Most actors will tell you that at some point during their career (and probably more often than they’d like) they have to take on another job to pay the bills (or a “proper” job as some people call it. Complete with air quotes. Thanks for that.)
These jobs vary but they will all have certain elements that are similar. Basically they need to be something that’s relatively easy to do. This might the fifteenth temporary job this year. Not too much training involved please. I’ll just jump right in. The rent is due next week and I’m in my overdraft and have maxed out my credit cards. Ideally it should be something that will allow you to still go on auditions. God forbid should you be busy serving someone in a department store when Steven Spielberg calls. Which he will. Soon. I’m sure of it. But most importantly this job must be something that definitely is NOT a career move.
Now that last point is an interesting one. It’s usually something that happens and you don’t even realise it. Actors are drawn to jobs that are perpetually “temporary” whether its intentional or not. They can’t help it. It’s like their subconscious won’t allow them to give up the dream.
No actor ever deliberately makes the choice to become a fulltime professional waiter. Or bartender. Or whatever the temporary job may be. Living hand to mouth for the rest of our days? Minimum wage? No pension? No security? Always hoping that the next customer will be a big tipper and not an obnoxious wanker like the last five?? No thank you very much. (I am aware of the irony that acting itself doesn’t guarantee any of the above either but there’s something more to acting. A kind of satisfaction and reward you get from creating something. From doing something you love. Something that is much more than just paying the bills. It’s different, trust me.)
So what jobs do we end up doing? Obviously there are the standard waiter/bartender/coffee-shop roles. We’ve all done it at some point. I’ve worked in an Italian restaurant (still can’t stack the plates up my arm as I clear tables. Obviously I didn’t work there long enough). I’ve done my time behind the bar in numerous drinking establishments and I even did a stint at a well known fast food chain (I won’t name names but let’s just say I wasn’t “lovin’ it”…). I’ve worked in a library and as an usher in a West End theatre. None of these jobs were particularly terrible but then again most of them weren’t exactly amazing either. And sometimes they were very, very hard going. It’s a true testament to our strength and passion to our “art” when we’re faced with trying situations on a regular basis in a job we would rather not have to do…
Customer: What flavour ice creams do you have?
Me: I have chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream and strawberries and cream.
Customer: Do you have praline?
Me: No. Sorry. I have chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream and strawberries and cream.
Customer: Do you have macadamia nut?
Me: (weakly) No. Sorry. I have chocolate, vanilla…
And so on and so on and so on. Until the end of time.
I’ve had actor friends that have worked in call centres (soul destroying), as dog walkers (a lot of poop), distributing flyers (the paper cuts!), as nightclub hosts (aka: clipboard Nazis), and as temps in corporate firms (“Hello. You’re through to…er…crap! What’s the name of the company again??”). One guy I know resorted to plucking turkeys one year when he didn’t get in to panto and his tax bill was looming.
A lot of the time we have no idea what we’re doing and, if we’re honest, we don’t really want to do it in the first place. But we have to, so we will carry on however degrading or meaningless it seems to us. And most importantly we will do it with a smile because at the end of the day we can always ACT like we want to be there.