We all want to make money doing what we love… and we all know that making money as an actor isn’t easy. Many actors aspire to being ‘career artists’ (someone who makes their income only in the arts), but I prefer to keep my day job.
If your life feels overwhelming and overloaded, maybe it’s worth examining whether you really need to be a full time actor right now. There’s no shame in having a secondary income, and it can be a plus in a lot of ways.
Here are some of the reasons I like to keep a second (or third!) job:
- It gives me the freedom to be selective about my roles
I found I’m much happier when I have a balance of acting + day job. The times I just worked as a performer with no supplementary income were not great in the end, because the art part became the money part instead of the happiness part. It meant I had to take on any old crappy role, which didn’t make me feel good as an actor. Now I choose to always have a supplementary income because it allows me to be selective about the art I’m involved in.
- It makes me a better artist
I believe working a desk job (or any non-arts job) makes me a better actor – because it gives me a chance to connect with the rest of the world, not just other artists! Being in business helps me understand the business side of the arts, which helps my artistic endeavours in a practical way. The arts is a business, whether we like it or not, and if you’re an actor then you’re a business person. It doesn’t hurt to understand how to read a balance sheet.
- I can look after myself better
It’s so horrible having to ration things like going to the doctor or dentist, or getting your car serviced, just because you don’t have the disposable income to manage it. Or realizing you’re literally becoming a Starving Artist because you can’t afford to do your food shopping this week. That’s just crap. It doesn’t need to be that way, and unless you’re a little bit in love with the idea of being a ‘true Bohemian’, it will drain you in the long term. If you want to have a career, you need to be healthy enough to actually do your job. That means you need to have the cash to go to the doctor when you’re sick, or buy vegetables instead of Mi Goreng.
- It stops me getting burnt out
Another reason actors can suffer from poor health is because many acting jobs are poorly paid, or at least irregularly paid, which means you have to take on 5 roles at once just to pay the bills! Which is exhausting, to say the least. I came to the realisation that I’m in this for the long haul, because I love it, and I don’t want to get burnt out by having to work on so many projects at once. So it just makes sense to me to have another regular income. No burn out = happier, more resilient actor.
- It keeps me balanced
I find having two sides to my life keeps me growing and gives me balance. I’m definitely a believer in (Kurt Vonnegut’s) “The arts are not a way to make a living.” The arts are full of crazy people and extremely challenging circumstances, and it keeps me sane to have a foot in both worlds. I don’t always want to be going through extreme emotions every night for three weeks, driving myself to location at 4am, or managing the egos of a team of fragile actors. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit at a desk and type up reports (well, not really nice, maybe, but it certainly feels peaceful in comparison).
- It’s rewarding
I know for some people it’s very important to them to just work in the arts and not have a second job, but I think that’s often because people don’t like their second jobs! So that’s why it’s very important to find a second job that doesn’t drain you. It can be as tricky to find that as to find success as an artist, but I think it’s equally important. Especially if you have a family to support, as many people do.
Apart from doing office work from time to time, I also work as a singing and drama teacher for primary school students – and my gosh is it the most rewarding thing ever! Deep down I know that performance is an important contribution to the cultural make up of our society, but after a few years of friends and family desperately trying to avoid discussing anything remotely artistic, it certainly feels good to have a job where kids just run up to me and hug me and write me cards that say, ‘You’re the best teacher I’ve ever had’. No need to argue with myself about the cultural significance of making kids happy.
Now… what feels right for you?
If you plan to have children some day, or you’re a sensitive or easily tired person (as many actors are), or even if you have a family that’s not 100% supportive of your career choices, I’d recommend you think seriously about a supplementary income that you could pursue. Note – this is NOT a back up plan, and it’s not a cop out. It’s an ACTUAL PLAN. If you don’t want to be in retail or hospitality for the next ten years, it’s worth finding the time in your schedule to train for your second job. It is your friend. There are plenty of professions out there that will actually help you grow as a performer as well as keep your income steady. And remember, you don’t need to stay in them forever.
Some secondary occupations that are quite popular for performers:
- Fitness instructor
- Teacher (voice/dance/movement/yoga/acting/drama etc)
- Personal trainer
So what works for you? Have you a found a job that fits perfectly around your acting life?