Between Acting Jobs: Staying Afloat with Your Side-Gig
John Currivan talks us through the importance of the side-gig - and how to make sure it helps keep you afloat between acting jobs!
The performance industry can feel like a wide lonely ocean. When we’re working, it feels like we've hopped onto a luxury cruise liner, we can barely feel the boat rocking. When a job ends, it’s as if we’ve been thrown overboard. We’re adrift, fighting the waves, paddling frantically towards any boats or islands we can find. With this in mind, I want to offer some advice for anyone trying to stay afloat in the industry.
Have Another Job
The good news is, as an out-of-work actor, you’re not alone. The bad news is, unless you’ve got a family fortune or are dating a sugar daddy/mama, you'll need some part-time work, a day job, a side-gig. If you already have part-time work, then you need to work to maintain it. This side-gig is your financial life-ring and ensures that you have enough cash to keep your artistic and creative dreams alive. It may at times feel uncomfortable and awkward, but sometimes it’s the only thing holding you above the water.
Working side-gigs can take a toll, especially those involving long hours. You might feel like you’re not chasing your dream hard enough. However, steady employment can provide security, purpose, and stability in an otherwise unstable life.
Plan for Unpredictability
Chance plays a huge part in our careers, and we must be ready to seize any unexpected opportunities. The best advice I can offer here is to: ‘Make firm plans, but keep them flexible’. This means that you need a side-gig that can accommodate a sudden change in availability. Evening work keeps daytimes free for auditions/workshops. Working in theatre venues, e.g. ushering or bar work, is a great way to maintain contact with the industry and stay up to date with new productions. For those who prefer daytime work, it’s a little trickier, but drawing from your skills and thinking outside the box can bear great results. A lot of people end up going freelance in other creative fields like blogging, photography or personal training.
This is not for everyone, and if you are employed within a company, you should be open and honest with employers about your performance work and give managers as much notice as possible about auditions. It’s worthwhile to be diligent and hardworking and build up a good relationship with bosses. They may cut you some slack if you get a last-minute casting call.
One day you’ll get the message from your agent... that big show, the one you auditioned for, the one you really wanted. They’re offering you the part - it’s a sure thing. HOORAY! Quick! March up to your manager and tell them they can shove their job right up their… DON’T!
Unfortunately, in our career there are no ‘sure things’. Unless you’ve signed a contract, you haven’t got the job. Even then, things can still fall apart. Funding can disappear, investors can pull out, and sadly, last minute re-castings have been known to happen. This can be devastating but keeping a steady head when offered performing work can limit your financial and emotional risk. Good part-time work with a decent wage is worth holding on to, right up until the last minute. You may have to return to it sooner than you think. You don’t want to throw away your life-ring and discover that your cruise ship has hit an iceberg before it even left harbour.
Pursue Your Side-Gig with Passion
There are people who continue working their side-gigs even while they’re on West End contracts. Partly because of the extra cash, but often because it is a job they care about. Search for jobs you will enjoy, you want to be good at and that potentially offer personal satisfaction.
Many people stay in touch with the performing arts and are happily working as drama teachers, children’s entertainers and corporate role-players, but these jobs don’t suit everyone. Others get great satisfaction from working in bars, cafés and care homes, others even like writing advice articles for Spotlight.com ;-). However, from experience I can tell you performers go through side-gigs like Goldilocks goes through porridge. Some are too hot, some are too cold, but hopefully we’ll eventually find a job that’s JUUUUST RIGHT! That being said there’s plenty of folks out there working miserable jobs all their lives anyway, so again… you’re not alone.
Never think that having a day job is a sign of failure, especially when someone asks the dreaded question ‘What are you doing now?’ You become embarrassed, ashamed. You regret decisions, worry about approval, think of ways to validate yourself as a performer.
Don’t. Just don’t. The only person who needs to approve is you. If you work your side-gig with dignity and integrity and derive personal satisfaction from it, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, you’re not planning to work here forever! You may be wearing a tacky fast-food uniform now, but inside of you, is the bright, burning passionate soul of an artist like Shakespeare, Olivier, or Madonna. Yeah… I said it.
Use Your Day Job for Research
Having a side-gig doesn’t stop you being artistic and creative. Ever heard the saying; ‘Art reflects life’? A side-gig can show us perspectives on life that we might not have experienced otherwise.
Whether you’re working in a supermarket, call-centre or secret government laboratory, every new experience is an opportunity for creative research. Keep your creative sensitivities alive by actively observing and noticing the details of your surroundings, situations, customers and colleagues. How do they walk? Talk? Move? Behave? What are their stories? Write a story about a regular customer in the restaurant. Imagine the juicy conversations colleagues have on smoke breaks. What about that girl who was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when you met her? Or the boy who works in Starbucks, and is very inspirational...Taylor the latte boy, who brings you java and brings you joy?
This ‘use it as research’ idea may seem a bit weak but, consider: John Cleese, based Basil Fawlty on a real-life hotel manager. Robert De Niro drove a taxi for a few weeks in preparation for the movie ‘Taxi Driver’. Hugh Jackman went from being a P.E. teacher to being Wolverine. That’s quite a transformation, and I’ve no doubt that his early lesson plans helped shape the workouts that got him that super-hot bod and those ridiculous abs. So, you never know how these experiences will help you creatively later on in life.
Look After Yourself and Stay in Touch
Low wages and long hours are things we sometimes accept in the pursuit of our dreams. However, make sure you don’t sacrifice too much of yourself for a day job that isn’t worth it. Regularly take stock of your situation. Make sure that the side-gig is working for you, and at the very least, providing you with enough cash to get by. Ensure that you are getting some kind of satisfaction or happiness from it because if a job is killing your soul and barely making ends meet, then the life-ring is not keeping you up, but dragging you down. It’s scary because quitting could leave you in the same emotional misery, with less financial security.
The only solutions I can offer at times like these are for you to take a breath, get some rest and talk to people. Touch base with friends. Check in with family. Get back in touch with school pals. Make friends at work. Start a new hobby or rediscover an old one. Get in touch with fellow performers through Spotlight or social media. Sometimes the performance industry feels like a wide empty ocean, but whether we have a life ring or not we need to remember that we’re not alone.
If you are out there now and looking for side-gigs and days jobs, I recommend you begin here at Spotlight’s Contact Listings of Non Acting Jobs which includes only employers who offer ongoing paid non-acting work. Then progress to sites like ArtsJobs, Indeed, Reed, totaljobs and Airtasker for one-off opportunities.
Also check in with your local borough or town council, they sometimes share vacancies for work in nearby organisations. If you need to talk to someone about mental and emotional wellbeing, then please check Mind and ArtsMinds, both of which are an open online source of information and support.