Without a doubt, I think the toughest part about being an actor is being out of work and looking for work. I know I’ve felt auditions taking on a life or death status. Success can free you from the shackles of hardship… failure can sink you further into financial struggle. All the while I watched my peers get promotions and put deposits on their first apartments while I wondered if I would be struggling to pay my rent at 60.
Does this sound like you? I was just talking to my buddy Liam this morning. Liam is incredibly talented and has worked on his acting career for years. He just shared a story about a friend of his who has just been offered a 6 figure salary for his new tech job in San Fransisco. He’s excited for his friend but wonder’s about his own life choices. Will acting ever give him what he wants?
I remember this struggle myself. I spent 5 years in New York, in a post grad program at drama school, working for a small theatre company and auditioning in between… all funded by waiting tables 5 nights a week. It was exhausting a drove me further and further into debt.
What is a full-time actor? Do they exist? Does full time mean that you can quit your day job for the run of your contract or could it mean something much more.
Outside of Hollywood where actors enjoy a wonderful thing called residuals, even known TV stars can struggle to become full-time actors. Once their TV show or play ends, so does their cashflow from performance. Some save money and then live off that and the odd TV commercial whilst they pray for another gig that will keep them on the actors gravy train. Over my years in acting I landed contracts that had me feel like a full-time actor only to find myself back on the unemployment line once they ended… (we call this auditioning).
Struggling actors will generally sacrifice their availability to take a job that will get them on their feet. They will then try to survive the destruction of their soul as they try and keep up with the Joneses. But one day they will explode and break free from the shackles of conformity and quit their job. They plan to write that film script they’ve always talked about, get new headshots and are convinced that with some concentration and commitment, they will be in full time work in 3-6 months.
But things don’t work out and as the bills pile up they are forced to return to ‘normal life’ missing auditions and climbing out of financial ruin until the next time their soul screams at them… and round they go again. Sound familiar? I know you… because once I WAS you.
The more committed ones choose a job at night like waiting tables. This way at least they can earn a living whilst still leaving themselves available for auditions. They are essentially working two jobs. Problem is that the night lifestyle easily gets the better of you and your life becomes more about your tips and the drinks afterward than your monologue. Yep, been down that road as well.
Their must be a better way…
The key is to tap into certain aspects of performance that provide you with income during those lean times. Options could be corporate theatre or booking a regular TV presenter gig on cable TV. Perhaps a radio show or a regular spot at a theatre restaurant.
I have many friends who do this. Some do a little stand-up, others work on cruise ships. I had mates in New York who would take off with a small musical company for a few months doing something they called ‘Summer stock.’ My good friend Penelope whom I’ve known since we went to the same drama school 25 years ago, now works doing corporate theatre. Over the years she’s been the face of cable TV channels, done loads of presenting, had her own radio show and books the odd TV commercial.
The upside of these options is although they are not your gutsy role on a prime-time drama or big budget career launching film, you are still an actor performing. You go to bed each night calling yourself an actor because you act for a living.
The downside of these options is that they often take up as much time or energy as the full time jobs and eventually can even grow to be unsatisfying.
So what to do?
Could Voiceovers be the Answer?
One of the best answers is voiceovers. Carving out a career in voiceovers was a real game changer for me. It’s role initially was to do what I recommend other actors strive forto support me while I pursued other aspects of performance. But as it’s success grew for me, so did my love for the craft and it became my primary focus.
Voiceovers are highly paid on a per hour basis. They are also subject to rollovers or residuals in certain markets. They are fun to perform and you very much feel like an actor when you do them. But best of all voiceovers only need to take up a few hours of your week to supplement your income so you can either reduce your regular job hours or leave it completely and concentrate on your craft. You can spend a day a week at the cafe writing your script, workshop the play with your scene partners, do that student film with the cool role for your reel and never miss an audition or the time needed to be fully prepared for it. This gives you the best chance to fast-track your journey to the success that you strive for.
Voiceovers is a path that takes it’s own time and focus. You need to learn very specific skills and you need to pursue it with some vigor. But based on statistics you are far more likely to make money in voiceovers than you are in other acting pursuits. Especially if you are female as the ratios of competition and roles is dramatically better than for women in film and TV.
Voiceovers can be a powerful addition to your performance income whilst not monopolizing your time as an artist.
It makes excellent business sense to add voiceovers to your bow of performance success.