Settle in for a long one, folks. Remember a couple of weeks back when Robert Keniston wrote in to ask for tips on balancing the need for a survival job with the nearly required networking that actors must do to move ahead in this town? From his email:
I work the hours of 4:30pm to 1am Monday through Friday. Now this is good because days are free for auditions and shoots, however, a lot of networking events and workshops are held in the evening and due to the job many of these are missed. One has to really think if missing a night of pay (for rent, etc.) is worth going to an event that may or may not be productive. It’s a big sacrifice and it’ll take probably twice as long to build relationships than someone who is free in the evening.
Some actors work a graveyard shift! How do these actors make it work? I know I’ve done my best, but I’m low on inspiration. Maybe some of your readers have got some great ideas and it’ll make for an interesting subject for everyone to read.
As I mentioned in that week’s Your Turn, balance is key. We’re talking about juggling a survival job schedule (whatever the hours), auditioning, bookings, acting classes, and all of the various networking activities that are out there. I managed all of that, back in my actor days, by having so very many different survival jobs that none of my days looked the same. I had different hours free, day to day, and if I could hit a networking event because I suddenly had that night free, I went. I did so much work from home that could be fit in at whatever time of day I had the time to do it, that I could structure my days to get to whatever events were a priority at the time.
Because those options don’t exist for everyone (depending on the types of survival job work you choose), nor does everyone have the discipline to manage freelance work in such a way that would make them productive and available to take advantage of everything you’d like to experience, socially, I asked the awesome readers of The Actors Voice to write in and share some inspiration with Robert and readers worldwide.
Let’s start off with some advice from Sarah Logan, who — like I did back in my acting days — balances a lot of different types of gigs to create space for being out there and pursuing the acting career. What she does that I didn’t do is combine that with a more “regular” job in an office (entertainment industry gig, at that). That takes some real balance!
I’ve been very lucky! I didn’t get much work at all when I arrived. Well, I did. But the jobs took up my entire day, and I couldn’t take off time for auditions or my career. I remember one job I had that they wanted to train me as an insurance agent and I wouldn’t get any time off. Uhm… no. Somewhere along the line, I just stopped looking for work. The ONLY way I was willing to work was IF I could also have time for my acting career. Ding! Ding! Ding!
Some time went by. But then, I was hired as an assistant. And then… I got an interview for a day job that was close by and the job was in shifts. So I could negotiate/swap my shifts, AND the job is in the industry. They LIKE hiring actors and giving them a chance to have the perfect day job. Then a problem arose. I was worried. What if I get a last-minute audition and the other person can’t cover me? So I sat down with my boss, and we came up with a plan. We ask certain extremely trusted people that we’ve worked with before to be on-call in case that happens (just happened to me yesterday). If an audition comes up, I arrange for a person on our trusted backup list to work that shift and let my boss know so that she can be prepared on her end that I won’t be there.
The other thing I take on is babysitting jobs. That started with one job that led to another job. That babysitting job led to another, and then word got out that I babysit, housesit, dogsit, catsit. So now, I have a number of trusting clients who hire me again and again. Key word, by the way: “TRUST.” I take that very seriously. It’s life and death to me. I communicate consistently with my clients with updates on the safety of their domains, children, and pets when I’m working. I don’t mess around. There’s some free time to watch TV or read or do my work. But number one priority is to play with the kids and animals, look in on them when they’re sleeping, feed them… and I always try very hard to always be available for when they need me.
Then… being a natural assistant comes in handy. Sometimes I get hired for that. Use your skills to your advantage. What are you good at? When people start knowing what your skills are, they’ll hire you for something. Just ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS maintain that valuable trust, communication, and respect with whoever you work for, and remember it’s not just work or just a job or just money. They’re trusting you with something that is part of their lives. So always remember to respect and protect that.
Now, with my main day job that I have consistently, that is perfect. Keep your ear to the ground. There are jobs out there that allow for some freedom for pursuing the career. You just have to look for them. And then, use your skills, and all sorts of lovely jobs will spring up. One job I did, I helped box up a family’s precious belongings for a major move. Another job, I was a spy to catch out embezzling employees and slackers on the job. Be versatile, and say, “Yes!” a lot to anything you can do and can work into your busy schedule. Oh, by the way, sometimes that means less downtime or less sleep. But that’s the sacrifice you make. Just make sure you get sleep at some point.
Next, a few suggestions from Teresa Reilly, whose solution is very much like mine was, in that she keeps changing things up. Heck, I’d say I *still* do that, as I find such great pleasure in learning and growing with each new adventure. (More on the personality type that gravitates to these options toward the end of this week’s column.)
I’ve only ever waited tables for about six hours in my life, and it wasn’t a great experience (which is why Hour Six wasn’t followed by Day Two). I’ve tried every variation of the day job I can get my multi-tasking fingers on: temping, background work, men’s clothing sales, women’s clothing sales, designer bag sales, flyering, tutoring, teaching, babysitting, blogging, personal assisting, sample sales at CostCo… and that’s not including my more harebrained attempts at making moolah at places I’d rather not remember.
