Every single book about becoming a working actor gives the same piece of advice in the very first chapter: get a job. Nope, not an acting job, a rent job. Employment that pays your bills, buys you lunch, gases up your car and doles it out for the doctor. Income to keep you alive while you keep your career moving upwards. Ah, yes, paying the rent!
When I moved to a new city, I pushed my savings as far as they could possibly go so I could optimistically avoid getting non-acting work. I had come from a string of rent jobs in New York, all of them drama-rich and soul-crushing. I wanted to bypass the same fate in my new home. Maybe I could fast book some commercials and not worry about a rent job! (It happens for some, it’s true.) Soon, I found myself broke and worrying about paying my bills upon bills as I frantically tried to find some new employment. ANY employment. And it struck me: all those books were right. Everybody needs money coming in, if not for the necessities it pays for, then the surge of confidence you acquire knowing you’ve got a bank account to back you up.
The trick, as always, with the rent job for an actor relies heavily on that magic word: flexibility. What kind of boss will let you leave in the middle of the day for a spur-of-the-moment audition? What kind of job can pay you well enough so you can miss precious days of work for low/no/deferred paying gigs that feed your inner artistic juices? What sort of employment can you stand doing but not like so much you forget why you’re doing it? These are the questions all actors obsess over, and for good reason! Good rent jobs are hard to find! So, let’s go over the pros & cons of some popular actor rent jobs, and who knows? Maybe it’ll point you towards your next job!
- WAIT TABLES: The old actor standby job, waiting tables can be both flexible and well paying. The downsides include surviving the cliché jokes (“What do you call an up and coming actress? Your server.”), dealing with poor managers who seem to thrive in the restaurant business, working long and late hours, and, in today’s tough economic times, stiff competition just getting the restaurant job. But, if you like a fast-paced kitchen and networking with your customers, maybe a serving job is just for you!
- TEMP: Temp agencies are the actor’s BFF in every city. Usually, you make an interview appointment with an agency where they test your typing, computer and phone skills, and then they’ll call you on a daily or weekly basis (often very last-minute) to check your availability to fill in for a sick office worker or out-of-town secretary. A good friend of mine started temping in Manhattan, and the office eventually hired her at $25 an hour, and lets her leave on her lunch break for auditions! But that’s, unfortunately, not the norm. Most temp jobs pay anywhere between $9 to $15 an hour, often don’t reimburse for gas or parking, and can be very strict in what kind of skills are needed. Another con is that temp jobs are notoriously inflexible, so you might not be able to leave for a sudden audition. Check Kelly Services for temp jobs in your area!
- NANNY: Babysitters and nannies can make big bucks watching children during the day or on nights & weekends. While oftentimes families prefer females to males watching their kids, there has been an upswing in “mannies,” and both genders can make more than $15 an hour under-the-table babysitting! Like temping, it’s often hard to leave a sitting job in the middle of the day for an acting job (you can’t just leave those kiddies behind, right?!) but depending on the parent’s schedules, some nannies can work out a system that works for everyone. Or, maybe you can just nanny after school or on the weekends. The downsides also include dirty diapers, but if you have a talent with the little ones, babysitting can be a great actor job. Sign up at the fantastic babysitting networking site Sittercity for free, and get started meeting parents in your area ASAP.
- TUTOR: Just like babysitting, if you like kids and made great grades in high school and college, tutoring can be an excellent source of income. Tutoring companies pay their tutors who work in expensive neighborhoods $25-$45 an hour, especially those who can help out shaky students in geometry, science, languages, and test prep. Or check out test prep places like Kaplan to see if they need more tutors! The downsides include having to drive to the students’ houses (so you’re essentially downgrading your pay rate in half) and, again, the tricky flexibility issue.
- ASSIST: There are hundreds upon thousands of producers, directors, agents, and various executives who need assistants to help them organize, run, and simplify their lives, and they often pay great salaries to those who can handle rolling calls, trip-planning, and high-profile clients. I worked for a photographer for a while in New York, and did everything from set up her photo shoots to babysit her son to pay her husband’s car payment bills. The disadvantage to the assistant’s job? Long hours, little to no flexibility, and 24/7 work. On the other hand…what a way to network!
- RETAIL & SALES: An actor and a salesman have a lot in common. They both sell a product, promise reliability and confidence, and are always hoping to get bigger and better customers. If you are working in a commission-based company, that is always best as you can use your actor-smarts and charming personality to sell more (and thereby earn more); however, you should avoid such jobs as auto sales and some telemarketing companies who pay you completely based on commission. I had several actor friends all work at an expensive boutique menswear shop in Manhattan, and they made a great hourly rate plus commissions on the day’s sales. You can also check out your nearby convention centers, museums, and theaters who often do subscriber calls and pay commission!
- TEACH: Got a marketable skill? Are you an advanced practitioner of Pilates, yoga, tae kwan do, judo, or tennis? Have you ever taught an acting class to kids or taught guitar? Turn your hobbies into money! Advertise on Craigslist or on neighborhood bulletin boards, in kid-oriented community centers, or on your Starbucks’ corkboard.
OTHER CREATIVE ACTOR JOBS TO PAY THE RENT:
I’ve known actors who’ve done everything to pay the bills, from working in hotels as bellhops, substitute teaching, selling insurance, photographing headshots, moving furniture, bartending, dressing up as Disney princesses for kids’ parties, cleaning houses, setting up convention center displays at 3 AM, assisting the elderly, organizing closets, handing out samples at Costco roadshows, and delivering pizzas. The key is to be open to new jobs, new schedules, and new ideas. Don’t stick around any employment that makes you feel unsafe, scared, or deeply unhappy. You CAN find a rent job that is both fulfilling and pays well, so you can keep doing what you love to do: act!
Have a great rent job that pays your bills and more? Share it with the Right Cast and leave a comment!