I recently met a guy who asked me, “Do you want to hear about the worst job I’ve ever had?” He’d once had a summer job in a tin can factory. As the tin cans came down the conveyor belt, the ones that were standing up would be picked up by the machine, but the ones on their sides would fall off the conveyor belt into skips. His job was to take the skips to the beginning of the conveyor belt and load these cans back on. He did this for nine hours a day, completely alone, in deafening noise, for an entire summer holiday.

“Must have given you lots of time to think,” I said.
“You weren’t there, man,” he growled back.

There are some truly crap jobs out there, and when your options are limited by the unfortunate inconvenience of being an actor, you often have to take whatever you can find – within certain parameters. An actor’s second job has to be insanely flexible, where hours can be chopped and changed like a bad haircut, often with a few days’ or even a few hours’ notice. We must also able to work around each new rehearsal schedule, not to mention performances.

But it IS possible. I work in a pub where the rota is done weekly, and because I work hard and am smiley and chatty and just about teeth-grittedly able to put up with a leery/rude/sexist comment or two from customers (direct quotes: “Oi”; “I’ve been looking at your body. Are you a dancer?”; “You’ll make a good wife”; “Like the way you’re cleaning those pump handles, love”), my boss is very lenient with me and tolerant of my ridiculous life.

I like to collect ideas for actor-friendly work and so I always ask actors I meet what they do to earn money. Obviously teaching comes up a lot, but one friend is with an agency whom he can ring in the morning of a free day, and they’ll give him the address of a classroom somewhere that needs a teaching assistant that morning. He also works at an LGBT helpline, which is just as flexible and very rewarding. Bar work and waitressing are actor clichés for a reason: an excellent pick-it-up-and-drop-it factor, and actually requiring an element of performance to do a good job. There’s always promotional work if you can stomach it (I once handed out free coffee to commuters dressed as a butler – me dressed as a butler, that is, not the commuters) and call centre work is good if you are able to dislocate your soul at will. One friend makes money from filling out surveys online, and someone else does online gambling, using his maths degree and the free money that poker sites give you to lure you in. More fool them.

Much as I like my bar job (despite the leering), my friend is currently helping to get me a job in her office. She works 9-5 in a large London bank, proofreading official letters. Initially I recoiled from this, thinking that taking on a 9-5 was what you did when you gave up on acting. But she is in fact playing Macbeth in the production I’m currently in, so it’s clearly not stopped her. Is it worth spending a few months earning the dirty city dollah so that you can afford to do more profit-share shows for the exposure? Will I sell out to the Man and buy a briefcase? How will this fadge? Watch this space.

Photo by Flickr user Charlotte under a Creative Commons Licence.