Right now, I piece together a crazy work schedule spread between temping in a corporate office, personal assisting in a home office, and tutoring. Every week is different. Every day is different! Some weeks, I do no assisting, and only work in the office. Some weeks, I tutor every day and lead book groups for girls and their mothers. The reason this can work for me is because each one of my employers knows where my priorities lie: my acting.
I have rescheduled all of these jobs at some point so I can get to an audition or a shoot. And the only reason that can work for me is because I’ve finally found employers who are generous, patient, understanding, and who respect me. I’ve gone through a lot of lemons to find them, and I feel like our flexible schedule works because we’re honest with each other. And at the end of the day, I don’t hate myself when I’m there. That’s when a survival job becomes the exact opposite, when you hate the fact you’re doing something possibly creatively unfulfilling all day long. That’s also when you stop being interested in your acting career, because you work 50 hours a week, still can’t pay your bills, AND you’re creatively blocked. I’ve been there, wooo! (I’m looking at you, CostCo job.) But now I know my survival employment can’t just be about surviving. It has to be a job that lets me still like myself. And lets me do workshops and classes at night, or at least schedule ahead of time when I want to make room for an acting time investment.
However, I think I (rightfully) think of this schedule as temporary. I had a great acting teacher in New York, Karen Kohlhaas, who told my undergraduate class to move on from our survival jobs every eight months to a new one. When I was 19, I thought she was crazy. If I find a great survival job, why wouldn’t I hold on to it dearly?! Her reasoning, I’m now realizing years later, is that if you have a fantastic rent job that pays you tons of money, you’ll get too comfortable, or too complacent, or forget why you took the job in the first place: to service your acting career. That being said, I don’t count down to the eight-month mark, and I’ve been working for the same company for a year. It’s a fine art, the survival job!
I hope this helps, and good luck to all of us in all of our many, many jobs.
Longtime readers of The Actors Voice may remember Alex Collins‘ brilliant contribution to a previous column, specifically covering the topic of Golden Handcuffs. Luckily, he’s got even more wisdom to share with us today! Truly, the right mindset is so important to success in anything with this pursuit.
Obviously as an actor, you need to strike a harmonious balance between a) paying bills, b) staying flexible for auditions/rehearsals/bookings, etc., and c) not stressing out about the actor mind taffy of all of the potential stresses that an actor can face. So, how do you successfully navigate all of this? In my opinion, the first and most important component is to realize it is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re not in this business for the long haul, then you’re already going about it the wrong way. There are no overnight successes. Those people who are now on middle America’s radar as an overnight success have been pounding the pavement and hustling for years, a decade, maybe two decades before they became a known commodity. I believe that if actors have that mindset that it’s going to take a long time, just like any other professional career, they are more apt to be successful, more mentally aware of the commitment and sacrifice and as such, small victories or defeats won’t be as large-scale and thus not as damaging to the psyche and the career path.
Survival really is about long-term survival. Unless you’re young, hot, and physically attractive, those cocktail waitress, bartender, etc., jobs aren’t going to be around for you, or at least not for long. Those jobs that pay well are incredibly competitive (a client of mine just opened a restaurant and had 2600 applications for 100 server jobs; that’s a 3.8% chance of hiring) and those jobs that don’t pay well stress you out, result in turnover, and just burn people out. LA is the only town where restaurants routinely ask to see a headshot. I’m not kidding! Imagine doing that in a small town in middle America. You’d get sued as a potential employer but in LA, it’s commonplace. Why? Because restaurants in LA are conveying their brand and part of their brand is by putting beautiful people in front of paying guests to enhance the experience.
If you’re not cut out to be eye candy, don’t fret. There are still tons of other things to do. If you have aptitude for it, there’s temp work in any variety of fields, and simply do a Google search on temp firms in LA. I suggest signing up with multiple firms to cast a wider net. If you’re kid-minded, there’s nannying. This can be lucrative as well as rewarding, but sometimes is less flexible than you would like. Personal assisting has been invaluable for some of my friends, as many of the people they work for are in the industry. In fact, one of my friends is the head personal assistant for an Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe winning actress and her incredibly successful producer husband. She basically runs their estate and coordinates all of the other folks (other assistants, housekeepers, driver, etc.). She’s been fortunate enough to do table reads with Oscar winners. Not a bad perk.
Substitute teaching used be a great option and may still be again in the future, especially outside of LA, but with so many layoffs of full time teachers, the sub pool is becoming saturated and it’s harder and harder to get sufficient days to make ends meet.
With survival jobs, just as with the pursuit of an acting career itself, there are no black and white answers, no absolute right answer. Everyone has a different path to follow. My advice, especially if you’re going to work in a corporate environment of any kind is to work really hard, out-perform the other employees, show initiative, make yourself invaluable to the company. By showing you care about the job while you are there, by showing that you will deliver each and every time, by showing that you are a team player and a valuable one at that, you make yourself shine in the eyes of your boss. Now, this may not result in the flexibility and freedom that you like, but it might!
