Being a creative, whilst doing other jobs in order to survive is hard. As part of a new series, multi-talented AYT writer, Emma Bentley talks about her experiences in a thoughtful and often, uncompromising way. In the first, it’s the side jobs.

When I left drama school, the thought of getting a little side job in a café was part of the allure of moving to London. Definitely influenced by an obsession with Amélie (a film I now find sickly sweet – funny how you get more cynical with age, eh?), I imagined making coffees and sweeping floors whilst dreaming about starring in something revolutionary at the Royal Court. All with a new bob haircut, obviously. I thought a few shifts every week to pay my rent wouldn’t be so bad and that they’d keep me down to earth around the many acting jobs I would frequently go off to do.  

It’s been five years and the reality is that my side jobs – or hustles – have not been so side after all.

The acting itself has turned out to be a side hustle for the precious and exciting moments where I’ve got my shit together to work on my own plays, or when I’ve been lucky enough to land a few days shooting a commercial (Stoke-on-Trent to Kiev: oh the dizzy heights!) In this respect, the side hustles have been the making, and breaking of me. I’ve made some close friends but also had experiences that make me shudder to remember.

Unlike other creatives, I haven’t had such a variety of different side hustles. Despite trying to get out of catering on several occasions, I always seem to get sucked back into a coffee shop. Some of us like to be pushed outside of our comfort zones and some of us find it easier to remain in them.

The main, constant dread is the fear of DIARY CLASH. You know exactly what I mean, right? You’ve accidentally double booked yourself with two side hustles and then you get an audition on the same day. I once got a job working in a chain called Harris and Hoole, and after training for two weeks in coffee knowledge, a commercial audition popped up, which of course, clashed with a shift. Unable to find cover, I rang my agent at the time, informed their assistant of my predicament, to which they said, “look, do you want to be an actor or do you want to work in a coffee shop?” “Of course I want to be an actor!” I squeaked back desperately.  I got sacked one week in for missing the shift and going to the commercial casting. Which, oh yeah, I didn’t get. There’s definitely a bit of push and pull on both sides. My current agent wouldn’t force me to go to a commercial casting if I was really struggling to find cover for work, but I do think it is important that your employer understands that you might be a tad flakey. Just perhaps find a way to tell them without using that specific word in the interview.

Working in theatre bars or restaurants are often good places for shift swapping as surprise, surprise, everybody is an actor, director, or suchlike. Upon starting a Customer Service Assistant role at the National Theatre, I dreamt of making Rufus Norris a cappuccino and him asking me to be in his next show. How foolish. Although this reverie might have occurred in 1965 when there were 25 actors in London, networking upwards almost seems impossible these days. I think I said hello to Rufus Norris once during my two and a half years at the National Theatre. The key is to meet some excellent collaborators on your side of the bar.

Despite being bolstered by my wonderful co-workers, walking through the dressing room corridors and eating a jacket potato next to the cast of Pinocchio, were some of the most depressing days of my life. To survive in front of house you’ve got to be excellent at separating the side hustle from your ambitions. Unfortunately, being surrounded by actors often in full costume, whilst I’m wearing a milk splattered apron was more than I could take. Not to mention the fact that: CUSTOMER SERVICE ROLES CAN BE SO FUCKING BORING. It’s just not possible to find joy in loading a dishwasher or stamping 200 paper cups.

After leaving theatre work, I met people who care about OTHER THINGS and who talk about shows on Netflix with just pure enjoyment, rather than “oh yeah I once auditioned for panto with her, she’s super stuck up.” My real ambition is to obtain that the holy grail of side hustles: working from home! Wouldn’t that be dreamy. The latest job is a café five minutes’ walk from my house, which makes the 6.30am starts a little less horrific.

At the end of the day, I try to keep positive with the hope that I’ll get to escape for a wee bit for an acting gig. But going away is easy, it’s the coming back that’s hard. No more of that positive energy you get when you wake up to do a show every day (I’m excluding Fringe here, that’s just mad). It’s times like this that it’s important to remember your side hustle (or any of your creative jobs for that matter) DO NOT DEFINE YOU. We all want to pay our rent, eat, go to the pub occasionally, and sometimes stuff we don’t want to do provides us with these things. Don’t fret though, it won’t be long until the next gig comes along. Or if you’re me, it will be. Think of the free cake, coffee and booze. That’ll take the edge off a bit.