How many times have you collected unemployment this year? It might be time to try and find a more lucrative part-time or temp position to complement your less than predictable acting career. To help you out, we picked the brain of actress-turned-CEO and Founder of Survivaljobsforactors.com Michelle Dyer for some sneaky job-hunting tips all actors should file alongside their resumes.
1. Promo Time
You know those occasionally funny but sometimes extremely annoying-when-you’re-trying-to-get-somewhere folks who hand out free stuff in Grand Central Station? You can bet your month’s unemployment check they’re actors who didn’t have an audition that day. You can submit a photo and resume to most promo companies online. 360 Promo Network, Elite Marketing Group, Spectrum Events, and Davenport Theatrical are good places to start. The best part? Promo companies love actors. (Think of how your stage presence and vocal projection, amongst other awesomely endearing qualities) makes you stand out! If you just so happen to keep an eye on your appearance, your success in this area will double. Superficial as it is, these companies want extroverted, animated, and, well, pretty people to increase brand awareness and sell products. So submit your smiliest shot in the online app and let that personality sparkle once you land the interview.
2. Play Sick
Don’t panic, but the medical community may need your help. To assess and improve doctors’ bedside manners, many med-schools hire actors to fake disease symptoms in front of soon-to-be-M.D.’s. You’ll be doing a favor for future patients as well as earning a not-so-shabby wage. (Some schools pay up to $25/hour.) For New Yorkers, Mount Sinai, NYIT, and North Shoreare hiring. Commute? Johns Hopkins and ECFMG are also looking to add to their team. For West-Coasters, Kaplan Medical is accepting apps. Your best bet, however, is to search for “Standardized Patient” on any job search engine, like simplyhired.com or indeed.com.
3. Get Paid to Make People Sweat
Becoming a personal trainer may seem like a daunting commitment. But nabbing a group fitness instructor certification may not take as much time as you think. If you have a couple hundred bucks to spare and a free weekend, you can become a Zumba teacher in just one day. Longer term trainings and more hardcore certs — think: qualifying as a personal trainer, Pilates instructor, or yoga teacher — are options for those with a bit more time and money on their hands. See ACE, NASM, and ISSA for info on becoming a PT. For the OM-inclined:Yoga Works, Sonic Yoga, or Kripalu. And if Pilates is your preference, try Core Pilates, re:AB,or visit the Pilates Institute of America’s website for more info.
4. Show People Around
If you’ve got a knack for facts and enjoy putting on a show (we have a feeling the latter goes without saying), consider becoming a tour guide. Companies like On Location Tours — who offer Sex & The City, Sopranos, and Gossip Girl themed tours in New York and Boston — seek actors to parlay all sorts of fun and interesting facts to tourists from around the globe. (The more film experience you have under your belt, the better — improv and stand-up experience also won’t hurt you.) The schedule? Flexible (think: 3 ½ hour shifts that leave you plenty of time to audition). And it pays — upwards of $100 per shift (even before factoring in tips). Plus, there’s no long-term contract so if you do happen to get work — like previous On Location Tour guides Gary Mahmoud, Stephanie Schweitzer, and Stacey Sund — you’re free to take time off. To apply, e-mail your headshot and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Keep it Real (Estate).
Another way to make money without sacrificing your Monday through Friday availability? Get licensed as a real estate agent.
Take it from veteran broker Belynda M’Baye, who supplements her income with sealing apartment deals while pursuing a career in film production. Though she notes the work of a real estate agent can certainly be stressful — pro tip: be prepared for pushy customers who don’t quite understand you aren’t available 24/7 — M’Baye underscores how much freedom the job affords: “The job does involve a lot of juggling, but you make your own hours and you can often work remotely — say, backstage after a rehearsal or on break during a film shoot.”
Some brokerage firms provide real estate education training programs that can be completed in less than a week. (To actually be able to practice, you’ll need to pass the Real Estate License Exam.) Check out Rapid Realty’s cert program or a university-affiliated continuing ed courselike Hunter College’s to see if the training fits your schedule and budget.
6. Sell Stuff!
No, we don’t mean exchanging all your furniture for cash on Craig’s List. (Though this can be a viable, albeit temporary and kinda sketchy option.) Theatre companies like Roundabout hire Telesales reps on a seasonal basis. Note: This work usually occurs during “regular business hours” (aka Monday through Friday, 9 to 5.) Check out Roundabouttheatre.org or call 212.642.9625 ext 8200 to schedule an interview.
7. Keep it Temporary.
Temp agencies can be an actor’s best friend — as long as you know how to use them to your advantage. Atrium ranks high on most intermittent job seekers’ lists. Core Staffing, Adecco,and Bon Temps also garner their fair share of smiles from those they help employ. Fancy non-profits? Try PNP.
Dyer recommends picking one day of the week to consistently e-mail your upcoming schedule to the temp agency. This helps them keep your availability in mind and ups the chances you’ll be able to fit a last minute gig in between rehearsals, classes, and auditions.
Dyer also cautions actors to shore up their assertiveness skills. “Temp agents can be pushy if you don’t tell them you only want one-off jobs,” she says. It’s tricky when you really could use that money working the Monday through Thursday slot they just offered you. But there’s also that big audition on Wednesday you’ve been prepping for. Use your best judgment when prioritizing your career and don’t feel you have to take up every temp opp that comes your way. Be clear and stand up for yourself!
For more job hunting tip-offs, visit survivaljobsforactors.com and sign up for Michelle’s regular e-mail alerts about open positions for actors in NY and LA!
Special thanks to Michelle Dyer and On Location Tours’ Alan Lochter and Georgette Blau for their seriously huge contributions to this article!
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson