There has never been a time in modern history where actors have had more choices when it comes to making money to support their acting careers.
When I finished grad school in 2002, the choices were both slim and daunting. Pretty much everyone I knew was waiting tables, bartending, teaching, or working a 9-to-5 job that made auditioning a real challenge. All of those choices sounded dreadful to me, but I didn’t feel like there were many other options.
In my years in New York, I ended up doing somecombination of all of the above, and I never felt like any of them served me or supported my dreams. Mostly I was exhausted and still struggling to make ends meet, even though at times I was juggling up to three jobs with no days off.
Fast-forward almost 20 years and the landscape has radically changed. As a society we’re moving more and more towards a gig economy, and there are so many more choices for actors who want to make decent money, have flexibility in their schedules, and have creative energy left at the end of the day to invest in their acting careers.
What is a side hustle and why do you need one?
A side hustle (formerly known as a “survival job”) is basically any work you do outside of your acting career to pay your bills. Nearly every actor I know has a side hustle, and many have more than one side hustle in case one should fall through. There’s nothing more stressful than not having money for rent, which is why many actors opt to have multiple income streams. You never know when a gig will dry up.
And honestly, even if you regularly work as an actor, it might not be enough money to pay all your bills. According to a report by U.S. News & World Report, the median salary for actors in 2017 was $34,980. Considering the high cost of living in most industry cities, that isn’t going to be enough to make ends meet.
Having a good side hustle means having more freedom to accept acting work that comes your way.
Real world actors and their side hustles
I chatted with three working actors about their side hustles – what they are and how they help support their professional aspirations. Though they each have a different story, they’ve all found side hustles that work well for them.
Lita Lopez is a Los Angeles-based actor, writer, and producer who juggles several different side hustles to complement her work in TV, film, and theatre. Her main side hustle was born out of her love for dogs. “Dog sitting is probably the most profitable. Especially over the holidays – I can make a lot of money.” But that gig doesn’t always deliver when Lopez needs it. “The only issue is that it’s not consistent.”
For that reason, she’s added some other side hustles to her repertoire to fill in the gaps, such as Door Dash. “This new generation of freelance jobs lets me set my own schedule and I can work as long as I want. I do dinner deliveries for three hours a night and make some decent money. Especially in combination with other stuff.” That “other stuff” includes working as a host for scavenger hunts and teaching improv, drawing on her years of performing at IO West and LA Connection.
Lopez tried having more traditional 9-to-5 jobs, but they never worked out for her. “Having a 9-to-5 sucks. It was nice for a while. I didn’t have to worry. But then my creativity plummeted because most of my mental energy was going to that. I would get home and just not want to do anything else. I was comfortable, but I lost some drive.”
Ultimately, she’s learned that having a menu of various side hustles from which to draw means never finding herself financially vulnerable. “What I’ve noticed with side hustles is that they always come up when I need it.”
And sometimes there’s a bonus to a side hustle, particularly for her work as a writer. “If I’m at somebody’s place for a week or two, it’s like a writing retreat for me. Especially if I have a new project I’m working on. If I have a week where I’m alone with no distractions, I can crank out a script in 3 or 4 days. That’s been a big thing – having peace, quiet and serenity. It’s like a little vacation at somebody’s house and I can be productive and creative.”
Many side hustles can draw directly upon an actor’s skill set. Alex Scoloveno is a New York City-based actor who has found a meaningful side hustle as a standardized patient -- someone who is trained to behave like a patient so that medical students can learn how to communicate, understand a patient’s history, and practice a physical exam. According to Scoloveno, “It’s a great way to keep the acting muscles going and it’s for a great purpose.”
It’s the type of job that requires being fully present and reacting moment-to-moment. “A lot of times the students have to assess what ‘illness’ the actor has and the actor has to allow the student to pull the clues out of them without driving story or making a performance out of it. I find it to be a great reminder that it’s not about me.”
Though this side hustle certainly calls upon an actor’s skills, does it fit into the unpredictable lifestyle of an actor? Scoloveno says, “In my experience, the simulations generally are held a couple of days in a row every few months. So there is usually not a set-in-stone, 9-to-5 schedule. But I am currently in the works of becoming a certified standardized patient, which means I will be able coordinate simulations and train other actors. This may pose to be a bit of a larger commitment. Even so, the pay is usually worth it and it still stretches out those lovely actor muscles.”
