Most people who aren’t actors rarely understand that almost all actors spend most of their time doing jobs that aren’t acting, simply in order to stay dry, warm and fed.
Most actors spend a disproportionate amount of time looking for a job outside of acting that they can pick up and put down easily, so that their first focus can be on being available for auditions and (if they’re really lucky) the odd bit of work.
One of the most common problems, however, is that actors spend most of their time doing their non-acting jobs, and so generally start to get good at them. This is often the point at which they get offered a pay rise, better conditions or some other such benefits, and they begin their journey down the path of Doing Something Else.
Beans on toast gives way to Friday night drinkypoos; high street shopping replaces charity shop shopping; and before you know it, the thought starts to form: Everyone else has prospects – I can’t ever see how I could buy a house/start a family/make a living just from acting.
The truth is, most people who spent a huge amount of time and money training at top-flight Drama Schools end up doing something else. They don’t tell you that at Drama School, but it’s true. Frankly, I’m amazed I’ve managed to last this long myself.
That might sound kind of bleak, so I’d like you to readjust the way you think.
Firstly, the industry currently trains way too many actors for jobs that aren’t there. If you’re not working as an actor, then get off of your arse and start making some work yourself. There really is no excuse on this one. You want to work? Work. No one can stop you. Quit whining.
Secondly, find a non-acting job that is in some way nourishing. This one will be different for everyone. For some people it might be working on a city farm, for others working as a teaching assistant. There is no end to a list like this, but doing a non-acting job that you find nourishing will keep you in the game for longer, so find something that you enjoy doing. Believe me, if you’re doing something for money that you don’t enjoy, they’ll smell your unhappiness in every audition you go to.
Thirdly, whether you’ve already listened to it or not, listen to Tim Minchin’s graduation speech.
The thing is, you don’t actually get to decide on your career as an actor. The industry does that for you. All you get to do is enjoy the ride while it’s happening. Further down the line? No one knows.
So for now, if you’re an actor: Live, Laugh, Love. Earn your money in between acting gigs doing something you care about. And be proud of yourself for making it this far.
Rafe Beckley is an actor, director, teacher and author. His recent book, Open Book Theater Management: Ethical Theater Production, is published by Zer0 Books.