Young starlet learns being an actress is not as glamorous as it may seem

Emily B., a member of the Actors’ Equity Association, shares what a difficult road her dream of being an actress in New York City has been. When times are tough, she leans on the support of her family to make it through.

What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
Actress – 5 years in NYC.

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I get up early to sign up for a convenient audition time that coordinates with my schedule that day. From there, I work one (or sometimes two) of my survival jobs that range from marketing to waiting tables. Most nights I do end up working at the restaurant so I am usually home around 1 am.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
I would rate my job satisfaction as a 1. Surviving as an actor living in the city is no easy task. Getting booked for an acting job would help my satisfaction greatly.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I have spent thousands of dollars on coaches and classes all promising to find me an agent or hook me up with a casting director, but in the end, I ended up making most of my contacts on my own.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
They don’t teach that being an actress is sort of like running a business. You are a product and you have to sell yourself. Think of yourself as a one-person marketing campaign that never ends.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I did my first musical in grade school and was hooked for life. I wish I had taken more classes when I was younger; especially dance classes.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I just had an interesting audition for Laura in The Glass Menagerie, where the director pulled me into the room before the audition started, and asked me how I saw the character. He said he liked my look but thought I would ultimately be too tall for the role.

On a good day, when things are going well, what’s happening and what do you like about it?
On a great day, I have just gotten word that I am being called back for a role, and the restaurant is slammed early, I make a ton of money in tips, and everyone leaves by 11 pm.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most? How do you cope?
The worst days are when I blow an audition. When I do that, I usually call my mom and vent. From there, I try to forget about it because it is over and there is nothing more I can do. Hopefully I can learn from whatever mistakes I made. At work with difficult tables, I try to stay upbeat and friendly. If people really get to me though, sometimes I get short with them. I hate it when people are super demanding or rude. I also really dislike indecisiveness. It is a menu item not rocket science; pick something!

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
This lifestyle is very stressful, and I am too stressed most of the time to keep a healthy work-life balance. Welcome to life in New York.

Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
HAHAHAHAHA! No, I’m not paid enough.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
I booked an Actors’ Equity tour, so I got to go around the country acting and I was able to join the Stage Actors’ Union.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
There was one dance audition where I totally forgot the combo and stood there like an idiot in the middle of the floor. It was mortifying.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A strong background in voice and dance, as well as some kind of acting method. (Continuing study in these disciplines is also very important.)

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Be very sure that you are ready to handle the rejection and the hardships in this line of work. It is not glamorous in the least.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I usually take a week and a half at Christmas, and then a few days around Thanksgiving. I also take occasional weekend trips home to West Virginia, or my family will come visit me for a few days. It seems like it is never enough time away though.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
Acting is NOT a glamorous field for 99.9% of us out there struggling to make it.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would be part of the aforementioned .1%!

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
Laymen do not understand how truly difficult this field is. How often do you have to deal with daily personal rejection in any other field?

Eric Shannon


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  • Its always tough to read that our dream jobs aren’t what we picture in our heads. Getting feedback from different people in the field is definitely helpful in getting a realistic grasp on possibilities of my future. But I have always been “up for a challenge” ever since I was a little girl. For me acting was never about being a wildly successful, ever so famous, .1% actor, but to be apart of a beautiful story. Where people coming to the movies or show can get lost in this story, and maybe even themselves in a character I portray. To imagine struggling as an actress is difficult to bear, but to imagine not trying is impossible.

  • I can relate to the experience described here – I also worked in NYC, but in museums, and as amazing as those job opportunities are (to be surrounded by art is a wonderful thing), you have to be willing to work other part-time jobs to survive on the income you make in a cultural institution (public or private). Being an art historian also requires that you “market” yourself as a product – to be appealing to prospective employers, you should be well-versed in the basic canon of what your field, but also have interesting specialities that help round out the department (whether in a museum or university) and diversify the selections for exhibitions, courses, potential donor sources, etc. I’m in a position where I’m now trying to cultivate cross-cultural areas of study between ancient Near Eastern cultures and western cultures situated in the Eastern Mediterranean, as a way of making myself an desirable job candidate due to my scope. 

  • I work at a movie theatre and people imagine it would be a glorious job because I can see movies whenever I want and I don’t do much work. It is true that I get to see many films but I preform strenuous work and it is very under-appreciated in pay as well as moral support. I am also struggling to make a living while trying to follow my ultimate career goal of being in ministry.