Since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a performer. It came quite naturally, as it does to those who truly have a passion for the arts. My parents recognized that, so they put me in all the classes they could! Dance classes, acting classes, singing classes, and the list goes on and on. As I grew older, my passion for the arts did not waiver. I was committed to being an actress, so I did the next best thing. I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Musical Theater! Then I was off to the races and started auditioning for EVERYTHING in my area, near and far. Then I asked myself the question that every actor faces, can I make a living out of this?
The real answer is no. The answer I wanted to hear? Yes.
Let’s be clear, I’m talking about making a living out of it in South Florida, which is primarily non-union. If you make it big in New York City, then that’s a different story.
Here’s the thing. You CAN make a living out of being an actor, it’s just a very challenging and stressful task. I see it all the time in fellow actors who have made their passion their full-time career! It’s an endless cycle of submitting video auditions online, being willing to relocate and travel for any show and accepting the lifestyle of never knowing what’s next.
I give credit to all actors who truly commit to this lifestyle because it does pay off. These are the actors that have made acting their full-time career. THEY are the ones getting the gigs. THEY are the ones living the dream of performing every night! What’s the downside then?
(1) You can’t have a place of your own because you have to be willing to relocate for shows every couple of months. (2) You don’t have a lot of time for friends and family because even if you’re working in your hometown, you’re in rehearsals all day and have shows every weekend. Plus, you’re most likely performing on every holiday. (3) There’s not a lot of room for financial growth because every show is a gig that lasts about 2-3 months, then you’re out of work again until the next one.
Again, I commend all actors who work this hard to make it work but personally, this kind of lifestyle stresses me out. I’m the kind of person that likes to know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in a couple of months. Living in a state of not knowing when or where my next job will be is STRESSFUL to me.
I want to have my own place that I call home, I want to be able to be there for my friends and family, and most importantly, I wish to be financially free. I strive for a life where I don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. There are just some things I’m not willing to risk for a full-time career of performing. So, where does that put me?
I’ve come to realize that I can still pursue being an actress, it just looks a little different than what I had originally thought. I needed to find a theatre-work balance. What does that mean? It means finding a job that can financially support my life expenses, while giving me the flexibility to perform in shows a couple times a year. Sounds great… but does that even exist?
It’s hard to find a job that would allow me to disappear for a month just so that I can be in a show, and in doing that I would be taking a pay cut. Maybe I could be a waitress at a breakfast diner… or maybe I could work for guest relations at the airport so that I could have early shifts! Dead end after dead end, I thought I would have to give up my passion for a career that could financially support me.
Sadly, many actors struggle with finding a theatre-work balance. We don’t want to give up performing but at the same time we need to survive… especially in this current economy. You see, we leave a piece of our heart on that stage so when that is taken from us, we lose it forever.
Have you heard of the term “struggling artist”? “Working waitress by day, actress by night.”
This is where it comes from. All jokes aside, no actor wants to be a waiter for the rest of their lives just to be able to perform. What happens when you want to buy a house? Or start a family?
So the question is, is there a theatre-work balance? There is! You know how I know that? Because I finally found it! I have found a job in the arts where I can use my other communication skills to make a living while still being surrounded by the beauty of theatre. I get to go to work everyday being surrounded by what I love the most. On top of getting full-time hours, I also am able to pursue my dream and be in shows. Sometimes, I even get to perform in the same theatre I work at. What a dream!
It was a stressful journey getting here but I did it. I stayed strong in my beliefs and continued to pursue my dreams while keeping a realistic head on my shoulders. I didn’t give up any of my non-negotiables for a dream. I was able to make my theatre-work balance work and so can you!
Here’s my advice, find a career that is close to your passion. Be honest with your boss and make it clear from the beginning how passionate you are about performing. If they really like you, you’ll be surprised with their response!
Goodluck my fellow actors! It’s not an easy journey but it’s a rewarding one.
Jessie Dez is a graduate from Palm Beach Atlantic University where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts Degree, with concentrations in Musical Theater and Broadcast Journalism. As an actress, she has performed all over South Florida with well-known companies, such as Delray Beach Playhouse, MNM Theatre Company, Warner Bros Entertainment Inc, Lake Worth Playhouse, etc. Not only have you seen her on stage, but on television as well. As a television host for Living Local FL TV, Jessie has been on FOX 29 highlighting all the best places to eat, shop and play in South Florida. Jessie is thrilled to mix her passion of theater and journalism into her writing and content creation for The South Florida Theater Magazine.