Survival Jobs for Actors


Your ultimate goal as a performer should be to make a living being creative. The unfortunate truth is that many of us must maintain one job to pay the bills while we pursue our ambition in our free time. Finding a suitable

Melisa Breiner-Sanders, originally from Virginia, works as an administrative assistant for a banking corporation. When she first moved to NY however, her money came mostly from doing promotional work with long hours on her feet and a lot of time outside. In addition to being tiring, it was unstable. She was continually looking for new gigs and waiting on paychecks that sometimes took up to 2 months to arrive. She eventually posted an application on Monster.com looking for a temp to permanent position and got hired at her current position. With her new job, she has a steady paycheck with benefits and is still able to audition and participate in her theater company. “When I need to take time off they make it work or I can do all these things at lunch and be flexible with them.”

            Danielle Tolley from Ohio had a similar experience moving from bartending and waitressing to teaching English to adults. Like Melisa, the long hours on her feet kept her exhausted and unable to focus on her acting. “I was losing my voice, I was missing out on auditions, my whole sleep schedule was off…it wasn’t feeding my soul in any way.” For Danielle, she wanted to figure out how to use her skills as an actress and improviser in her survival job. Teaching seemed like a great way to make money, use her talent, and also give back to her community.

            “Survival” jobs should be seen primarily as a way to continue your pursuit. Often though, they can become a source of stress and exhaustion. It is when this begins to overshadow the time and commitment that you should have towards an acting career that you need to reconsider what it is that you are doing. Both Melisa and Danielle still get tired from their current jobs but the benefits of their employment outweigh the cons.  

            Always be honest and upfront when you first get a job. Flexibility to leave for auditions and be available is extremely important.  Both Melisa and Danielle were upfront with their employers and it’s much easier for them to leave when they need to as a result. Melisa learned that not all companies want to work with actors but it’s better to be honest. “I was always completely upfront and they knew exactly where I stood. Because eventually it’s going to come out anyway. You’re not going to be able to hide it.” You should also be upfront with your representation about how flexible your job is.

            There are several options to make money aside from acting. Being an actor means that you are trained to be flexible and ready to take on any task. It probably also means that you are willing to try new jobs to see what a good fit would be. And survival jobs can be great places to meet other actors and form collaborations.

            Ultimately, a survival job is just that: to survive. Someone once told Melisa that “It’s not that your survival job is preventing you from doing what you want to do, it’s enabling you to do what you want to do.” and she continues to live with that mindset. Every opportunity is a chance to learn something to enhance yourself as an artist. And that is the lens through which a survival job should be seen. Danielle’s advice: “Identify what’s important to you and identify what’s fun for you and follow those two things. I think if you let your values kind of lead your decisions you’ll come into a network of people who support that.”

Melisa Breiner-Sander: www.melisabs.com
Danielle Tolley: www.danielletolley.com