who need you maybe once or twice a week or monthly which gives you plenty of time to focus on the career. But you need to be really good with time management especially with the traffic and casting calls.
posted by jadepearl at 5:53 AM on August 17, 2010


I agree with Evangeline. This idea that artists must be artists full time -- and if they can't make art pay the rent (or if they can't be happy living in poverty) -- they should quit is relatively new. Chekhov was a doctor; Aeschylus was a soldier; etc.

I have had a full time, nine-to-five job for my entire adult life. And yet I've directed dozens of plays and written four books. You can do it. Just find a day job that you enjoy (or, in the worse case scenario, one that is tolerable).

I completely agree that anxiety over bills can blunt art. It doesn't inevitably do this, but it can. This is exactly why I have a day job. I had a chance to make it as a full-time working director, but I didn't take it, because the plays I want to direct are not commercial. They will never make money. If I used theatre to pay the bills, I would have to compromise. I don't mind compromising in other areas of life, but if I have to compromise artistically, to me, I might as well quit. It doesn't fulfill me or make me happy. (There are plenty of happy actors who HAVE compromised. I'm not saying it's impossible. You just have to think about your personality, likes, dislikes and values.)

I also like my day job, which is computer programming, which is something I taught myself. I knew someone who supported her acting addiction by getting a certificate in massage therapy. Some do it by working as editors. MANY work in the legal profession (paralegals, legal proofreaders, etc.)
posted by grumblebee at 6:04 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


That said, I would never want to bank on a creative profession. I don't want to plan around making a living as an actor or a screenwriter, because I know how much pressure bills place on the creative process.

I'm going to give you some advice, as someone who was given this advice by my acting teacher towards the end of my freshman year as a theatre major.

If you don't want to be an actor so badly that you can't imagine doing anything else with your life, you don't want to be an actor.

I'm not telling you not to pursue it, not to try, not to make it a hobby, whatever. But please know that if you really can't imagine ever putting your creative life before money, you might as well know give up on ever being a professional actor and start seriously considering what your career will be.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, if you change your mind and decide that you are passionate enough about acting that you can envision prioritizing your art, what about working in another aspect of The Industry?

I know a lot of actors who are also PA's for different aspects of film and TV (casting, the production office, being on set, or being an actor or casting director's assistant would probably get you the best bang for your buck). Many of whom end up in various film/TV industry jobs when/if their acting careers don't pan out, or who successfully use such a job as their day job between occasional acting gigs.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on August 17, 2010


See, now, this "all or nothing" proposition is the reason so many people give up in despair.

Unfortunately, it's true.

Is there work out there? Sure. But it takes not only talent and luck but passion and hard work. If you don't have either of those latter two things working for you, it doesn't matter whether you have the first two at all. And the question, "how can I make a middle class living working 15 hours a week while I semi kinda sorta halfass my way through some auditions" does not indicate the drive that it takes. Maybe OP has said drive, he just isn't communicating that here. But every single creative person I've ever met has agreed that, if you don't want it so much you can't imagine not doing it, you don't want it enough and should go find something easier to make a living on.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, it's true.

Well Sara C, I've been producing/acting in classical theatre with my own theatre company for ten years while at the same working a nine to five job as a legal secretary, so I can testify, that it is indeed NOT true.
posted by Evangeline at 1:35 PM on August 17, 2010


$50 an hour in LA?
Personal assistant work will not be only 15 hours a week. Most of these jobs demand your every waking moment.

I think waiting tables or bartending is the best bet. There's also debt collection, but it's an icky job.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2010


I think there's a bridge between what Evangeline and Sara C are saying. The truth is that working in the arts takes a lot of time and energy -- time and energy that most people don't need to worry about if they "just" go to work from nine-to-five and then go home. (I put "just" in quotes, because I don't mean to imply those people are slackers.)

There are MANY forces that prompt you to NOT expend that energy: it's tiring; you don't get to hang out with your friends and family; it involves trade offs (Evangeline and I -- we're married -- don't have kids. That's not because we've chosen theatre over kids. But I do think it would be REALLY challenging if we chose to have 9-5 jobs, do theatre at night AND have kids).

Another big force is a feeling of failure. I think Evangeline and I are incredibly successful artists. But if you define success as "making money at it," we've failed. And in this culture, it's hard not to define success that way.

I'm not some super-being that isn't affected by my own culture. I had to so some real soul-searching and changing before I was able to redefine success for myself. I don't blame anyone who doesn't do that. But if you don't do it, and year after year after year after years you make no money as an artist, that's going to drag you down.

Like Evangeline, I am living testament to the fact that you CAN work full time at a day job and do theatre. I have been doing that for well over a decade. I have no intention of slowing down. I'm sure I'll have both a day job and a night-time artistic pursuit until the day I die. But the point is that I do that while many other people (who COULD do it) don't. This is where I think Sara C. has a point.

