The three golden rules – PAYABLE, BEARABLE and FLEXIBLE
Before considering any work you need to address the three important rules. Does the job PAY enough? Make sure you can get enough work to pay your way, even if it’s a combination of two part time jobs. The job has also got to be BEARABLE and that you actually enjoy doing it. You maybe doing this work a far lot more than acting work. And the most important rule is that the job has to be FLEXIBLE. You must be able to cancel or change a shift at short notice and YOU being flexible with your employer is also a good move. Offer to do extra hours when they need your help and you will be in their good books for when they need to return the favour!
Get a trade!
First and foremost you need to get trained in something that will earn you money when you are not doing the acting. And make sure it’s something you like doing and are actually good at. Like many actors you will be mostly doing your ‘side trade’ more than working in show business.
If you can work for yourself in another trade as well as acting, all the better. This way you are able to juggle both careers without putting anybody out. Some actors take on a trade like hairdressing, beauty therapy, photography, plumbing and the list goes on. These professionals also tend to be inundated with work as actors have recommended them to other actors because of their trustworthy work.
Part time work
If you are serious about your acting it’s not a good idea to take on a full time position as this will cause many problems with last minute auditions or even if you get the job. However there are some part time jobs out there that could actually work for you. Some companies take on people on a casual basis offering them a ‘zero hours’ contract, which isn’t as harsh as it sounds. This way you can provide them your availability and they can work around that. In most cases you will have lots of work one week and very little the next as you may be covering holiday leave or be needed for a busy period.
We thought we had better include unemployment benefit, because quite a few actors ‘sign on’ when times are hard and it is there for people who need some assistance so they can get back on their feet. But we would only suggest claiming the dole as a short temporary measure. ‘Signing on’ can end up being quite depressing and lonely, not to mention the small amount of money you actually get isn’t enough to cover travel expenses. Whereas when you are out there working at least you can sample life and research real human behaviour whilst you are earning an honest days wage. There are so many well known actors who have used a boss or work colleaugue as inspiration for a role.
Temping is another way of getting work on a regular basis without the hassle of attending numerous interviews. The only key here is to find a good temping agency that is actor friendly, who will be able to get you flexible work that will allow you to go off and do the odd audition. Their reputation is at stake too, so you need to be upfront and honest with the agency about the acting otherwise it could cause problems if they are not aware of it. Unfortunately most auditions are held on weekdays and do come in at short notice so they will always clash with your temping job. Being honest with them is a good idea as they will then try to find a placement who are happy to let you pop out for an audition at short notice.
There are numerous agencies out there, so it’s a good idea to contact them beforehand to ask about their thoughts on taking on performers. Some agencies may even train you in the latest office software packages to get you up to speed, after all you will be earning THEM money too as you work. All this valuable training can get you a better placement not to mention a better hourly rate. Specialise further, such as in medical or legal secretarial work, and you could even earn much more.
Call centre work
Call centres like using actors because they are great communicators and good listeners. Call centre work comes in all shapes and forms and can include market research, tele sales, complaints, customer services and even IT customer helplines. They can also be very flexible with you if you need to dash off for an audition as they usually have a large team who can cover your absence. Some actors can hack this type of work and some can’t, a constant job in the complaint department can have it’s toll on you after a while. But it can be a useful stop-gap.
We actors are clever people, so why not try and impart our knowledge onto other folk? You can teach drama or dance to children or adults, or even do some home tutoring. Some companies pay a good hourly rate for home tutors and it can become regular work as the child gets used to you and therefore gets better results. It does tend to be evening and weekend work and you will of course need to be screened. Just contact any reputable agencies and ask their advice.
If you are interested in being a supply teacher you will have to spend a year studying a PGCE course, which is a big commitment, but once you have trained you can put yourself up for the odd temporary position with an agency. For some actors, it can work out very well.
Theatre in Education
Many schools welcome actors to visit, entertain and educate their pupils. If you have the skills you could create a one person show that covers any of the school curricular subjects. Perform a short piece and then hold a short drama workshop afterwards. Design a two hour piece and you will then be able to do two shows per day. Just bear in mind that you can’t cancel any school bookings if you get an audition, you would just have to work around it or train a friend to step in.
