One of the biggest struggles for actors is finding a day job. In a perfect world, acting work alone would be enough to pay the bills. Unfortunately, very few actors ever get to that point, and even if we do, we still have to endure the waiting period beforehand, that limbo of ‘when-will-my-big-break-come?’ and ‘will-this-all-pay-off-in-the-end-or-won’t-it?’ which, quite simply, is purgatory. Thus we are forced into that storied crevice between a rock and a hard place. We want to support our art, while being able to support ourselves at the same time.
Thus was born the day job. A survival job to keep us going, literally surviving, alive, eating and with a roof over our heads, so that we may continue to seek out acting work that furthers our artistic careers. But that doesn’t take away from our careers so that we are unable to do this.
So what do you do when you want both a promotion and to play Hamlet?
Here’s what actors need in a day job:
• Flexibility. The life of an actor is one with erratic demands. You never know when the next audition appointment will be or touring show will come. Your job needs to be able to mold to these demands, whether that means allowing you to change your hours, or make up work later, or work from home some days.
• Adequate Pay. This is seemingly a no-brainer, but shockingly difficult to find. Art may feed our soul, but we need to feed our bodies as well (and therefore feed our wallets)! It’s difficult to think about the nuances of your monologue if you don’t have enough money to pay your rent or buy food.
• Peace. You don’t need to love your job. Sadly, most people don’t. But you also shouldn’t hate it either. Your job is something you have to do for most of the hours of your life. Hating your job can create and fuel negativity in your life, which can carry over into and affect your acting. Ideally, you should be at peace with your day job.
• Enrichment. The best day job is one that enriches you as a person, and thus as an artist as well. As artists, we draw inspiration from our lives. Any work that draws upon our creative skills and abilities (writing, design, teaching), keeps our creativity constantly engaged, making it easier to access when the time comes to draw upon it. Similarly, work that entails a lot of social interaction can be great for studying people, something which actors always have to do. However, this can admittedly be a catch-22. If you fall into the category who’s not quite at peace with your job, think of it this way: it can be great motivation to get to where you want to be in your career.
• Honesty. One last thing: perhaps the most important thing you need in a day job is the freedom to be honest. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to pursuing dual careers. Full transparency with your employer about what you can offer them (a fantastic employee) but what you also need from them (primarily flexibility and understanding, but a supportive fan wouldn’t hurt either!).
For my day job, I manage the blog for Washington University in St. Louis’s online Master of Laws program. I didn’t enter college thinking I’d someday end up writing about law; I barely even knew what an LLM was! But it just so happened that the combination of my student job at my university’s law school and my writing experience led me to this path. My work is flexible, in that I can study craft at The Barrow Group, an off-off-Broadway theatre company, or quickly run out to get headshots taken, and come to work after. It pays the bills and allows me to use skills like writing, editing, and web strategy that feed both my creativity and my non-acting resume. While it’s not playing Cleopatra, it’s a pretty good gig in the meantime.
Piyali Syam is an actress and writer currently living in New York City.