When asked how he discovered this line of work, he admits it’s a family thing. “My father is a nurse practitioner who used to be a professor at Rutgers Camden and my grandmother was a pediatric nurse as well as a professor for many years. Both have their PhDs so I feel very lucky to have been immersed in that kind of environment growing up.”
Actors can also turn their passions into a side hustle, which is what happened to Los Angeles-based actor, Sue Gisser. For the past nine years, she’s been teaching H2yOga, a gravity-free aquatic yoga style that she invented.
Gisser explains that the work she does shares many characteristics with creating a role. “My diagnostic and treatment processes use the same tools I would apply to create physical choices for a character - I just work backward to recognize and undo the physical tensions of my clients. My technique builds deep body awareness, giving them the tools they need to make conscious choices to heal effectively, and empowering them to stop further injuries from happening.” Her work draws upon many of the techniques she learned while training as an actor, including the Williamson Technique, the Alexander Technique, and Joe Hart's spatial-awareness, distribution, balance, and physical storytelling techniques.
Not only that, but H2yOga pairs seamlessly with her lifestyle as an actor. “Because I run my own show, I've created a schedule that leaves me open for auditions, and enables me to replace myself with a sub or reschedule classes when I book work.”
It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
What other kinds of side hustles are good for actors?
One of the biggest gripes I have about my education as an actor was that it didn’t prepare me for the real world. When I graduated, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do to make money or how to find a job that would allow me the flexibility I needed as an actor. Which is why I’ve created a list of 20 side hustles for actors that you can refer to if you need some ideas. These include:
1. Blogger – Creating a blog has never been easier and you don’t even have to code. Choose a topic you’re passionate about, build an audience, and start making money. There are tons of articles online that detail how to create and monetize your blog.
2. Virtual Assistant – Are you good at answering phones, replying to emails, and scheduling meetings? Then work from home as a Virtual Assistant. Search online to find job boards and companies that are hiring. Or send a proposal to a company that you know needs help and outline what you can do for them.
3. Online teacher – If you’re good at something, you can teach it online. Universities often hire teachers for online classes, and websites like Udemy let you create your own video courses.
4. Airbnb host – Do you have unused space in your home or apartment? The rent it out on Airbnb or other hosting sites.
5. Focus group participant – Search online to find focus groups in your area that will pay you for your time and opinion.
7. Grocery shopper – Do you like to shop for groceries? I don’t, and many other people hate it, too, which is why you can make money to buy and delivery groceries with companies like Instacart.
9. Ghostwriter – People need content for their websites, and they often turn to ghostwriters to provide them with that content. Check out sites like freelancer.com, or approach individuals or companies with your services.
13. Social Media Manager – You probably already spend too much time on social media, so why not make some money doing it? Check sites like Upwork for opportunities.
14. Brand Ambassador – Earn cash by representing brands at trade shows and other events. Search online for brand ambassador opportunities near you.
15. Website builder – Do you have a good eye for design and are familiar with WordPress? Can you code? Then let people pay you to create their websites for them. Think of all the other actors who need your services!
16. Sell stuff – Do you like to make things? Then you can hawk those wares on sites like Etsy or Spoonflower. If thrifting is your thing, you can sell secondhand clothes on Poshmark or ThredUp. You can also become a sales rep for multi-level marketing companies like LuLaRoe or Arbonne.
19. Mover – If you have a truck and don’t mind lifting heavy things all day, you can provide moving services through buddytruk.
20. (Your skill here) – What are you good at? Turn it into a side hustle. For example, I’m good at putting together pitch decks for TV shows and films and I have a lot of experience in this area. I created a simple website with WordPress so when people Google “pitch decks” they find me and can hire me to create their pitch documents for them.
While this list is by no means all-inclusive, hopefully it will inspire you to cultivate a side hustle that’s perfect for you.
What’s your side hustle? Join the conversation on our Facebook page, and let us know what’s worked (or hasn’t) for you!