An actor’s life is a tough one. Performers have to deal with regular rejection, forced self-consciousness, decreasing levels of confidence, lack of acting jobs, and constantly coming up with ways how to fund their acting careers or even their acting training alone.
To top it all off, actors are never certain when or from where their next paycheck is coming. A truly good survival job for an actor is the only way one can stay fed and continue funding this unfair career choice that will eventually, and hopefully, pay off.
The reality is not all roses for most aspiring artists: the only way to become a working actor is to continuously invest in your acting career. And not only do you have to invest your time and plenty of hard work, but money is often involved too. Things like acting classes, headshots, and everything else add up quickly.
For that, actors need day jobs (or survival jobs, as they are often called). Unfortunately, decent day jobs for actors are really hard to come by. It’s especially true after one has moved to the major theatre and film cities, where huge pools of competition are fighting each other for the most flexible job positions.
If you’re one those actors who just started in the acting business, here is a list of the most perfect day jobs for actors that will keep you fed, sane and alive until your big breakthrough role comes looking for you.
Before you drop everything and move to Los Angeles to pursue acting, knowing that you can do bartending or be a waitress, know that it’s not going to be easy to get a place in any of the employment options mentioned below.
Many actors have already figured out what kind of work will allow them to pursue acting on the side, and they’re going after the same thing you want to. Nevertheless, the jobs are out there for those who are willing to look and try hard to get them.
Bartending is one of the best survival day jobs for actors there is in bigger cities, if you can get this gig that is. Not only will you be working evenings and nights, which leaves your day free to go to acting classes, auditions and even work as an actor, but being a bartender means a decent pay when you include tips.
Being a waiter/waitress is a good job to have because of the flexibility it provides, especially if you work at a fancy restaurant that gets busy only during night time. On top of that, there is always someone who can cover your shift if you are willing to cover that person when they need it.
- Temp work.
If you are good with computers and can type fast, this is great. I did this for about two years as an accountant at different offices. You work in an office environment (with very little responsibility), can make from $12-$20/hour, and you have your nights free. When auditions come up, you either leave your temp job for an hour or call out for the day. You can take jobs that are day-to-day, or week-to-week, and do theater at night, plus you work the same hours as most of your friends, allowing you to carve out a social life. There are tons of temp agencies in New York and Los Angeles, and some even specialize in entertainment jobs.
- Personal trainer/pilates teacher/yoga instructor.
If you are physically fit, work out, and are interested in health and nutrition, this is a great option (with very flexible hours). You decide how hard you work, how many clients/classes you have, and how much money you make. You need to get a certification, and some gyms even offer free membership to teachers/trainers as well. Advertise yourself on Craigslist, social media, etc.
- Dog walker.
I did this for a while here in Los Angeles. If you love dogs and being outside, this is a great option. Early morning, late evening, and weekend hours make it very easy to balance with auditions. You can freelance by putting up flyers and handing out business cards, or you can work for a staffing company (sort of like a temp agency) that will take a cut of the fee and give you lots of opportunities. I was already walking my own dog anyway, may as well get paid for adding another dog or two. There is now a dog walking app available called Wag! that can help you get started! (use my invite code: FRANKIE8882, and get $20 in Wag! credits to try it out).
- Nanny/babysitter/pet sitter.
Great gig, and potentially very lucrative if you are good with kids. You can work on your sides while they sleep. (Or if you’re lucky, they can run lines with you!)
- Promo work/modeling.
You can find these jobs on Craiglist, or sign up with a promo company. They put out a “breakdown,” you send them your headshot, and they “cast” you. You might spend the day handing out flyers, or hosting a cocktail event at a restaurant.
- Personal assistant.
I know a lot of actors who do this, and find it very rewarding—if you are willing to set ego aside and be prepared to do someone else’s chores then this a great option.
- Real estate broker.
Get your license and start looking to match potential renters with landlords. It’s a tough market, and you work on commission, but if you get your foot in the door, this can be a great side gig with lots of earning potential. Selling 1 home a month is bare minimum needed for commission but doing more can give you a lot more wiggle room.
- Catering/party or event planner/party entertainer.
You’ve seen “Party Down,” right? Paid by the hour, plus tips. Different location every time.
You can freelance or work for a staffing company, and they will match you up with parents looking for private tutors in specific subjects. Maybe that geometry class will come in handy after all.
- Video editor.
Your friends are actors, right? Help them with their demo reels! If you have a Mac, go take a free iMovie seminar at the Apple store, and become a master video editor. It will come in handy for the rest of your career, and someone always needs footage edited.
Being a freelancer is easily one of the best survival jobs for actors for obvious reasons. Freelancing jobs vary, and there are many things you can do, from photography, writing articles online to creating graphic designs and logos.
- Online business.
Setting up your own online business is easily the best thing actors can do for their acting careers and their life in general. The reason being is because once it’s all ready, you’re not only earning money to support your acting career, but you’re also building something for the future. Your online business can be anything you may specialize on such as novelty t-shirts, craft jewelry, costumes, etc.
- Drive for Uber.
You can drive with Uber’s basic rideshare service, UberX using your personal vehicle without a commercial license. You will be your own boss, setting your own schedule, and motivating yourself. To me this is great because you have the opportunity to do a couple of different things with this. Developed a new persona? You can practice a character with your passenger and see if they buy it (don’t over do it as you don’t want a bad rating either). Work on your people skills. This is one of the most important things you can work on as it allows you to fine tune your networking skills on a one on one basis with your passenger. Networking skills are a major plus in being able to get auditions and bookings! Promote yourself. You can include brochures so people can see your content such as a YouTube or instagram, headshots (in case you run into someone in the industry), etc. Sign-up by using my referral code: NFLOO or follow this link: https://partners.uber.com/i/4a66u24hb to get started and you will get a $600 starting bonus after your first 75 rides! I’m sure that will help you out, not bad huh?
It’s all about finding what works for you, what makes you happy, and what you are willing to put up with while you pursue your dream. Until you land your first big job (and maybe even after), it’s about living paycheck to paycheck, day to day, scrambling around from job to job, memorizing lines, racing to student film auditions, looking for agents, doing free theater, and living a “freelance” lifestyle, making yourself available and ready for when that big opportunity presents itself.