So What Works For You? Yes – You!

~ Frances Kitson

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I’d had enough of being poor, and had decided that it was time for a day job. By this I mean a day job that would pay some actual money, and not a miminum-wage-or-just-barely-more-than job. I’m broke, it sucks, and I’d rather not take twenty years to pay off my student loans.

Next question is, of course, where to look for said day job. Here, things can get very complicated very fast, because there are just so many freaking options. Sometimes, choice really is a problem.

What I’ve realized is that every job is going to have its drawbacks. It might not be super-interesting. Or it might be too interesting. Or it might not be very flexible. Or it might be too flexible – fluctuating hours, etc.

The solution to this, I think, is to just get out there and research, network, apply, repeat. Any action is better than none. Don’t spent time worrying about whether or not something is going to work out, because that way lies perfectionist paralysis. Nothing is going to be perfect, so stop looking for perfection, make something happen, and then work with it.

[Self-indulgent sidenote: Can I tell you what my dream day job would be? Please? Oh goody – it would be working in Corporate Communications for Canadian Heritage. It’s the public sector. It’s an organization about whose focus I get geekily excited. I’d be speaking in French half the time. I’d have fun working on project that I actually felt mattered. Man, I would just be bounding into work!

Or the CBC. I’d take anything at the CBC. I was in giddy transports of delight last week when my letter – first one ever! – was the letter of the day on Q. Oh my gosh – the thrillometer went off the scale. PLUS I got to hear Jian Ghomeshi’s dulcet tones read my name aloud. Sigh…]

Here’s the other thing I realized: there is a middle ground between ignoring my student loan debts and sacrificing acting for their sake. I know people who have made – or are making – lots of money by working in places like Fort St. John, northern Alberta, and Nunavut, and I was musing on the possibility of doing something similar. But I don’t feel now is the time for me. There might come a time when taking six months off to work in a remote location and come home with a pile of cash feels like the right thing to do, but this isn’t it. I’m too invested right now in gaining traction in this burgeoning career of mine.

However. That doesn’t automatically consign me to ten years of minimum payments on my credit card, staring glumly at the helpful note on my bill informing me how many more years it will take at that rate. (You can tell it wasn’t VISA’s idea to print that.) I live on very little now; if I get a better- (read: decently-) paying job and continue to live at more or less the same standard (with exceptions made for such essentials as tickets to the ballet), then the debts can be overcome.

Furthermore, if an acting career really is, according to what is rapidly becoming my favourite quote, an octopus rather than a straight line (thanks to Dawn Brennan for that), then there is still lots of time in which to take four months off and survey northern Alberta for forest fires, bathing once a week out of a bucket. I still seem to be operating along this unconscious assumption that I will at some point launch into an acting career that will feature constant projects for which I must constantly be available. Ha. (Dear brain: if you could cease and desist from presenting options in rigid, absolute, black vs. white terms, that would be very much appreciated. Yours, Frances.)

But here’s what I want to know: how have you done it? Seriously. If you accumulated debts, decided you were tired of being broke, and somehow addressed that situation WITHOUT totally giving up on theatre, how did you do it? What worked for you? What do you wish you’d done differently? What’s working for you now?

There is no need to provide me with advice (unless it’s a hobby of yours, in which I wouldn’t dream of interfering). I just want to hear your story.

If you’d rather not leave a comment below, then email me: I’ll probably write about what I learned in a future post, but I won’t mention your story or your name without asking you.

Go on then. Write me! I dare you…

4 Responses to “So What Works For You? Yes – You!”

  1. Andrew Wade says:

    As someone just stepping out of school, myself, I am also curious! Right now I am barely making rent with a part-time minimum wage job (that is very flexible) and odds and ends here and there. I’m freed up enough to do some theatre… but it’s not the most calm of lives and I’m stuck living in an office just to make ends meet, thus far. Can’t live this way forever.

  2. Joel S. says:

    Ahh, I have wondered this for many years. I’m often asking other actors how they make it work, and am sometimes surprised (I guess I shouldn’t be) to hear that some of the rather esteemed and seasoned ones are struggling.

    But of the portion of society who call themselves actors (seasoned or not), a lot seem to go with the serving/bartending/working a storefront type of work. I also know a guy who teaches at an ESL college. In either case, it appears that having a number of staff to ask for shift coverage, or an understanding manager, is important.

    I have a temp agency (for admin work), and am launching a guitar teaching studio, which is more promising, though still uncertain, like any self-employment. I would urge all actors, especially the young ones, to diversify – I can’t tell you how much musicianship has aided my acting career, and provided opportunities in and of itself. And now it can provide a somewhat flexible, higher-paying stream of teaching to pair with auditions and rehearsals.

    Some other things I’ve considered or done –
    -audio transcription: hard to find good work, and seems it would be rather… mind-numbing
    -government call centre: better paying, understanding bosses, though scheduling was still tricky
    -non-profit admin work: see above.

    I’m interested to hear some other ideas!

  3. Donna Barnfield says:

    Sorry, no Magic Bullet – paddling the same boat at the moment, although perhaps a bit further up the stream (I prefer to think of it as a mid-life awakening rather than a crisis!)Lacking the taken-for-granted basic office skills that would aid finding temp work I have been fortunate to find an accomodating mall job that may or may not last. I am also able to utilize the sewing skills I have acquired in 20+ years of designing and making dance and theatre costumes – I have billed myself as a “Quadrupal Threat” : sing, dance, act, costume!
    The pay check rarely stretches from one to the next but we keep at it. The one thing we starving artists have is plenty of company. Speaking of which, my wild dream involves winning the lottery and buying a rambling Victorian house and being a Gracious Landlady to struggling actors (think of the classic “Stage Door”) However the extravagance of a lottery ticket makes this unlikely at the moment.

  4. Damon Jang-GVPTA Intern says:

    Hey everyone and Francais.

    For myself I’m walking a fine line, while less than 10% of my annual income for 2011 has been off acting/ performance jobs 30-40% has been through teaching. I know that its not the most ideal thing to do, there’s the old saying if you cant do, teach. But I totally disagree. Teaching reaffirms my own techniques and makes me super hyper aware of my craft, its a chance to work my own skills when I teach my students.

    On the “Day job” front, I worked almost a year as an academic adviser at a private college (Vancouver Career College) and I found that yes, financially stable, benefits, full time work made life more enjoyable it was very non arts related. To overcome my need to be in an arts related environment I used my acting skills everyday talking to people, having to overcome situations, mediate and facilitate people who would tell me sob stories every day why they need to go back to school. In fact I had no previous experience in academic advising, but my boss liked that I was an actor. And I still did 3 or 4 shows that year because my evenings were free.

    Point is, look at you’re transferable marketable skills and start looking for ways you can incorporate them in non traditional arts jobs. Find out what your tolerance level is and really, when it comes right down to it, as long as you stay active in at least 40 % of your time, the industry will always be there. Like what Joel said. Diversify!

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