And thanks for reading! I don’t know if it is just me, but MAN it sure seems pretty slow around here these days. I mean, I’m still working, but not nearly as much as I’d like to, and future jobs are slim pickings. This week let’s talk about what you should do to keep busy during slow times.
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.
It happens in everyone’s acting careers. The nature of this business is that there are going to be times when work is slow. Maybe there are just fewer productions in the works. Maybe there are just not a lot of roles you are fit for. This year, for example, all of the major unions are up for renegotiating their Minimum Basic Agreement contracts with the major producers . Also, this year there is some major contention with the Writers Guild, and they are threatening to strike.
Potential writers’ strike
I wrote a bit about this previously, but the threat of a writer’s strike has increased risk for big union productions, so there is a pretty significant reduction in new productions starting. It’s understandable, because negotiations with one union group (WGA) can, and often does, affect negotiations with the other unions. The natural result is that productions are holding off going into production (and casting actors for them) until things are settled. Consequently, there are fewer jobs for actors at the moment.
So, what do you do?
It’s bad when work slows down, but there are still some things you can do to keep busy during slow times, and maybe even earn a little money as well. What follows is an exploration of things an actor can do to keep busy and maybe earn some cash during slow times. The first thing you need to note about the following is that doing these things requires a lot of self-motivation, especially for the things that don’t earn you money while you’re doing them. If you are not self-motivated, well, maybe you are in the wrong field!
Listen, we all experience slow times for varied reasons. Even seasoned and famous actors have periods, sometimes long periods, where they are not working. I’ve read several books about actors whose career was SO slow just before a big break they were considering getting out of the business. Consistency, persistence, and motivation are what you need to get through slow times. These slow periods are NOT an indictment of your talent (usually) so do what you can to weather them and get through it.
Unless you are an A-List actor (or maybe even a B-List actor) with a ton of reserve cash, which the vast majority of us are not, then you probably have (or need) a side hustle to get through lean times. It’s sad, but since we are all pretty accustomed to eating and having a place to sleep, during slow times you should try to ramp up your side gig. Take more hours, hustle more or do whatever you need to do to allow you to survive. I know this goes without saying, but a slowdown in acting work leaves you some extra free time to concentrate on your side gigs. Thus, when things slow down the first thing to do is to increase your non-acting work. I mean, you do have more time for that, right?
Even a busy actor should continue training and coaching, but during slow periods in your acting career you have an opportunity to commit to something a little longer term. Is there a class you’d like to take but were too busy for the commitment before? Now is your chance to take that class. True, you never know when things will pick up again, and there is a bit of risk involved in committing to a long term class. It’s a personal decision, to be sure, however if things pick up again before you finish you just have a scheduling issue, not something insurmountable.
Explore other acting venues.
Are you primarily a screen actor? Voice artist? Theater actor? Branch out! Try community theater, audition for VO roles. If you don’t pigeonhole yourself your opportunities to act will increase. Try looking for low-paying or unpaid independent gigs just to keep working those acting muscles. Find a local theater or film school and volunteer to perform in their productions. Many of these opportunities are completely unaffected by things like union negotiations and strikes, and student productions are always looking for actors…some are even paid opportunities.
Meet with your agent or manager.
Slow times are a good time to meet with other members of your team. Approach your agent or manager with an open mind, mention you are not getting as many auditions/bookings and ask what you might do to improve your odds. Maybe it is time to learn a new aspect of the craft (such as stage/screen fighting or stunts), maybe it is the right time to concentrate on updating your marketing materials like head shots, or maybe your resume needs some work. Slow periods are good time to take care of those things.
Slow periods are a great time to nurture industry relationships. Reach out to your network and set up that lunch meeting that you’ve not had time for. Attend industry events like Film Festivals and premiere screenings. These are great places to meet people in the industry and get to know them. Remember, though, that networking is a way for you to get to know people and them you. They are not auditions or interviews. And when networking remember that your goal is to find ways to help them not to get them to help you. Networking is not an opportunity to pitch yourself or your ideas. Networking leads to new friends, which may lead to opportunities to pitch yourself or your ideas, but that is not the point of networking.
Study productions that fit your “essence” to see what makes them good. Seeing (or hearing) other successful actors in roles you would be auditioning for will help you know how to prepare for these types of projects when things pick back up. It definitely will give you a leg up on other actors auditioning for the same roles who did not do any research. Also, research what productions are waiting in the wings to see what might be coming up. A subscription to Casting About will give you a good idea of what to be preparing for and also an idea what producers/directors are getting ready to start casting so your agent or manager can pitch you directly.
Get in shape.
Is the crafty table just a little too tempting when you’re on set so you’ve put on a few pounds? Slow times are a good time to concentrate on you and your health. Do you need to take off a few pounds? This is a good time to think about exercising or maybe starting that diet you’ve been thinking about. You should always be concerned about your health, after all, it is tough to work if you are incapacitated or dead, but slow times give you more time to concentrate on that. And you even get to control what gets put on YOUR crafty table.
If it is slow for you, it is likely slow for your circle of friends and acquaintances. Slow times are a good time to create your own content. Get together with other industry folks you know and produce some fun short content, then post it on your YouTube channel. It’s fun, doesn’t cost a ton of money and it gives everyone involved a chance to keep practicing the craft they love. These projects should be fun and don’t have to be “highly polished” productions. You never know where something like this may lead.
At the end of the day
There are always going to be slow times as an actor. It’s inevitable. The key is to keep working, keep moving, don’t stagnate. If you allow yourself to slow down at the same pace as the industry, overcoming the inertia to get moving again will be difficult. You may not actually earn any money from some of these, and some may even cost some money, but they will pay off in the long run when the industry picks back up.