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Why wait tables? It sucks!

August 4, 2014

In my six years in New York, I have held countless jobs that have had little or nothing to do with my acting career. One in pursuit of any other profession might go to college to study in their desired discipline, graduate with a degree in said discipline, and then go out and find a job as an intern or an assistant in the field in which they wish to work. Actors, however, are required to find an often mind-numbing, soul-sucking “survival job” that pays well enough to cover rent, bills, food, and transportation, while still providing the flexibility needed to attend auditions. An actor can go through countless “survival” jobs trying to find the right one to meet his or her needs, and if that weren’t enough, auditions themselves are basically mini job interviews. So, for those who aren’t actors: imagine an eternity of endless Internet searching and résumé sending and twenty-hour days. Cut the odds of ever making a living doing what you love by a bazillion, and you get the hell in which actors live.

I have run the gamut of “survival” jobs, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share with my readers some of the best and the worst.

1. Babysitter

Domestic care work can be a great option for actors. In New York City, childcare providers who are educated, healthy, and speak fluent English are often paid upwards of $15/hr for their services, and it’s easy for actors to find a family with a schedule that allows time to audition and attend evening rehearsals, i.e. pick up child from school and stay until parents get home at 6:00. There are some parents who don’t wish to hire actors because our schedules are inconsistent, and we leave town with little notice, but most parents love a young, creative artist. Two things of which to be wary if you decide to find a job like this: 1) Getting too attached. It can be very hard to leave a child you’ve grown to love if you get a contract out of town. 2) BEWARE THE UES. You might very well end up in your own version of The Nanny Diaries. Overall, if you like kids and loathe waiting tables, do yourself a favor and make a profile on Presuming you’re not a felon, you’ll find a job by the end of the week.

2. Event Staff

I’ve never done anything consistent, like catering, but I have answered ads for extra staff for various event companies. It’s a great way to make a couple hundred bucks in an evening, and you’re only committing to one event at a time. I answered a craigslist ad for a single scheduled event once, and I ended up working several events for the company over the course of the following year. If you prove to be reliable, punctual, and good with people, they will call you again. Although, once you’re in with a company, try not to decline work from them more than three times in a row. They will eventually give up and stop contacting you if they think that you’re no longer interested or are consistently unavailable.

3. Nightclub Promoter

Apparently, I don’t know anyone who has the slightest desire to go to nightclubs. Including myself…why did I think this was something I’d be good at? Try to stay true to yourself in some small way when choosing a job.

4. Drama/Dance Teacher

This can be a really fulfilling job, but most of the work out there is with kids, so must like the kiddos once again. It does feel good to be doing work that has something to do with theatre, but I’ve met some drama teachers who’ve ended up where they are as a bitter end to their failed attempt at an acting career. As long as you can swallow nurturing the next generation and making their successes your successes instead of secretly harboring wildly inappropriate jealousy of your 12 year old students who haven’t so much as a pimple yet, let alone a wrinkle, you may find happiness doing this. It does make it hard to leave town, as many commitments are from September-June, but it often pays well. I was lucky enough to find a teaching job that only requires my presence on Friday evenings, and Saturday mornings, and I make enough money that I almost don’t have to work at all during the week. Friday nights have been conflicts with performances before, and I did actually leave town for three months one year, but my boss is an understanding guy, and I arranged my own substitute. You can make it work with a little creativity and planning.

5. Focus Group Participant

Focus Pointe Global is the company I recommend. I’ve been paid $75-$185 to talk about pet food or diet products for an hour. I was even chosen once for an in-depth study that included an at-home interview and some imaginative product invention on my part, and I got paid upwards of $350 for that. Again, not steady, but worth taking the surveys to see if you qualify.

Currently, I do the teaching gig during the school year, and while I no longer need a regularly scheduled babysitting job, I have a long list of spot-sitting clients, and can make an extra $200-$300 some weeks depending on who needs what. Where I need to fill in the gaps is during the summer, and I actually found a great option that I’d like to share. In the fall of 2012, I was looking for a seasonal job to help me pay for Christmas festivities, and so I started looking to see if any of the vendors in the holiday market at Bryant Park needed sales help. I ended up working for this jewelry designer, and while the market was only open through the beginning of January, I impressed her enough for her to ask if I was interested in working out-of-town shows for her throughout the spring/summer. I said sure, and now I work most weekends for her. The job commitment is typically Friday afternoon through Sunday night, and I come out the other side with a really great chunk of change, plus a bonus if I have good sales. It leaves the weeks free for auditioning, and if I get a show, it’s really easy to just go unavailable for a while. I definitely recommend scouting craigslist for small companies like these that don’t require the level of commitment of corporate retail.

So, that’s my two cents on the dreaded “survival” job. I hope I helped guide some of you toward finding your next piece of the jigsaw.

By the way, the title of this article is a direct quote from one of my audition monologues. See? Even fictional actors hate waiting tables.

To finishing the puzzle!


One Comment leave one →
  1. August 4, 2014 10:24 am

    I believe figuring out the “survival job game” of learning what works for you, your schedule, and your sanity is crucial to our careers. I still wait tables and dread going to work, BUT like you I also work weekends, so it frees my week up for auditions, extra work, and other jobs that might come up. Glad that you’ve figured out a system that works for you!

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