And thanks for reading! For the vast majority of actors, a “survival job” is a reality. On top of that we have family obligations, and let’s face it we need to take a break from time to time too. Working a 40 hour a week job and staying connected to family & friends while also pursuing acting can be a balancing act. This week let’s talk about Balancing your acting career, day job, and personal life.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. Yeah, I know I say this every week, but it falls under the heading of “The things that go without saying are the things that most need to be said”. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
The image of the life of an actor as portrayed in the mainstream media is misleading. What most people see about acting are the “A”-listers who are nearly always working and can afford the lulls between roles. The reality is that those actors are a miniscule portion of actors overall. More commonly, actors aren’t working enough, or in enough high paying roles, to even support themselves. Most actors either have to barely scratch by, rely on friends and family for help, or…as is most common…work another job.
The simple reality of an acting career is that it is horribly unpredictable. One week you may be on set working 12 to16 hour days, the next week you are juggling 5-10 auditions and the next? Nothing. Looking for roles and twiddling your thumbs. When you do book a gig, there is a fair chance that it will require travel and time away from home (and maybe not paid travel) unless you are fortunate enough to be a Voice Actor with a professional home studio.
And it’s expensive.
Yeah, life is expensive, but not JUST life. Actors need training, head shots, marketing material, technology, and all of that is expensive on TOP of life. Given that most actors do not earn enough to live on, paying for the things they need to support their acting career gets even more difficult. The need for a survival job exists for all but a very small handful of actors. Unless they have a wealthy (and generous) family or a SO with a great income who supports their acting career most actors are going to struggle to finance their career.
Thanks to COVID-19 the industry has changed some to take advantage of technology and make things a BIT easier for those who work full time to support their acting career. In-person auditions are much rarer these days, but self-tape auditions also add another level of complexity to the job. In addition to delivering a great performance, now we also have to know a bit about production, lighting, sound, and audio/video processing. And we also have to have the space and equipment to provide quality audition tapes.
In addition to all the other things actors have to pay for – training, head shots, reels etc. – Now we also have to buy the equipment and software needed to produce a professional audition tape. On top of THAT, we have to learn to use it all proficiently – AND find our own readers. Compared to what a typical actor earns, acting is less an income than an outgo.
The bad news about adding technology and self-tape auditions to the mix is that many times, the turnaround time is much shorter. Sometimes that time can be as little as 24 hours to prepare, memorize, perform and process an audition. It ALSO allows access to even more actors for a given role, which means competition has become tighter. The need to get your audition done and submitted as quickly as possible adds additional stress.
If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse and kids, then it’s a safe bet that they’re going to want you to be “present” for them. Actors with a full-time survival job AND a family are balancing work and family against their passion to create and perform. Guaranteed one of them suffers, and it is likely their acting career that comes in third place in that hierarchy. So how do you balance them?
I’ve written about this before but the best job an actor can have is one that provides the flexibility to be able to have time for family and auditions as well as those rare times when you are on set for an extended period. Back in the day, many actors took waitstaff jobs in restaurants, but these days things like Uber, Lyft, GrubHub and DoorDash are available and are very flexible. If you have a regular 9-5, things get more complicated.
One of the most important things an actor can do is discuss their acting career with their boss at their day job. This both lets the boss know that there could be times when you need to be out of the office, and also lets the actor know what the expectations are at work. Is it possible to perform your job remotely for some period of time? Will you have to take vacation days to work a gig? Understanding expectations helps you know what you can expect from work, and also allows you to communicate restrictions to your agent. Can you only work a job that lasts for a week or less? Your agent needs to know that.
All of these competing elements can be very stressful. Working a full day, then returning home to have dinner hour with family before heading into your booth or studio to do your acting work leads to less sleep, potentially unhappy family members and ultimately stress and anxiety. That stress and anxiety affects every aspect of your life including how you will come across in auditions – and generally that is negatively.
So how do you cope?
I regret to inform you that there is no good way to completely eliminate that stress unless you get rid of one or more stressors. No, I am not suggesting you divorce your spouse and abandon your kids or quit your day job and pitch a tent under a bridge. Nor am I suggesting you stop pursuing your passion. And while you can’t completely eliminate the pressure, there are ways to reduce it.
Start with a frank discussion about your passion as an actor with your family, particularly your spouse. There is a good chance they neither understand the industry nor your desire to be a part of it. Help them understand these things but listen to their concerns. While it may be your goal to work in feature films, perhaps a compromise to pursue only local commercial work will allow you to keep acting and alleviate their concerns. Or…you could just leave, but I don’t recommend that.
Discuss your acting career with your boss. Ask about remote work opportunities that you can possibly perform outside normal working hours. Maybe it is possible to take a short leave of absence and protect your position. Understand their requirements and if need be, consider looking for work that allows the flexibility you need. You may have to pause your acting career temporarily to find the right job, but giving up on your passion altogether is just going to lead to regrets. Trust me, I did it and I know.
Take some for yourself. Make sure you are not hustling for work 100% of the time. Make sure to make time for family and unplug altogether occasionally to take time for yourself. Your kids are only going to be “today years old” today. Don’t miss it in pursuit of the next gig.
At the end of the day, the real cure for the stress of balancing a full-time job, family and acting career is to set and maintain priorities and boundaries. Put those three elements in priority order and any time there is a conflict defer to the one with the highest priority. No one can tell you what the priority should be, that decision is purely personal, but if you can do that then when there are competing priorities the decision of which to do becomes a lot easier. Trying to “do it all” is just going to lead to burn-out and then ALL of your priorities suffer.