I don’t like to spend a lot of time writing about being a struggling actor in New York because it’s not that fun for me to relive on paper or computer screen over and over. But, given my current situation, I feel survival jobs bear mentioning.
I’ve worked in restaurants for about five years. I have worked nearly every job front of house job in a restaurant at one time or another. I have been mostly loved, and occasionally hated. I have been groped and grabbed. I have waited on celebrities and thieves. What can I tell you about the restaurant industry?
Pros: Lots of time during the day to audition, free booze, and seemingly free food; friendly coworkers who are creative and diverse; short spurts of pressure, followed by large stress-free periods of time.
Cons: Lots of time during the day to watch TV and not be productive; free booze that often ends up being prohibitive to getting up for auditions; nominally free food, which is often scary and disgusting (one day, you will accidentally eat a beak and it will change you); friendly coworkers who are way fun and cooler than you, turning out to also sometimes be prohibitive to getting up for auditions; sleepwalking dreams induced by short spurts of pressure that have you serving angry diners in your living room, in your underwear, at 5 AM. Also, you get hit on all the time. By everyone.
Now, I work in an office. I have what people would consider “a real job” (One of the higher-ups here actually put it that way to me on my very first day. To my face.). I have my own desk and email address. My mother is proud, and I get to wear my beloved cardigans to work every single day (Cardigan=Bliss. I am like the lady version of Mr. Rogers.). What have I learned?
Pros: The internet and coffee are both free; I have my nights and weekends, so I can have the social life I’ve always dreamed of; actual free (and beak-free!) food; we covered cardigans.
Cons: If you work in an office catered to a special skill set and do not have that skill, you will be branded an idiot; for every hour of productive work you will do sitting at a desk, there are four hours of nothing that you will do to pay for your rapid pace, because honestly, there just isn’t that much work to do every day; there is no time during the day to audition (duh); no free booze (also duh I suppose, but still…); there is no super-high like a killer night waiting tables, there are only mediums and slightly lower than mediums. Oh, and no one ever hits on you. Ever.
At the end of the day, survival jobs are about surviving. Everything else is nuance. I met a spritely little actor the other day at Trader Joe’s who danced his way through our check out process. One could also baby-sit or do data entry, or hook on the street. Hopefully, none of these forever because you turn your artsy skill into an actual money-making job. In the meantime, you figure out how you can afford to stay in a city you love and what is going to make you the least likely to secretly cry in the dry storage or copy room when you think no one is looking.