Actor-friendly jobs to pay the rent while you pursue your career.

“I’ve been acting or wanted to be an actor since I was 12. I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for drama, I graduated in May, and now I’m temping.” Zelda Knapp’s story will be familiar to countless actors: She works as a receptionist at a law firm in New York and is just one of many working actors keeping an office day job to make ends meet. Temp jobs like hers can offer the flexibility that a performer needs. Still, office jobs can also pull actors away from their primary goals if they’re not careful.

William Vila has been working as a legal secretary for the past seven years while he hones his craft. “I’ve already told my boss,” he says, “the day I get that check as an actor that equals what I would’ve made here in a year…that’s the day when I have to say, ‘Thank you, but we both know what I’ve gotta do.'”

“I was scared of the real world,” Knapp admits. “So when the temp agency called and asked if I’d be willing to commit to a six-month term, I immediately said yes. I wanted to be able to at least pay my rent my first six months out of school.” The downside, Knapp explains, is that during that six-month period as a receptionist she has been allowed no daytime interference from her other career, which means that she has to ignore daytime auditions and jobs with daytime rehearsals.

“I’d get a call for an audition at lunchtime,” says Dave Berman, who worked at a public relations firm in New York City, “and I had to come up with an excuse to get out of the office, then take a $20 cab each way across town, just so I wasn’t missing too much time.”

Typical 9-to-5 jobs rarely give performers the chance to attend classes, auditions, or rehearsals. But temporary office work – usually involving answering phones, filing, photocopying, data entry, or other administrative assistant-type duties – can provide the much-needed balance between pursuing an acting career and a steady survival job.

Many actors value their temp experience as another tool to hone their craft and learn important organizational and networking skills. Lisa Schain has worked as an administrative assistant at a corporate real estate group in New York and is about to start a three-month gig at a P.R. firm in Los Angeles. “A lot of actors I know are very creative and very artistic,” Schain says, “but they don’t seem to understand that acting, like anything else, is also a business. To be successful, you have to pitch yourself like a commodity.”

“It’s not about being a workaholic,” Vila says. “I just want this really bad. So I do what I gotta do.”

The “Employment: Actor-Friendly Day Jobs” spotlight was published in the Oct. 18-24, 2007 issue of Back Stage and online at BackStage.com.

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