In a perfect world, you’d graduate with your theatre degree and earn a job acting in a repertory company or designing a new Broadway show the next day. But for most or all of us theatre kids, life never turns out that simple. More likely, you’ll try to make ends meet for a while before your career really takes off. You’ll look for jobs that pay decently, offer flexible hours and understand your focus on the arts.
We’ve got some ideas for ways you can get some extra cash while you hustle at auditions and chase those dreams.
1. Join the big leagues by joining the unions
The best way to make money with a theatre degree is to, well, work in the theatre. Whether you act, direct, stage manage or design, you’ll earn points to join the unions. The union will raise and unify your wages, provide rights in contract negotiation and performance and health insurance, among other benefits. Word of advice: don’t join before you feel ready, as competition is already fierce within the group.
2. See who comes in the room by manning the door
Making it in this business relies on finding the room where it happens and fighting your way in, or in this case, finding it and sitting right outside the door. As an Equity monitor, you will attend Equity auditions and make sure the casting directors follow the union rules and keep the actors’ interests in mind. The job depends on auditions, so if no auditions are scheduled that week, you’ll need a backup plan. “Once you clock out (usually half way through the audition) or before you clock in, you can audition that day yourself,” said Indiana University theatre graduate Corinne Florentino.
3. Sit on the other side of the table
Finally, a chance to get inside the room. Working as an assistant to a talent agent or executive gives you an inside look into how your peers perform—something that can come in super handy when it comes time for your next audition. It also gives the chance to see or interact with talent and network within the agency you work for, which could help you get your big break. After all, this business hinges on who you know. One day when you walk into their office on the other side of the table, you might just have a leg up.
4. Princess and superhero it up
Remember the birthday parties you attended as a little kid where Cinderella or Spiderman also attended? Those companies still exist and look for actors who can perform at parties. And you won’t just be a glorified mascot, either. These companies look for real people with real talent. Plus, it’s the perfect side hustle. The gigs take place mostly on the weekends and you get to wear fun costumes and perform for little kids who start already in awe of you. Check out local companies and suit up.
5. Flex your skills by helping others
Offering private acting or voice coaching can prove a lucrative career move, especially in the big entertainment cities. Whether you teach fellow adults or children, you can earn some nice cash with hourly rates. It might even help you out in the long run—you can solidify your skills as you help others solidify theirs. Search around online for web services that hire vocal and acting coaches to work remotely and Skype with clients for coaching, especially when it comes time for audition season.
6. Scare or sing your way to a paycheck
Amusement parks, small and large, offer regular employment for those who can sing or portray characters for their guests. While highly competitive, especially in the big leagues, these gigs know you have a career outside the park and your daily job will employ the skill you value most: performance. Bring your best to the audition and prepare yourself to climb the ladder.
7. Learn something new
Working as a tour guide through regional or city tour services allows you to create your own routine schedule, pick up shifts and work for tips. The best tour guides craft engaging stories and connect with their audience. Sound familiar? If you consider yourself a show(wo)man, getting up in front of a crowd of strangers by yourself feels like nothing new.
8. Release your inner child
Teaching theatre for children or working for an educational theatre company utilizes many of the skills you’ve gained. “My improv training helped with my curriculum building, and so did [the] ensemble training I had done within productions or college courses,” said Indiana University theatre graduate Lauren Sagendorph. “Teaching is performing in itself—so being an actor directly applied to being an educator: having to adapt as you go when something goes unplanned, having to pull energy when you’re exhausted, and working with a multitude of work ethics and experiences.” Plus, you get to inspire the next generation of performers.
9. Travel with a character for a while
Outside of traditional amusement parks, traveling festivals always need local performers or performers willing to hit the road with them. Renaissance festivals and historic re-enactments at museums or historic sites will let you use your character–building skills from undergrad on a daily basis. When Halloween rolls around, haunted houses and corn mazes and anything you can think of need you, a skilled performer, most. You’ll work in the evenings and weekends and make friends with fellow theatre-geeks like yourself.
10. Get some real life experience
Medical schools, law schools and nursing schools all search for actors to come in for a day and simulate situations for their students to master. You could play a sick patient or a defendant, so you’ll get to practice your craft while earning some cash. They’ll respect your schedule and you can choose when you take a shift. And since they know you’ll bring your performance skills to the table, they’ll respect your rehearsal and audition schedule.
If you will or have graduated with a theatre degree, you’re not as unemployable as your parents wanted you to believe when you chose the major. You’ve got transferable skills. You can work under pressure, deliver presentations, communicate and listen effectively, work with a team and approach problems with creativity and improvisation. Hustle your heart out and wait everyone else out. You’ve got this.