In the life of an actor, balance is everything. In particular, the balance between our financial stability and our passion projects must be taken care of if we wish to have long and sustainable careers. An actor’s lifestyle can take many forms. When it comes to supporting themselves between acting work, many actors will work a number of different jobs, often with unorthodox arrangements or working hours to keep themselves flexible and available for auditions which arise with short notice. Some actors, however, prefer to commit to a full time position for the financial security and stable structure it provides. Working full time whilst pursuing a career as an actor can be incredibly challenging, but is essential for some of us, so today we’ll be exploring some of the obstacles we face when working full time and some strategies to overcome them.
Here at StageMilk, we get asked a lot about the conundrum of full time vs casual work. We’ve started the conversation here in our article Can You Have a Full Time Job and Still Pursue Acting? I’d recommend you check out this article as a starting point.
I, personally, think working full time whilst pursuing acting would be incredibly challenging. I have tried it, and have moved away from that set up towards self employment and casual work. That lifestyle is by no means without its challenges, but I find it does suit me best. For the purposes of this conversation however, I’d like to put the challenge of working full time under the microscope. I want to interrogate the question “what if I worked full time as an actor?”, by identifying what problems may arise, then subsequently what we may do to prevent those problems or what we might do to repair the problem should it take place. This structure is one I am borrowing from Fear Setting, a problem solving framework I’ve come across in a really useful TED talk by Tim Ferris.
So, can I be an actor with a full time job?: problems, prevention and repair. Let’s go.
Problem: I’d Miss Auditions
Prevent: COVID-19 has had a drastic effect on the way the casting process works for actors. In the past, priority was given to getting actors in the room for a face to face audition, however more and more we are seeing self-taping becoming the main method for auditioning actors. This means that you are able to put down your audition after hours and not need to take time away from work to audition and you could fit the self tape in after work hours.
Repair: If it is impossible to self tape for a particular audition, then what becomes paramount is the relationship and negotiations between you and your employer, and you and your agent. Maintaining a full time job means you need to work extra hard to manage their expectations. Your agent is going to expect you to go in for every role they submit you for, and your employer is going to expect you to show up to work every day. A potential solution for this is to be upfront with both these parties as soon as you can about what working arrangement is going to be manageable for you, to see if it is suitable for them as well. If your employer understands you may need to take the occasional ‘long lunch’ to fit in a midday audition, the awareness of that might make it possible. Additionally, if your agent knows that you may not be able to audition 3 times a week, they might prioritise the opportunities which are most important for you to go in for, reducing the times you request time off work.
Doing a Theatre Show
Problem: I couldn’t do Theatre.
Prevent: This is a tough one. A role in a theatre show will require a lot of time from you, no matter the size of the role. In spite of that challenge, another change we have seen in the world in the past 18 months has been the increase of remote working arrangements. If your full time work was a situation where you were required to complete tasks to clear deadlines, but it wasn’t necessarily essential for you to work typical working hours or be in an office space to do the work, then you could potentially juggle both this work and a role in a theatre show. Again, your communication with your employer and the producers of the show would need to be very clear at the outset about what would be possible for you to manage.
Repair: Ok, let’s say you can’t do theatre. That’s not necessarily the end of the world. You might not even want to do theatre, and instead prefer to focus on roles in film and TV. If you are passionate about theatre however, you can still spend your time whilst working a full time job practising. You could wake up earlier in the morning to fit in your voice work and warm ups. You could join StageMilk Scene Club and work on a monthly monologue from your favourite plays. You could read plays in your spare time. You could go to acting classes on the weekends, or organise your own play readings or scene-clubs. Just because you can’t commit to a full run of a show, doesn’t mean you can’t still hone your craft as an actor.
Taking Time Off
Problem: I wouldn’t be able to take time off for acting.
Prevent: This has got to be one of if not the biggest issue you’d face working full time. Fitting in the time to audition is one thing, but once we’ve actually booked a job we would need anywhere from hours to months of our time to commit to it. Again, this becomes an issue of managing your employers expectations of your position. In an ideal world you’d have a working relationship with your employer which allowed you to take time away from the job within reason, so you could juggle both that position and your pursuits as an actor. This is very rare however, so the solutions to this issue become one of thinking outside the box. You’d need to interrogate the set up at your place of employment. How does annual leave work? Could you save up your leave to allow you to work an acting job for a few weeks? Again, could you work remotely and still get your work done whilst on set?
Repair: If we swing the focus the other way and look at managing the expectations of your agent, then it becomes a question of which roles you are put forward for. Perhaps you flag with the casting agents early that you would only be able to shoot for a week maximum. This may be a deal breaker for casting, but flagging your restrictions as early as possible is a MUST. Don’t be the actor who signs on for a job only to reveal their limited availability a week out from starting the gig.
Additionally, perhaps your time working this full time position becomes a time of craft development for you as an actor. Maybe you put aside your pursuit of work and focus instead on developing your craft and skills. Work on your accents. Learn monologues. Do acting classes after hours. It may not be as fulfilling as working professional jobs, but it’s a hell of a lot better than not acting.
Writing this article has, in many ways, convinced me of the near-impossibility of pursuing a career as an actor and working a full time job for an extended period of time. The lack of structure in an acting career is unorthodox and poses many challenges, and ultimately requires obscene flexibility and freedom in our lifestyles. That being said, if you were to work a full time position for some time, a few things become essential.
First, the clarity of communication between you, your employer and your agent is essential. Without this, and without managing their expectations, you are not setting yourself up for success but instead are creating more stress for yourself in the long run. Next, it’s clear that you would need to think outside the box. What arrangements could you agree upon with your employer and your agent to balance your obligations to both of them? These include working remotely or unorthodox hours at your job, and prioritising which roles you are submitted for through your agent. Finally, if it becomes clear that it is not feasible to work your job AND as an actor, then the focus moves to self-development. Do not despair and write off this time as void of acting, rather identify ways you can get better at acting, so that once your calendar frees up you are ready to get back in front of the casting directors and fit for the task of pursuing professional work.