This can be flexible and very rewarding. As an access worker you are helping people with disabilities who may need an able bodied person to help them with various day to day jobs. You maybe required to help a visually impaired person by describing things to them or taking them out shopping or days out. An access worker is there for extra support, not to take over and do everything for them. You are just in the background and you may end up doing very little. It’s not a good job for the impatient, loud and wacky actor, but it can be a rewarding sideline for some.
Role play work
Role play work is sometimes very hard to come by but there are some good role play companies out there. They are keen to use actors who can dramatise or improvise any scenario to help any staff training programmes. There are also medical role play companies who use actors as patients, so wannabe doctors and nurses can improve on their bed manners. They tend to be early starts and sometimes includes a lot of travelling not to mention the spontaneous improvisation aspect. Check out role play companies on the internet, and most role play companies will want a professional CV and headshot too, so make sure that they are up to date and looking good.
Extra or background work
Some actors think that being a TV or film extra is an ideal sideline for any performer. There is a small element of truth in that, you will learn a little about the TV and film industry if you are just starting out in acting, but that’s it. Extra work is great for non actors as it is exciting and different jobs come up day after day. But for the professional actor it can be quite depressing as you watch the ‘talent’ doing something what you long to do instead of ‘rhubarbing’ silently in the background. You can join agencies who will get you the odd day of extra work but they won’t be happy if you cancel due to an audition. So if you want to do this kind of work, tread carefully, it’s like Michelangelo doing a day of painting and decorating!
Front of house work
A lot of actors survive by working evenings doing ‘front of house’ and ushering at theatres and music venues. Although this work can be low paid, at least this type of evening work won’t clash with your daytime auditions. You could also take on a weekend job to supplement your FOH income leaving weekdays for auditions, acting workshops and reading. Don’t forget that there are also the free shows that you can see night after night, so you will be actually learning your acting craft as you work!
Box office work
Most theatres and venues use a part time team to cover their box offices during the performance days. Actors tend to be a good choice because they are friendly and therefore good at customer service. Some larger venues can offer part time work throughout weekdays too, so check with any theatre or music venue in your area. Some will pay double or ‘time and a half’ for working bank holidays so doing this type of work can be a good option.
Bar work and waiting
This is another good option for actors because it’s mainly evening work and some throw in the customer tips too, which can also help build up the coffers. This work usually includes a lot of late evenings and it’s hard work, so make sure it’s a fun place to work and bearable. It’ll also keep you fit and at least you have the daytimes free for auditions and workshops.
Many companies are crying out for weekend staff, so this maybe another option for a jobbing actor. A lot of restaurants, bars and box offices are open all throughout the weekend and some actually pay time and a half or double time if you are lucky! You could actually earn enough money to cover yourself by just working the weekend, and don’t forget those bank holidays too.
Working from home
Working from home is also a possibility but you need to find good ‘home work’ and be very disciplined with yourself. It’s so tempting to just stay in bed for another hour or pop Jeremy Kyle on for a little bit, but the key is to treat working from home like a proper job, start at 9am and finish around 5pm, with set breaks and a lunch. If you go out to audition, make the time up in the evening when you get back.
Some ‘work from home’ companies do exist, it does tend to be envelope stuffing or telesales but at least you have flexible hours and are earning your own wage. You may be able to work from home using your PC. Do some research on the internet and look for reputable home working companies. There maybe some bogus ones out there who ask you to pay a joining fee, avoid them. Get a telephone number and speak to a member of the company who can tell you all the benefits and drawbacks.
Yes, you have seen them, those poor out of work actors braving the cold weather, giving out free samples of shampoo or dressed as a six foot pot noodle. But promotional work can be well paid and very flexible. The glamourous actors may find themselves handing out free shots in a funky bar, whereas the not so glamourous amongst us may be handing out free newspapers at 6 am in the morning. Do your research and see whats out there. A couple of days promotional work may get your rent paid for the week. A very positive and cheerful manner is essential in this type of work.
It’s a well known fact that quite a few people have actually given up their ’9 to 5′ jobs to start their own Ebay business from home. And it’s a trend that’s taking off. You can make quite a bit of money selling stuff on Ebay and other auction sites. It’s a perfect way to run your own little shop from home!
