Does acting come at the price of job security?

Ollie is looking for jobs that also allow him to continue work as an actor.

Acting has been my ambition for years, but now I’m beginning to rethink my career path because I’m struggling to live independently and make ends meet in between auditions.

So far, none of the flexible day jobs I know of appeal to me on a personal level including telesales, temping, street sales and zero hour hospitality contracts. Many of these jobs just don’t provide a stable income and I even find combinations of these roles dubious as there are no guaranteed salaries or hours.

I know that some actors start their own businesses so that they can choose their own hours. But right there of course, you’ve got the difficulties of establishing a business and generating a stable revenue.

So my question is: does acting come at the price of your job security? If not, then how do I find a flexible and reliable 9 to 5 (one that is not mentioned above) that pays the living wage and gives actors time off for auditions and productions?

If you could let me know, I’d be very grateful.

— Oliver

Expert answers

Pauline Tambling CBE's reply:

It’s tough being an actor. The actors’ union, Equity, says that over 50 per cent of actors earn far less than the National Minimum Wage and on average they are working as actors only 12 weeks each year. The problem is that so many people want to be actors and the demands on them are so varied that casting directors are always looking for something new and different. Being adaptable and multi-skilled helps – the so-called ‘triple threat’ of being able to sing, dance and act to a very high standard, as does being able to work on screen and TV as well as on the stage. But for most people, however talented, working as an actor for 52 weeks per year is not going to happen. There’s too much luck involved.

Most actors, therefore, have multiple jobs to maintain their income. And most actors say that being able to act professionally is worth pursuing and outclasses many of the other jobs they could be doing so they keep at it. About 6 per cent break manage to be comfortably off or famous.  

As you’ve discovered many of the jobs that are compatible with acting are not very satisfying. If you want to act you’ll need to be available for auditions and to take the jobs as they come along which may take you away from home for a few weeks or to make yourself available at the drop of a hat.  Not many employers appreciate this as they feel you’re not committed to them. Arts organisations that understand about acting are sometimes more flexible if you’re happy to take an administration role but you should be up-front with them that you’re looking for time off if roles come up.

Another option is working freelance in arts education attached to a theatre or in a school or college. Backstage there are genuine staff shortages so if you want to be in a theatre or around venues and have an interest in technical jobs consider this as an option. Many roles are freelance but the pay is better and the work more plentiful.  

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