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Guest Post: What Actors Need in a Day Job

3 Mar

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.

Just when I thought it would die….

29 Nov

it came back up like a wild fire that began with a single ember.

Love Nail Tree STORY: 6th Edition TheatreThe other month I posted about my feeling of defeat. The immense weight of a passion unfulfilled, of a passion no longer. It was an existential crisis of sorts, what do I do if I don’t act? How do I organize my life without the one thing that has been my driving force since I was seven? I got dangerously low on that fuel gage. I let the empty light flash for quite a long time and I was going to let it just… run out of gas and die on the side of the road. I didn’t know how I’d get moving from there but I didn’t care. I’d just let it run its course.

But then something saved me. I reluctantly kept submitting on Actors Access, LA Casting even though my heart wasn’t in it. I’d get auditions, call-backs and then the road would end there. I was like call back queen and it started to get on my nerves. One such project was a random theater gig in Downtown LA. I didn’t think much of it as I attended the audition and then, a week later, the call back. In my defensive mode, I wrote it off– yet another gig I wouldn’t book.  Whatever. Who cares anymore. I even let my Actors Access account expire. A couple of weeks past. See, I thought, figures. I was proved wrong. I got the part. However, I still wrote it off as a meaningless project. I belittled it, but what I was really doing was belittling myself. I even debated whether or not to accept it even though the last three months was a string of no-shows when all I wanted was to perform. Fortunately, I said yes. Luckily, it was the exact experience I needed at  precisely the right time. I was able to re-fuel.

The theater project, produced by a cool LA-based indie clothing company, involved devising six short plays from conception to script to stage. The five of us “collaborators” would meet three times a week for three hours every week for seven weeks, brainstorming, improvising, writing, directing and creating this brand new show from scratch. I felt like a kid again, reminded of the simple joys in acting– the invention, the play, the camaraderie. This is why I fell in love with theater in the first place. Why I was hypnotized by a high school production I happened to see years ago, and why I decided to pursue this crazy passion despite all the fears I had surrounding it. After seven weeks of working together with an ensemble, playing stupid games that anyone outside the world of acting would find embarrassing or crazy or both, writing parts for ourselves, stepping into multiple characters’ shoes, I fell back in love with acting. By the final night of our brief four-night run, I realized that I do love acting, that I am good at it, that it’s worth doing. DUH.

I’m awake now. I have drive. I’m writing like never before. I have a new idea that I’m itching to get off the ground. I’m in a kick-ass theater company.  I renewed my account. I have an awesome manager.

The fire’s still burning…


19 Aug

IMG_3323This past week has been hard. Very hard. Like, wallow in your own self-pity and can’t move your muscles to get your ass out of the apartment hard. I’m not proud of it. There are people dying every second in this world and here I am feeling sorry for myself. I hate feeling like this. But sometimes I sink into dark holes and can’t get out. And it’s sort of strange I’m feeling this after what was an amazing three-week cross country adventure. Usually trips make me more centered, invigorated, inspired. Instead I feel inspired… to give up. I’m sorry, I know y’all were probably expecting a positive post. But once in a blue moon I just can’t muster up the energy. This is how I’m truly feeling.

It’s no secret that this shit is hard. Maybe impossible. There is no guarantee that one day I will make a living acting (which is the ultimate dream) and I used to be okay with that. But recently I’m finding I’m not. I don’t know. I’m still working it out. Perhaps I am just speaking from a place of fear and, well, exhaustion. I’m tired. I’m tired of continually putting myself out there with no return. I’m tired of the constant unknown be it when’s my next paycheck or when’s my next play. I’m tired of scrambling to find jobs to support this crazy habit I have. I’m tired of stressing about money. I’m tired of having nothing to look forward to. I’m tired.

There are of course a lot of ups and downs with this pursuit and I’ve had my fair share (as I’m sure many of you have). However this last down went to particularly low depths and so it has been a lot harder climbing back up. What if I just left LA? What if I did something entirely different? But the crazy part in all this is, though just last week I was seriously considering giving up entirely (and that idea still sounds very appealing) I’m not. I can’t. Yet. Call it crazy, determined, delusional or whatever, I cannot think of what that other thing would be. What would I put all my heart and soul into if not acting? And so, although I feel defeated and I’m still climbing up out of the last fall, I am not defeated.

The Power of Movement to Move

8 Jul
dance studio at one of my favorite places to move, The Sweat Spot

dance studio at one of my favorite places to move, The Sweat Spot

The past month I’ve had an increase in movement in my life. I started taking a sparring class, and though my knuckles are raw and my muscles are sore, I feel fantastic. I’m honing in on my power, gaining confidence, and building strength. With my awesome theater company, The Vagrancy, our last actor workout was a devised theater piece mostly based on physicality. I’ve also been taking this incredible acting class with Steppenwolf, which is mostly based on the Viewpoints technique. The class is opening myself up in ways I never thought possible and it’s blowing my mind! All this has me thinking a lot about movement and the power of movement to move you.

Movement is not thinking, it’s doing. Movement is inherently visceral. It taps into your core. I’ve always been a believer in the connection of the physical and emotional. If I’m not in a good place emotionally, it’s no surprise to me that this feeling will manifest itself in a sore throat or stomach ache. When I’m feeling in really good shape, or just got out of a killer dance class, I also feel incredibly happy! It’s all one and the same.

And so it is with acting. I think it’s really important to be in touch with our bodies, not just to be fit and healthy, but to be able to convey moments, scenes, characters more truthfully. You could tell a whole scene without its text and it could be just as powerful, if not more. You can discover new things about your character through movement. Movement shakes shit up– yeah, literally, but also inside. I’ll find myself tearing up within in the first five minutes of a Viewpoints exercise just because it’s loosening all that stuff in me, in my core, that is typically bottled up to get along with my day to day. But acting isn’t day to day. It’s pivotal moments. It’s conflict. It’s ordinary made extraordinary. It moves you.


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