So I think it's worth visualizing how you'd feel if become me. Most of the actors I went to school with, the ones that dropped out, didn't visualize that. They DID visualize hardship, but they imagined it lasting a finite time. "I'll probably have to wait tables for a couple of years before I make it." It's worth asking yourself, "What if it takes 20 years to make it? 30 years? What if it takes you a lifetime?" In those cases, do you still want to do it? Are you in it for three years of for the long haul. The long hail ISN'T three years. It's not five years either.

I think Sara C is wrong (if this is what she's saying) that if you're not willing to wait tables or work crappy temp jobs all your life, you're not a real artists. But I do think she's right in the sense that it's never going to be easy. As long as you're telling yourself the fairy tale in which you one day, AFTER a lot of hardship, wake up an you're a STAR, you're lying to yourself. That's not the road that 99% of us have open to us.

So, yeah. How much do you want to do it? I'm not even sure "want" is the right work. It's closer to need. Obviously, I won't die if I quit directing plays. But the drive is always there. Sometimes I don't even enjoy directing. But it's not about enjoyment for me. It's who I am. Sometimes I think about quitting. But I know myself well enough to know that if I quit, a couple of years later I'd be doing it again.

You make art because you HAVE to make art. And at this point it because tautological. You don't need to worry about. If you have to do it, you'll find a way to do it. If you wind up dropping out, then that's fine. Then you didn't really have that "need." And, ultimately, I think that's where the wisdom lies. Yes, as Sara C says, you have to really WANT it. But I don't think most us can know how much we want it until we try the lifestyle for a few years. Certainly, if, back when they were in school, you'd asked my friends who dropped out of the business if they WANTED it, they would have said, "Yes!" And they wouldn't have been lying.

I promise you that whatever happens, you won't be wasting your time. And I hope you never see it that way. If you do the 9-5/theatre thing and stick with it, you'll have learned something really valuable about yourself. If you don't stick with it, you'll have also learned something valuable. Everybody wants a shortcut, but there are no shortcuts to self knowledge. The only way to get that is to live.
posted by grumblebee at 2:40 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are MANY forces that prompt you to NOT expend that energy: it's tiring; you don't get to hang out with your friends and family; it involves trade offs (Evangeline and I -- we're married -- don't have kids. That's not because we've chosen theatre over kids. But I do think it would be REALLY challenging if we chose to have 9-5 jobs, do theatre at night AND have kids).

For what it's worth, I was originally coming more from the opposite angle. If your instinct is to put a healthy paycheck or middle class lifestyle ahead of your creative life, you might as well understand that your art will always be a hobby and just go find yourself a career that will afford you the lifestyle you want. If you're not willing to make $10 an hour, at least for a couple years right out of school, you don't want this bad enough.

But what you say is all true, of course.

I think Sara C is wrong (if this is what she's saying) that if you're not willing to wait tables or work crappy temp jobs all your life, you're not a real artists.

I think I'd take out "all your life" and the real artist bit. For one thing, there's no such thing as a "real artist" vs. a "poseur artist" or whatever. Anyone who makes/does art is an artist. However. If one is serious about their work, they will do what they have to do to at least give it a fair shake. Even if that includes living life on the financial edge for a little while*.

If you're only interested in pursuing your art if it means never having to sacrifice anything, you're not going to go any farther than the hobby level. And of course there's nothing wrong with making your art a hobby - but the OP seems to be under the impression that he can give his art a hobby priority level and suddenly wake up one morning to find himself a working professional actor. It doesn't work that way - there are a lot more people out there who want it way more than that.

*Note - a lot of what's setting my eyes to rolling here is the fact that, several years out of college, I don't make in my full time job what the OP expects to make working a couple hours a day between auditions. And I'm about to take a pay cut in order to downscale my creative day-job and prioritize my own projects, because no matter how cool my job in the film industry is, it turns out that I need to write. Even if that means slinging lattes for a while.
posted by Sara C. at 5:05 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


... but the OP seems to be under the impression that he can give his art a hobby priority level and suddenly wake up one morning to find himself a working professional actor. It doesn't work that way - there are a lot more people out there who want it way more than that.

You're forgetting an important component - luck. Sometimes the kind of success you're talking about has nothing to do with hard work or how much you "want it". Sometimes, it's just dumb luck. Sometimes the people who don't "deserve" it (however you define that - maybe they're just lazy) get the big breaks. And the people who work their asses off never make a living off acting. So you have to find some sort of creative outlet doing the thing you love that doesn't have money as the end goal.
posted by Evangeline at 7:01 PM on August 17, 2010


I don't at all think that you can't do art unless you have money as your end goal. In fact, that's one of the most deplorable ideas that I find prevalent in American culture - this idea that hobbies and interests are to be denigrated unless you can find a way for them to become marketable skills.

What I think is that if you write an AskMe describing yourself as an aspiring actor, and then you specify that you plan to prioritize reaching certain material goals over and above your craft (even as a 22 year old kid with plenty of time to be a broke actor), you probably should think heavily about whether professional acting is really the career path for you.
posted by Sara C. at 8:30 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older On Friday, I used Sn0wbreeze t...   |  What are some programs that he... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.