I have been itching to write about this for a while. But, alas, I let “day job” things get in the way. I guess I’m just keeping to the theme.
Let’s talk about actor Geoffrey Owens. You all still remember the FOX news article. If not, I will post it right here…
They say that he is “standing behind one of the checkout counters and wearing a Trader Joe’s staff shirt with a name tag that read, ‘Geoffrey’.” I love that it reads like breaking news. Um…he’s wearing a name tag because his name is Geoffrey not Elvin Tibideaux. And, he works (well, worked) at Trader Joe’s. GET OVER IT.
While I think Mr. Owens doesn’t need little ole big ole me defending him, I still feel the need to stand up for him, for me and for all my fellow actors who also have day jobs and who are PROUD to work…including when it’s not on set or on stage.
I am so glad to hear that Mr. Owens -- can I call him Geoffrey now? I think he would allow that at this point -- but my Momma and Dad raised me right but I feel compelled to call him Geoffrey as a fellow actor -- I am so glad that Geoffrey has landed a recurring role in Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Not’s (that’s been on my personal vision board for a while) as well as a spot in NCIS: New Orleans (a show I’ve auditioned for, also on my list of “Shows I would love to work”). I am overjoyed for him not just because success is the best revenge but because he is an ACTOR who now has WORK. And, better yet, ON-GOING work on MULTIPLE SHOWS.
All of my fellow entertainment business and creative friends know how aspirational yet difficult this is to achieve. But, to my peeps who work “regular” jobs, corporate jobs, 9 to 5 jobs, or who just have a lifestyle that is completely different than ours, y’all may not understand how it works. It’s called a “corporate ladder” for a reason. And, while for actors there is a way to climb in our careers, it’s not necessarily in the form of a ladder. In our biz, more times than not, getting a job (and then another job and then another job and then another job until we get a baby break in our career) isn’t measured in how hard we work or how talented we are, but in if we have the right look for the part. A lot of it is out of our control. And, I think that’s what really makes this biz different from most. For we actors, it’s more like Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders, depending on when and where you grew up. I’m terrified of snakes, so let’s go with Chutes and Ladders).
Chutes and Ladders, as we know, is a lot of ups and downs. One day, you may be doing a one-woman show to a sold out crowd of adoring faces and the next day, you’re rejected from a film festival…or three. Or, one day you’re on set doing a co-star (small speaking role) on a successful insert New York cop drama here and the next day you’re cleaning toilets --toilets that aren’t your own.
But, before you begin playing Chutes and Ladders, you never say, “I’m not going to play this fun classic board game.” You never say, “This game isn’t fun. I went down the chute so F**K it. I am going to burn this board game in my fire pit along with all of my fears and negative thoughts that I have accumulated on Post it notes on my bedside table.” You never say, “I like Candyland better than Chutes and Ladders so I’m going to go play that instead.” Okay, you might say that. I might have say that. I have said that.
But, it doesn’t mean that you STOP playing Chutes and Ladders. It doesn’t mean you give up on Chutes and Ladders. You accept it. And, you realize that your bills won’t pay themselves, so you deal with having a day job simultaneously. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOUR DAY JOB IS THE CHUTE. I will repeat that again in ALL CAPS. THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOUR DAY JOB IS THE CHUTE.
Those who don’t understand our biz try to make it seem that an actor having a day job is the chute, the ultimate downfall, the pit of the day as the Kardashians would say (Lord, help me for even knowing that).
Having a day job is necessity unless you’re lucky enough to be a trust fund baby or at the career level of, say, Bradley Cooper or actually, scratch that. I should now say unless you’re at the career level of Geoffrey Owens.
Let’s go back to talking about Geoffrey, shall we? He had a day job at a place that, to me, is magical. Trader Joe’s is my Disney World and Disneyland all in one. It’s where I go when I feel depressed because every employee is friendly, the free coffee and fun samples are always flowing and the graphic design on their packaging is awe inspiring. He had a day job that most likely provided health benefits yet still flexibility for him to still pursue acting projects.
Let’s pause for a second. As an actor, you don’t need a day job until you “get your big break” so you can peace out of there flipping the bird to your shitty boss and co-workers. Because an acting career is more like using a pickaxe to mine hellstone, you need a day job to sustain you between gigs which are sometimes plentiful and sometimes few and far between.
You also need a day job that is FLEXIBLE AS A MOFO. Actors’ schedules change day to day and auditions can come in up to 8:00pm the night before. You have to be able to juggle it, finagle it or call your co-worker Steve and ask him ever so nicely to cover your ass…again because you have an audition at 10:00am the next day. Casting usually tries to give us more of a time window than that, but it can and does and will happen…especially during pilot season. (A whole different subject, friends.) Finding a day job that is flexible for gigs and auditions is no small feat itself. That’s almost as tricky as the acting biz itself.
And, wait! Let’s not forget that while having flexibility to make an audition while you have a day job you also have to figure out time to make time for creating your own work, networking your pants off, taking acting classes, preparing your home for self tape auditions and getting Botox.
As my grandpa Poppee would say, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” Yes. I did make my bed. (Actually my momma did because she doesn’t like the way I arrange my decorative pillows. But, I digress.) I know people are sick and tired of hearing actors complain. It’s passé. We’re over it. However, most of the time we hear actors complain about how hard things are, it’s coming from Gwyneth Paltrow. Sorry, Gwyn. You know I love you and would love to slather goop all over my face. How often do we hear tales of actors who are hustling and hoofin’ it and trying to make it? We don’t. Who wants to hear an actor complain or talk about how hard we work? We are living a life of creativity, Bohemian Rhapsody, a life of living our dreams. It’s much sexier and accepted to see an athlete’s sweat than it is for a non-actor to hear about an actor’s “creative process.” Puh-lease.
