After graduating with an MFA in Acting and moving from San Francisco to New York City, three things were immediately clear to me:
- I was embarking on a professional journey I’d been preparing for my whole life.
- I’d chosen to move from the most expensive city in the country to the other most expensive city in the country; ergo
- I was definitely going to need a thrival job.
Yes, that’s right: a survival job that allows one to thrive. Corny phrase, absolutely necessary concept.
Of course a professional actor’s goal is to work full-time in the industry, but the reality of this happening immediately is slim-to-none except for a select few actors.
So for employment ideas, I reached out to all my friends who were already hustling in the city: Babysitting! Waiting tables! Entertaining at kids’ birthday parties! Selling fine stationery and embossing kits! Hawking homemade jewelry on the street! Hosting at a glow-in-the-dark ping pong club! Taking dinner reservations for Meryl Streep!
My friends were supporting their artistic careers all manner of ways. I knew some of these options could be viable for me, but others not so much.
I first wound up working in a customer support position for an NYC tech startup. This job was great for a while, but ultimately the schedule wasn’t a good fit. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to land a part-time job as a virtual assistant (VA) with Don’t Panic.
This work, while stimulating and rewarding in its own right, has also opened up my world in terms of being a working actor. It’s the best of both worlds, and exactly what I was looking for.
A Busy Day in the Life
For me, a busy day as a New York actor might mean auditioning for two TV commercials and a play (back-to-back-to-back), memorizing lines on the subway, and then going to a four-hour rehearsal that night.
A busy day as a VA might mean booking flights for two clients, scheduling six meetings, and writing a blog post.
A busy day as both could mean (and occasionally has meant) all of this at once. But somehow, through the alignment of several factors, it works!
Why Working Virtually Works For Me
Physically, a virtual job requires exactly two things: 1) a laptop; and 2) access to wifi. This is perhaps the greatest perk of virtual work in terms of being an actor. On a day that I have to be in midtown early to sign up for an audition, I can pack my bag with audition clothes and my computer, hop on the train, sign up for an audition slot a few hours later, then find a Starbucks or cafe (or occasionally, let’s be honest, a bar) and work from there for as long as I need to.
I have a friend who might choose not to go to a given audition because it would make her late getting to school on time to pick up the child she’s babysitting that evening. For me, working virtually, the physical constraints are much less of an issue.
As an actor, auditions come up last-minute, rehearsals for a given project can be at any time of day or night, and shoots for film, TV, and commercial projects can require you to be on set for entire days at a time. Being a VA has allowed me the ability to do my client work at a time of day that is convenient within the larger picture of my actor schedule.
If my agent emails me Tuesday evening to inform me I have an audition at 11:00 a.m. the next day, I can simply get up extra early Wednesday morning to knock out some client work before the audition, then plan to get some more work done afterward. If I had a job in a restaurant or bar, this late notice might not allow me enough time to find someone to pick up my shift.
The Benefits of Having a Team
I am almost always able to complete my daily VA tasks without conflict. However, every now and then I might need to be out-of-pocket for an entire day. Perhaps I’ll be on a soundstage shooting a commercial from dawn til dusk, or plugging through a 12-hour tech rehearsal for an outdoor Shakespeare production. On these days, I simply tag in and out with my excellent Don’t Panic team members, who have all the information they need to help my clients in a pinch. The freedom of knowing my team is there to help out is hands-down one of the greatest perks of working virtually while building my career as an actor.
Being a young New York actor means moving at a constant jog, enduring frequent disappointment, and working extra hard for what can sometimes feel like little payoff. But when I moved to New York, my mom sent me a wall hanging that reads: “The hard work puts you where the good luck can find you.” I try be thankful every day for the hard work—especially in my thrival job—that puts me, one day at a time, a little closer to earning that stroke of good luck.