Let’s cut to the chase: YES.
Not everyone luckily spent their childhood onstage or in studios, blessed with premature opportunities and breakthroughs. But news flash, many successful Hollywood actors also had to juggle acting at some point in their lives while they were waiters, caregivers, carpenters, sales agents, restaurant mascots, service crew workers, store clerks, or bartenders. They found their first few gigs while they were still employed!
If you pursued a career in acting looking for a quick buck, you’ll be badly disappointed. Aside from the tough competition in large cities, you’ve probably noticed the nonexistent—or underground—acting community in all the other states. This monopoly led to the common notion that acting gigs won’t pay the bills unless they’re with the big names in the industry.
And they had it right. Acting won’t pay the bills. But many have been through this dilemma before you and managed to push through. How exactly did they juggle acting and a full-time job?
While you’re still in the “hustling” phase of your career, you’re going to need strategies in place so you have space to create art and also money. For freelance actors, it’s going to be weekend auditions, weekend workshops, after-shift rehearsals, after-shift meetings, and used-up vacation/sick leaves. The toughest of them all find themselves running to the dressing room backstage or on set after a nine-to-five job, shoes and tie and all. If you’re lucky your days off fall on weekdays, then good for you.
Because all these activities are cramped up in the hours you have left after work, it soon might start to feel like you’re juggling college schoolwork all over again. This is not the time to rely on your brain alone. Buy a planner and color-code everything, or enter your commitments into Google Calendar weeks in advance. Get in the habit of double-checking the next day’s obligations before going to bed, or else you’ll find yourself waking up at 10 AM for a 6 AM call time. The more exhausted you are, the more likely things are to slip through the cracks, so give yourself a fighting chance.
When you’re answering to multiple directors, bosses, and colleagues, there is surely going to be confusion, so make sure you’re communicating clearly and fully with everyone to keep their expectations realistic. Be polite but firm, or apologetic if you need to be. But keep it real. Be genuine and try to honor every commitment you can. When applying for a job, open up about your freelance jobs as much as possible during the interview. It will usually be a conversation starter and a plus in your track record and time management skills, if you’ve proven it in your experience. When working on two projects at the same time, tell your stage manager or assistant director about your schedules so they’ll be aware of conflicts beforehand and reschedule accordingly and way ahead of time.
If you’re a truly professional employee and actor, the inconveniences that come with your schedule are more likely to be forgiven.
Although it sounds tempting acting and a full-time job to fit multiple gigs to easily cobble together rent money, this will soon prove to be a huge mental drain. Stretching yourself thin like this isn’t artistically productive at all, and eventually, you’re bound to double (or triple) book yourself. Cut a couple players from the team. Opt for one or two gigs that afford you flexibility, or else you won’t have the energy to attend to all your responsibilities. Some offers may sound like huge career boosts, but if they do not contribute to your sense of fulfillment or mental well-being, then prioritize the other smaller projects.
You’re not a machine, and even the best machines break down if they don’t refuel. Make sure you’re filling your life with things that inspire and revitalize you because when you’re burning the candle at both ends, physical health tends to be the first to go. If you don’t slow down, you’ll soon realize that there are only so many 17 hour days in you before something snaps. Double down. Exercise, take all the vitamins you can get your hands on, nap every chance you get. Try to eat as right as you can and drink so much water. It makes a difference. When you’re on consecutive night shoots or running straight from work to rehearsal for weeks without respite, you have to take care of your body, or it will straight up betray you. Remember, your health is your only permanent investment for a fruitful career.