I’m not doing any woe is me, Poppee. I’m just saying my compadres and I are in a biz that is already tough enough. But, we freaking love it at the same time! We already feel somewhat shunned by the outside world (which is why we joined Drama Club to begin with.) We don’t need the outside world telling us something is wrong with us for trying to earn a living--doing something other than our dream job while we pickaxe our dream job like hellstone.
Actually, I think my Poppee would be proud that his Cajun stick-to-it-ive-ness and hustle has been inherited by me. Jobs that I have had in between acting gigs include but aren’t limited to:
-Logger (not the actual logs. That would be fun. And if logging actual logs is flexible, then send me that Indeed link!)
-Box Office Staff
-Call Center Staff
-Cold Call Sales (oy vey)
-Floral Delivery Person
-A Waitress…of course (For one night. I tripped and fell. It wasn’t for me or my flat feet.)
-A Temp…of course
-And a Background Actor*
*Okay. Here’s the star on the Background Actor, part. Let’s jump into that while we can. To my friends not in the biz (or even in the biz, for that matter), you may say, “But, wait. Why are you considering that a day job? It has the word ‘actor’ in it. So, what’s the deal, Hoover?”
Okay, whoop, here it is. Just a little background actor 101. A background actor, or extra, is in the scene to create an atmosphere be it a diner patron for a diner, an audience member for a concert or a hooker for a brothel (I know the latter all too well.) Background actors do not have lines. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t an art to knowing your cues, resetting, following directions. It doesn’t mean you can show up to set and screw around and knit a scarf for twelve hours straight. Of course, like any job, there are those who screw it up for all of us and give background actors a bad name.
While I take every job I have seriously, I still view background work as a day job because it is not my career goal to be atmosphere. I want to be the person who background actors are setting the atmosphere FOR. Damn. That was brazen of me.
I should side bar here and note that in no shape or way am I knocking background work. Most of my friends are also background actors. We take our job seriously because getting background work is complicated and no easy feat, either. When you are in the union, background work is a way to help you rack up your earnings in order to hopefully qualify for health insurance.
Wait. What’s that, you say? As a union actor you don’t automatically get health insurance? No, you don’t. Which, while I don’t want to ASS-ume, could have been one reason Geoffrey Owens was working at Trader Joe’s: benefits, baby. It’s SMART. Getting health insurance as an actor is very difficult. I know many actors who also work at Starbucks for that same reason: benefits, baby.
As an actor, you have to make a bare minimum of $17,000 per year to qualify for SAG-AFTRA health insurance. That may sound easy and also poverty level to our corporate compadres. Here’s the deal, though. Only a mere ONE percent of actors make over $50,000 per year. I thank Viola Davis’s recent post about Geoffrey for that factoid. For we union actors, getting that health insurance package in the mail, it’s the Golden Ticket…and that $17,000 measly income has also been subsidized by…DAY JOBS. Now you’re getting it, right?
Back to background work. Why I do it? Camaraderie. Catering. Craft food services. I get to be on set. It pays better and is more in line with what I want to be doing than temp work. They don’t teach you what “checking the gate” means in a four year conservatory. I learned that and other terms doing background work.
Also, for an actor to ONLY do speaking roles to make their $17,000 union health insurance minimum, that actor would have to book a co-star role SEVENTEEN times in ONE YEAR. “Co-star” is an actor who has at least one line and their character is often there to help move the story along. In this case, let’s say the line is “Would you like fries with that?” The actor books the job. Gets paid about $1,000 give or take before taxes and agency fees. Then, the actor has to go out and book that role again another SIXTEEN TIMES…IN ONE YEAR. It is NOT possible. I mean, it could be possible. But, it’s not. Hence background work to SUBSIDIZE work between principal gigs. I know some actors will avoid background work like the plague because they think they are too good for it. They will mock those of us who do it. And, to them I say you are no different than those who mocked Geoffrey Owens.
BOTTOM LINE: I wouldn’t still be an actor if I didn’t have my multiple day jobs. As Dallas Travers, the actors’ advocate would say, and I paraphrase, “the first step to being a working actor is having food in the fridge.” In the biz, I have been often told not discuss my day jobs and especially not to discuss background work because it’s just taboo, it’s frowned upon. I love how Tyler Perry wasn’t even phased by Geoffrey Owens having a day job because he knew that did not define him as an actor or a person. Mr. Perry saw a talented actor, had a great role for him and said, “Come on board.”
So, my final thoughts? We are all just trying to get by, live our lives, pursue our dreams and making an honest day’s work (or “woik” as my Poppee would say. He’s from south Louisiana). Let’s try to come to a common ground. To not pretend to understand when we don’t understand. To ask when we don’t understand instead of making ASS-umptions. Corporate, 9 to 5 friends, I don’t want to sound like I’m hating on you. I don’t understand your job that much either. But, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear more about it or that I don’t want to be friends with you. Someone with a day job that pays more than $17000 a year needs to finance my projects. KIDDING! I AM KIDDING!
Nuts. I did not bring my metaphor of Chutes and Ladders back in to this like a good writer would have. I guess I shouldn’t…wait for it…QUIT MY DAY JOB!
(This was very long winded, y’all. I had some things to say. I appreciate you taking the time to read, to think, taking time off from your day job, your dream job or your day job that’s also your dream job to read. If you feel so inclined, please share.)