When I moved to New York after graduating in 2014 I promised myself I would never work in the service industry. I have immense respect for any human who does work in service because that shit requires skill, patience, empathy and maybe even a thicker skin than being an actor… But I knew that it wasn’t for me, despite being the day job (night job?) most associated with actors. I was worried about being in a loud restaurant or bar and hurting my voice screaming over people, staying up super late and having weird hours (I’m a morning person), and emotionally absorbing everyone’s energy and feeling horrible about myself when people were mean because I’m a pretty sensitive person lol. (can I write lol in a blog post?)
so here are some of the jobs i’ve had, in no order of importance but more or less in the order that they happened. I don’t know if there is anything that interesting about the jobs in particular, but they’ve all worked together to influence my relationship to work, to money, and to the idea of value, especially for someone who is primarily a freelance artist.
-Uber Brand Ambassador. There was a time when most people in New York still didn’t know what Uber was and I got commission for getting people to download the app. This was before I knew how awful of a company Uber was. By the time I figured this out (not long after I started) everyone already had the app anyway so my job was obsolete. (BTW I do not use Uber anymore, it is an unethical company that doesn’t pay its drivers well, and it has arbitration laws to silence individuals who are sexually assaulted by unvetted drivers. I use Juno when I’m in New York.)
- Nanny. The way I got my nanny job was definitely questionable. The mother I was interviewing for wanted TWO references, and being right out of school I only had one… So one of my best friends pretended to be a mother/former employer and she had a long phone convo with the prospective mother about how great I was with her (fictional) kids. The mother bought it, I was approved, and that job was a key source of income for about a year because it was how I made money while also interning for free for 30 hours/week. It was also depressing at times. Working for a family is HARD especially if one of the kids has a lot of special needs and you are an emotional sponge.
- Selling Vodka. I was one of those vodka girls with a little pop up stand in liquor stores giving out free samples (no one wants a free sample of straight vodka in the middle of the day, no matter how smooth and delicious and gluten free potato extracted blablabla it is, I learned). I made commission if I sold a bottle. it was not very sustainable. Maybe I was just bad at it.
- Fake bartending. Something super awesome that would happen occasionally was friends would ask me to bartend their company holiday parties (I am not a bartender), which usually amounted to pouring wine and beer and mixed drinks for drunk bougie techy artist types. Sometimes somebody would set up an unofficial tip jar and that would make my day because $$$.
- Tutoring. This would eventually become my most fruitful job, but it started with me having do weeks of training and memorize an entire SAT and ACT and teach them to another tutor. (And because I am a procrastinator I pulled a last minute all-nighter memorizing the tests the night before.) I learned that being good at taking tests and being good at TEACHING people how to take tests are very different things. Eventually years down the road I would go on to build my own private tutoring cliental and make A LOT of money per hour which helped me determine the value of my time and has also made it difficult for me to work minimum wage jobs (NOT because I think I am above any work, but because I started viewing my time as money) and has created a real identity crisis when i think about the relationship I have to money as an artist.
- Arts Education/Teaching Artist. The most rewarding of any day job I’ve had was working as the Education Associate for Waterwell, an amazing NYC based theatre company that runs the theatre department at the Professional Performing Arts School. I had interned at Waterwell for a year before this position was created specifically for me. I held this job for 3 years and during that time met so many wonderful people and learned A LOT about arts administration and education and also had some incredible opportunities to teach theatre and direct and devise original material with middle schoolers. Ultimately I made the decision to leave this position because I realized that having a job in my industry that was peripherally related to my own art deluded me into thinking that I was doing more for my craft than I actually was. I needed to remind myself I was an actor.
Somewhere in the midst of all this I started booking PAID work as an actor, which felt revolutionary. It was pretty much always out of town regional gigs, which meant more subletters than I want to count, but more importantly a chance to explore other cities while doing what I loved, (and free rent). But I realize now, after a year plus of almost consistent working, and currently in a welcome, but hopefully temporary (hahaha.. ha), lull, that I’m having a bit of a financial identity crisis. And not only because I don’t really have a job and definitely don’t have family money to fall back on, but also because I no longer know exactly what my value is.
As artists, the majority of what we do is for no pay. It is emotional and physical and financial labor. And we do all of that while balancing other part time jobs that each value us in different ways. So from years of tutoring I determined that my side hustle value was very high, but from years of barely getting paid for my artistry, my financial value as an actor felt so low that when I DID get those paying acting jobs I felt like a bit of an imposter, or that I wasn’t doing ENOUGH, that I needed to be utilizing my free time more, that I was somehow inadequate and shouldn’t have been content with simply being paid to act in a play… But that is so messed up right? I think artists have such a twisted relationship to money not only because we work so many different jobs (I had 12 W2s to file for tax season this year), but also because experience tells us that it’s normal to put in so many hours of an actual job and not be paid for it.
I know being an artist is a choice, and a privilege. I get to do this. I understand that. But also if no one did it, the world would be an even more horrible place than it currently is... So is it completely a choice? Some people have to do it, right? I think we literally need it to survive as a society. But we’re not taken care of as artists. And if we don’t put in a ton of extra work, there is always someone else who will. So who will be the one that loses out? How will the system ever change? Is there even a way for me to talk about this without sounding ungrateful, or like I am complaining instead of just accepting it, and getting after what I want?
I don’t think I really have a conclusion. I mean obviously the whole system needs to be overhauled. I talk about this with my artist friends all the time. But there is still a degree of acceptance that this is the way it is. I just know that I don’t want to feel like I’m somehow cheating or being lazy when I do have those rare acting jobs that pay me. And I also want to be able to find day jobs in between those acting gigs that aren’t completely soul sucking and that meet me at my value. Are those things even possible, with the industry, the world currently as it is? With a whole system, and therefore our whole industry, built on white supremacist patriarchal capitalism in general?