AYT USA: I’m an actress, may I take your order?

Posted on 24 September 2012 Written by

I have been living on my own in Manhattan for all of a month and a half and am already overwhelmed. I’m probably giving myself an ulcer. I’m surprised I haven’t developed hives yet. And what has me so stressed? Not auditioning, but day jobs.

Being an actor with a day job is an oxymoron. First of all, you can’t really have a regular job during the day. You have to be free for morning auditions. Then, if you get cast, you have to be free in the afternoons for rehearsals. But then, you can’t really work in the evenings either because once you open, you need to keep your nights free for performances. So, when exactly are actors supposed to make money to pay rent and utility bills? And you know, eat occasionally?

The other issue is that one cannot get a day job without experience, especially in New York City. Craigslist want ads for waitresses in Manhattan often ask for three or more years of serving experience in a high pressure, crowded environment. Many childcare positions go to those with their Masters in education. Who knew you had to be bilingual and have a degree to hang out with someone’s five year-old? And receptionist jobs are hard to come by, competitive, and not very flexible.

So, temping will work, right? It’s so flexible! And the rates aren’t terrible either. But wait, you’re saying I may not get called in to work for weeks at a time? Or that I may never hear from you at all?

Alright, so I guess I’m stuck being poor. I’m not looking for a fancy lifestyle! What do I need with money? Oh wait, I have to pay for voice lessons, dance classes, coachings, theatre tickets, headshots, a gym membership, audition outfits, workshops, and master classes? Oh. Problem. Striving for that triple threat moniker requires regular training and training does not come cheap.

Currently, I have two temp jobs that I’m really happy with. At one of them, I even get to substitute teach. But it’s just not going to foot the bill. I’m searching for job number three and am lost as to what I should even be looking for at this point. If only I had some unique skill like woodworking. Then I could make my own schedule! Why was that not a class I took in college?

Oddly enough, my artistic life is going much better than my practical one. In the less than two months I’ve been living here, I got my first show, ASMed another, and even became EMC. And while all of that makes me very, very happy, I’m still frustrated at the end of the day because I am not self-sufficient.

One major issue I have is dealing with the guilt of being a less than reliable employee. I can’t go into an interview and confidently claim I will be able to work any one job for a year, or that I won’t consistently ask friends to cover my shift. I know that I came here to act and that, consequently, other things need to come second but I really don’t like the idea of quitting on someone.

In any job you do, someone is relying on you; you are always part of an ensemble. And if I didn’t learn the importance of ensemble work in school, then I don’t think my education was worth very much. Acting is all about being able to rely on others and to make it possible for them to rely on you. But how can I do that in a world where I need to be free for a callback at the drop of a hat? Or to leave the state or even the country at a moment’s notice to perform at a regional theatre or join a touring company? I can feel the ulcer forming now.

I don’t really have a solution to this ethical dilemma. But, I suppose I do have three options: 1) Quit performing altogether and find a 9 to 5 job, 2) Move to a city where it is possible to both perform professionally and still hold down regular hours or 3) Stick it out and work hard to give everyone as much notice as I can on any change in my hectic schedule.

For right now, I’m going with option three. I want to give this a real go while still trying to maintain my reputation for being reliable.  I find that I have to constantly remind myself that I came here to perform and that right now, auditioning is my real job. The other stuff is just to pay the bills. And, oh, are there bills!

If you are an American reader of A Younger Theatre and would like to contribute to the AYT USA blog series, please contact blogs[at]

Sophie Schulman

Sophie Schulman is a proud recent graduate of the musical theatre program at American University in Washington, DC. While in school, she studied abroad at the British American Drama Academy and fell in love with the London theatre scene. She is interested in all genres of theatre, and enjoys looking at and writing about current arts events from an ethics perspective. She recently relocated to New York to work as an actress in the big city.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Sandy Thomson Says:

    A member of my company is based in NYC and everything you say bears out what he tells me. I work with an Ensemble of 12 actors and each time we meet I’m stunned by the financial and logistical balancing acts they are achieving – from out youngest member to the guys who have worked for International companies and HBO. Nothing in college prepares actors for the endless soul destroying juggle that a professional has to face. All I can say is hang in there – against all evidence it works out. Fortune favours those still standing in a few years time!

  2. Lauren Says:

    I am definitely option one…working a 9 to 5, doing community theatre on the side. It’s really encouraging (as weird as that sounds) to realize that we all struggle in our own way. Thanks for being so transparent and sharing!

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