I’m very fortunate in that I stumbled upon my current job on Craigslist. I have now been with my company for five years and I’m the director of sales. With hard work, a just say yes attitude, and by delivering results again and again, I’ve managed to make myself an integral part of the sales team and the growth of our company. As a result, I’ve now managed to negotiate with my direct supervisor (the CEO) full freedom and flexibility to audition whenever I have an audition and to take time off for any and all bookings. For example, if I have an audition in Santa Monica, I will visit a client in Santa Monica after the audition. That’s being efficient. If I need to travel for work for a day or two, I’ll be sure to book out with my agents so there’s no potential conflicts. If I get advance notice of an audition, then I’ll “book myself” out for that time period at work, so I don’t schedule a meeting and cause my own conflict.
I’m not suggesting that you’ll get this level of freedom and flexibility immediately upon starting a new survival job, but with hard work, dedication to that job, and by being a team player who constantly performs, having an honest conversation with your boss may yield more results than you think. Look at it from the point of view of your boss: They already know you, know your work ethic, know your results, and know how much they’ve invested in you. Giving you a few hours a week of flexibility — especially if you make that time up before/after your auditions — is better than having to find/hire/train/observe/gauge a new employee if they decide to get rid of you.
Again, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Finally, let’s close with some wise words from Helenna Santos, whose term “thrival jobs” is the reason for the title of this week’s column. She manages to hit her jobs, make it to her auditions, attend networking functions, take classes, and produce her own content (lots of it) regularly! So, there is a way (actually, there are several ways, which is why I’m so glad to share the perspectives of several actors I so completely respect and adore on this issue).
Balancing the job that pays the bills with the requirements of pursuing an acting career is definitely no small task, but I would love to add a spin to this topic of the “survival job.” I think the biggest question should be, “Does your survival job help you thrive as an artist?”
In my vlog on Somebody’s Basement I talked about how the term “survival job” has such negative connotations for me. It makes me feel like I’m drowning, gasping for air, trying to do anything to hold on and “survive” the day to day pursuit of my career. That’s why I decided to stop looking at the job that pays the bills negatively, and start looking at it as the job that helps me thrive as an artist… my “thrival job.”
By thrive I don’t necessarily mean that the job actually inspires me as an artist, although ironically it actually has, but by thrive I mean that without the job I would never be able pursue my dream in LA because I wouldn’t be able to pay rent or buy gas or groceries… the simple things that keep me in the game. It’s a paradigm shift in the way I decided to think about the job.
My thrival job as a waitress is one that allows me flexibility for auditions and networking events, and has actually been a fantastic way to meet people in the industry as well. Would I rather be on set every day than waiting tables? Sure. But until I become a fulltime working actor, the thrival job I’ve chosen has not only helped support me financially, but given me the freedom to wholeheartedly pursue my goals. While I could do a number of different types of jobs, this is the job I’ve found that allows my heart and mind to be fully committed to my career.
The ideal thrival job will be different for everyone, but if the job that pays the bills is not helping you thrive as an artist, then it could be time to reassess. If you find that you can’t do the things that are necessary to pursue an acting career — and stay happy in that pursuit — like being available for auditions, going to class, going to networking events from time to time to create connections, etc., then maybe there is a different thrival job out there just waiting for you. One that will support your artistic pursuits.
Of course this is easier said than done, and I am constantly reassessing this for myself, but looking at it as a thrival job puts me in the right frame of mind. It allows me to feel immense gratitude that I am able to support my true career and stay focused on my goals.
I hope this helps other actors out there because using the term “thrival job” has helped me so much the last little while. And ultimately, I believe we are all here to thrive and not just survive.
I remember this amazing book I read in my twenties (actually, I may have listened to the audiobook version) by Barbara Sher called I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How To Discover What You Really Want and How To Get It. In it, the author talks about scanners vs. divers. I love this concept (but for some reason, I always remember it as “skimmers” rather than “scanners,” FWIW). Some people are scanners. We want to try a whole bunch of different things, will get a little bit into each new thing we find out about, and while we may dive some now and then, we’re likely to do less diving than scanning ’til we find something really amazing, then we’ll dive more, always knowing we’ll continue to scan too (because it’s in our nature). Divers will stick with something a long time. They’ll explore something very, very deeply and maybe never even look into something else because they feel so gratified by what they’re doing (and to what depths).
So, a big part of having success in your survival job (or thrival job; thanks, Helenna!) is knowing whether you need to do a lot of different things or one thing, very deeply. Because if you thrive due to a stable, predictable schedule that allows you to know when you’re free (and you won’t always be free for everything, no matter what, ever) and to know what you’re earning every paycheck, you need the survival job that suits the diver. And if you would lose your mind doing the same thing every single day, you need multiple scanner survival jobs. Keep mixing it up, never know too “for sure” what your schedule is going to be, and trust you can hustle to get the bills paid if you miscalculated your timing.
Either way, it’s all about relationship-building and trust-building. You get more opportunities to balance your thrival job with your acting career the stronger those bonds of relationship and trust become. There is no one best job for every type of person, both due to your own skills and personality and your goals as a networking and creative artist, here. But if you find a job (or jobs) that help you thrive as an artist, you’ve mastered a big part of the game. And that is what gets you closer to no longer needing a survival job anyway.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001228.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.