The best advice would be to do research on what people are actually looking for and to see whether you can provide that. Some of the best items to sell are rare retro clothing, rare accessories, rare DVD’s, rare books and rare CD’s. Check your charity shops and boot fairs for the bargains. Also small items like camera memory cards, mobile phone accessories and jewellery are also popular and are extremely easy and cheap to ship. Do some research and see if you can buy such items in bulk from a wholesaler at a much lower price. It’s always best to keep your “items” small and to avoid selling any fragile and breakable items, otherwise your profits will dwindle away if people start demanding refunds.
Also bear in mind that all these auction sites charge you a fee for listing each item and will also take a cut of your final selling price. The best way to recieve payment from a customer is through Paypal, who also take a fee from your buyer’s payment. So bear all these costs in mind when deciding your starting price. Postage bags and jiffy envelopes can be bought in bulk so that will also keep your shipping costs to a minimum.
If you are creative you could also make your own greeting cards, art, fashion and jewellery and sell them online too. Etsy is a great auction site for this kind of product. You can also hire a market stall at the weekend if you happen to live near a craft market.
It’s a fun way to make a living and you can even do your own postage from home if you set up a Royal Mail postal account and have a good printer. All your small items can then be popped straight into a postbox on the way to that exciting audition!
No, we are being serious here. There is scope for any performer to do this type of work. Being an entertainer and setting up a children’s party business isn’t all that difficult. All you have to do is learn how to make balloon animals and do face painting. Kids love storytelling, which you should already be good at and you can even help the party throng create their own play and perform it. It also means that you don’t have to dress like a scary clown like Psychoville’s Mr Jelly. For a couple of hours work you could earn a tidy sum. They do say ‘don’t work with children or animals’, well the children will be in a good party mood and the animals will only be made from modelling balloons!
Another good idea is to get together some actor chums and produce your own Murder Mystery themed evenings. A lot of companies organise evening events for their staff and would like something a bit more exciting than an 80′s disco. ‘Murder Mysteries’ also encourages the employees to paticipate in ‘team work’ whilst having fun. All you have to do is write a script and prepare briefing notes for the attendees and gather some basic costumes. Use a couple of your friends as ‘plants’ to help and guide the proceedings along.
Also use your ‘Murder Mystery’ troop to help promote your show and then split the earnings. If you end up being good, word will spread and you will get more bookings. Get yourself well organised before the Christmas party season begins and get your promotional material out there and on line. Some event companies charge between £250 to £400 for a group of around 25, so not bad for a couple of hours work.
Try and keep the job
If you are lucky enough to obtain a part time job that you like doing, try an keep it to ‘come back to’ if and when you go off and do a tour or a spate of filming. It’s a good idea to maintain a good relationship with your employer and colleagues. Support them when they need you and then they will do the same. If you do shift work, support your colleagues by offering them cover when they need it and they can return the favour. Their support can also come in very handy when you have had a bad audition or didn’t get your dream part.
Acting and the day job
Some actors can juggle a day job in addition to doing an evening fringe play which tend to be unpaid. If you want to do a number of fringe plays you can look for a part time day job or ask to swap shifts if it’s waiting or bar work. It’s also very draining to be working all day and then going to a theatre at night to perform, but it’s experience and worth doing if it’s a good play.
Train your agent
‘Training your agent’ has to be done subtly and ONLY when you have been with them for a while. ‘Training your agent’ means that you can ask them to get you audition time slots that suit you and work around your day job. Planning to do a quick audition during your lunch break is ideal and can avoid you losing paid hours of work. Agents are human after all and they understand that you have to earn a living, but they do need you to be committed to going to that audition. You and your agent have to work together as a team. Avoid laying down the law when you first join an agent, let the relationship grow before you start asking them to get you specific time slots. And NEVER cancel an audition because you have to go to work or the agent will be showing you the door.
As an actor you have to respect everyone. Respect your agent, your boss, your colleagues and even your customers if you happen to work with them. Be honest with your employers and support them because you will need them until you can earn a living by doing just acting alone. Working a normal job may be more duller than acting but every contact you have is that little bit more research which you can store away for a future character part. Don’t forget that the day to day job may become a full time consideration if acting doesn’t actually work out for you, so make the most of it and enjoy doing it.