Alright, a touch dramatic, I agree. But it’s true, isn’t it? We really can’t pursue any kind of career or interest if we aren’t living. So perhaps the drama is warranted?
Okay, let’s see. What are we told as children are the basic needs for survival?
Food. Water. Shelter.
And in order to acquire these things in our modern society, we require money. Which means jobs.
***HOORAY!!! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO PAY US FOR THE ART WE LOVE TO CREATE AND THEN WE CAN JUST AFFORD TO LIVE AND CREATE ART AND BE HAPPY!!!!*** Wait, no? What do you mean, “no”? I have to get a what?
The Survival Job (aka Day Job)
Okay, cool. So now that our hopes and dreams of simply being artists and being able to live have been crushed, what do we do for money?
Of course this will differ depending on where you live, what kind of art and jobs you have available to you, the basic cost of living where you are, what type of lifestyle and income level you are willing to live at, etc. For me personally, I can only speak to the experiences of myself and those around me trying to make a living as artists in NYC - the city with the second-highest cost of living in the US. Oof.
Now, the standard joke in NYC is that no matter where you go out to eat, your server is likely an actor. (“Don’t ask too many questions, dear. He’ll start monologuing at us!”) Well, this is definitely a stereotype for a reason. The service industry is one of the best ways for, specifically performers, to get a job and start making ends meet when arriving in the big city! Why?
Turnover in staff is fairly common, so jobs tends to be available.
NYC is a food capital in the US and has staggering numbers of bars and restaurants.
Scheduling is often flexible. (Perfect for auditions, callbacks, rehearsals, gigs, etc.)
Tips Tips Tips.
Your job is often still available to you if you leave the city for a job and then come back.
Training is usually necessary, but it doesn’t require extra schooling.
So yes, this is a stereotype, but many of my friends still work in the service industry for all of the reasons mentioned above (and more) and are quite content with that! As for myself, I tended bar in Broadway houses for the first year and a half after I moved to the city, and made good money doing it. After a while, though, it began to crush my soul a little too much and I left that job, but that was certainly a personal decision. Everyone feels differently about it!
So…What Other Jobs Do People Do?
There’s actually a ton of variety in the day/survival jobs that are available to people living here, many of which could be available to you based upon specific or niche skill sets! Here’s a list of just some of the ones I know of:
Theatre Artist (Me included! Excellent way to stay in the Arts!)
Musical Direct and/or Vocal Coach
Web and Mobile Coding
Photography and/or Headshot Photography
Non-Profit Work (Theatre-related or not!)
Office Assistant (Law, Medical, Corporate, etc.)
Real Estate (Becoming quite popular)
University Staff (Many varied options here)
And so many more…
How Do I Know What’s Right For Me?
The 3 best pieces of advice I could possibly give when looking at what survival job to take would be this:
Take whatever you can or need to in order to get started. You can always change it later!
Where are your skills going to be valued? If you have a something to bring to the table (or desk or piano bar), find a way to use it!
If you think a job is going to Drive you Insane, Make you Angry or Sad, Leech All of your Time, or anything else terribly negative - it’s not going to be worth it long-term. Making the money you need to survive should not cost you all of your time, mental health, and happiness.
Well, What Do You Do?
I’m lucky. Very lucky, and I know this about my situation.
Two weeks after I moved to NYC, I answered a Backstage advertisement for a Musical Director/Pianist position at an after-school private studio on the North Shore of Long Island. Over 7 years later, From Stage To Screen in Huntington, NY is still my home base!
After piecing together work in several other places in addition to STS, I made a big move about 3 years in to work solely at the studio 5 days per week - playing for musical theatre classes, teaching voice lessons, and musical directing shows. Now I teach 33 private voice students, play for 4 classes, and MD 1-2 shows per year. I am thrilled that I am able to spend my time making art and money simultaneously because of my niche skills. I am truly lucky.
Also, quick shout out to New Hyde Park High School, where I MD their spring musical annually! :-)
So. We need to survive in order to make art - it’s a necessary part of life. But there’s a world of options out there. Be good to yourself. Find a good balance. Use your individual skills and knowledge. And find what is right for you! Cheers!