Advice on How to Support Yourself While Working on an Acting Career

The Average professional actor makes less than $1,000 a year acting. Even those making ten times that average, still need to find ways to support themselves when work is slow, or as they build a more financially stable career as a performer. And while many actors work as waiters or bar tenders, there are a range of non-food service job strategies out there that can help an emerging actor make ends meet.

When considering a subsistance, or “day job,” there are several things an actor should take into account, including salary, benefits and flexibility. Flexibility is key if you want to avoid having to make agonizing choices between the work you need and the work you love. Personally, I have found that one of the best ways to strike this balance as an actor, is to have several part-time jobs. This allows me free time during the day for auditions, a steady income, and if I have to give up subsistance work for an acting opportunity, I still have some income coming in while I look to replace it.

A great source for extra-income for the working actor is Craigslist. While the site has more postings in some locations than others, and there’s always a ton of irrelevant posts to sort through, Craigslist has been the source of many of my subsistance jobs, and I encourage every actor to use it as I have booked paying acting work through Crigslist as well.

Here are some of teh types of jobs an actor should consider to make ends meet:

  1. Working as a personal assistant is a great job for an organized actor. I pays well, is usually flexible and generally involves working for someone else in teh arts (I’ve done this work for writers, photographers and musicians in teh past) who may just be farther along in their career than you. The only main requirements for the work are organization, discretion and an ability to problem solve. Personal assistants may be called upon to make phone calls, take dictation, organize moves or do personal shopping. Be personally clear about what you will and won’t do as a personal assistant, and be careful of scammers online look for sexual favours as opposed to a skilled on-call executive secretary.
  2. Housecleaning is also a great job for actors, although if you’re not working through an agency, again, be careful! But it’s a great way to pick up extra money to make rent.
  3. Can you type fast? There are a range of felxible, or odd-hour jobs out there for actors with good typing skills. These range from typing manuscripts to transciribing or close-captioning television shows. Pay can range up to $20/hour.
  4. If you have previous experience as a babysitter, or even with younger siblings, youant to look into being a babysitter, nanny or mother’s helper. Your hours probably won’t be that flexible, but this is good part time work that you can usually schedule auditions and the like around.
  5. Actors also get some flexbility when working for businesses connected with the business of acting. Look for part time jobs as receptionists or managers at rehearsal studios, acting schools or theatres. Certainly, your needs as an actor will be better understood in this environment.
  6. An actor should be willing to do background work. There is a myth in the industry that if you do background work, you’ll never get real work. This simply isn’t true. Very few casting directors who cast background also cast speaking roles, and the nature of background work is such that you don’t have to worry about being recognized. Take the work, just don’t put it on your resume.
  7. Many actors all work on “street teams” or at tradeshows promoting products. Here, teh only requirements are that you be articulate, cheery, outgoing and a hard worker. Some promotions may call for an actor or actress with a specific look. these pay more. Promotions work can range from $11/hr over $25/hr and often takes place early in themorning (say from 5am to 11am). Actors taking these jobs should be aware that many agencies that book people for promotions work do not pay their actors until they have been paid by their clients, which means it can sometimes take two to three months to receive your check, so don’t spend your money before it arrives.
  8. Petsitting and dogwalking are also popular jobs amongst actors.
  9. Depending on your experience, skills and accomplishments consider teaching. Teaching is often an investment that requires training (for example becoming a personal trainer or yoga instructor), but if you love these types of activities, this is a great life-long supplemental career to acting to pursue.
  10. Are you an actor who colors your hair at home? Do you drink wine at least once a week? Do you have trouble finding the right shade of foundation? If these, or any number of other things are true, you might be eligibile to be a part of a focus group. Focus groups are not guaranteed work,, and you should never pay a website or agency to keep you on file for potential focus groups, but if you see a posting for a group recruiting, submit your information! I make about $1,000 a year participating in focus groups, and I’ve gotten all sorts of free products (including some very high-end skin care) for my trouble.
  11. Are you an actor reading Associated Content but are not yet a Content Producer here? Writing for Associated Content is one of the ways I help support myself as a performer, and you can do it too! Similarly, there are other recommendations website that pay content providers either on a consistent, ongoing basis or occassionally during special promotions. It’s always worth scouring the web for these opportunities.

Actors should be short term jobs. When you have less acting work, take more subsistance work, to build up a cushion for when things are dry or you’re in rehearsals for that great, but low-paying play. Also, never underestimate the value of barter in amking ends meet – I did a photoshoot for a local grocery store in exchange for a signficant amount of free groceries.

Everything about an acting career will test and hone your business savvy. remember, as an actor, you are an entrepreneur and a jack-of-all-trades and you can use those skills to make sure you can always make ends meet.

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