Survival jobs are an essential part to an actor’s career. It’s how you stay afloat. Unless you’ve been blessed with a wealthy family who supports your acting career goals, you’ll need to think of ways how to find survival jobs in London, Los Angeles, New York or any other city you’re trying to become a working actor in.
Survival job is what actors call their “day” work – a steady (or not) stream of income that’s unrelated to acting. These jobs allow actors to “survive”: eat, drink, have a roof of their heads, pay for headshots and acting classes – all while auditioning and booking unpaid acting jobs, trying to reach that mythical level of a “paid and working actor.”
The good news: London is the UK’s, possibly Europe’s, Service Industry Central. Jobs in restaurants, cleaning, clerking, shelf-stacking, public transport, and every other MacIndustry are plentiful. Moreover, at about 5%, UK unemployment is among the lowest in Europe.
The bad news? All of unemployed or indigent Pakistan, India, and the rest of the former British empire already know this, and many already have UK-resident kin to help them. And living in London can be very expensive, not to mention all the extra acting related expenses.
The key is not to be picky: take anything that’s not actually suicidal (e.g., motorbike couriers, also known as organ-donors). Above all, be careful; unless you have a permit to work in the UK, you can’t be employed legally. Such permits are pretty much impossible to acquire for unskilled work.
Employers know and exploit this to pay well-below-statutory wages; exact long and/ or unsociable hours; offer few, or no, on-the-job comforts; and otherwise take maximum advantage of your need for cash. So, stay under the radar and be an uncomplaining wage–slave.
“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou
How to Find Survival Jobs in London?
1. Use your skills
That said, there’s work to be had, especially if you have an in-demand skill, such as software coding, graphic design, cooking, writing, web design, or the like. If you do, collect the appropriate evidence, especially formal qualifications and/or references from previous employers.
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Skilled jobs can be found through employment agencies, but only if you have a work permit. Without that, it’s better to scan the small ads in the London newspapers, both print and on-line editions, for entries posted directly by employers, but not by agencies. Even then, the work-permit issue will arise – but not always. Take a chance.
The main dailies are Metro and the Evening Standard, which happen to be free; just grab the latest editions from the stacks outside every Underground (‘tube’) station. The Standard’s listings seem only to be available in the print edition, but you can register on the Metro website to view classified job ads: http://londonjobs.metro.co.uk.
You’ll still need a permit to be legally employed, but an employer just might sponsor your application if your ability, or their need, is sufficiently great. For some abilities, such as cooking, the trade is long accustomed to casual hiring of non-legal staff, so you might succeed with a smile, a good pitch, and a demonstration.
Here are some UK employment agency and job-search websites:
- http://www.adecco.co.uk – One of the leaders.
- http://www.monster.co.uk – The worldwide leader in on-line job-search. This is the UK site.
- http://www.reed.co.uk/jobs/london – The London section of one of the UK’s biggest agencies.
- http://www.londonjobs.co.uk – A large London-focussed job-search site, not an agency. For those wishing/ needing to deal directly with employers.
- http://www.agencycentral.co.uk/agencysearch/byregion/LON.htm – A database of 70+ London-based agencies; many are small and specialised. Each entry has a short description of the agency’s specialty, and there is a search facility. An exceptionally useful resource – but remember the work-permit hurdle.
2. Explore the entertainment industry
One skill you surely have is acting. Show business in London, just as elsewhere, is full of small production outfits with minuscule budgets, looming deadlines, and an often-insouciant attitude to employment laws. They may not require actors, but you could charm or bluff your way into a minor production job, even if it’s just answering the ‘phone.
While the money will be paltry, the opportunity to network the industry from the inside could prove invaluable.
If you’ve already signed with an actor’s agent, ask them for introductions to some of those shoestring operators. The agent will take 15% of what you earn and, even if that’s 15% of next-to-nothing, it’s better for you than earning nothing at all. For your agent, it’s better than having a non-productive asset on the books.
A note on extras.
As an actor, this option might seem a no-brainer. London is not only the UK hub for casting agencies, best talent agencies and well-known directors, but also a worldwide choice for location filming.
While crowd-work is for anybody and pay is low, you can lever your particular attributes – a good singing voice, horse-riding experience, dancing ability, good looks, a good speaking voice, etc – into something more financially rewarding. Also, there are the networking opportunities available on set.
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There is the usual wrinkle: most agencies need to see evidence of your permission to work in the UK, even if you’re a card-carrying student. That rules out non-EU hopefuls, but you can still try the approach suggested above and, skirting the agencies, introduce yourself directly to small production outfits with low levels of legal paranoia.
3. Drinking and eating
Being London’s entertainment heartland, Soho is crammed with pubs, bars, clubs, clip-joints, and restaurants, quite apart from agents and production companies. Many are pretty casual about work permits.
Spend an afternoon or two going door-to-door, pitching your abilities to one and all. If something doesn’t come up immediately, leave your resumé and contact details with the manager.
That won’t be your actor’s resumé, of course, but one of several you’ve cobbled together, each composed a little differently to suit the particular business – pub, club, restaurant, whatever – to which you’re peddling your unique skills. But don’t sit waiting for the call; ‘phone those managers after a week or two to ask if an opening has come up since your visit.
Like Bud Fox in Wall Street, keep doing that assiduously and – who knows? – you might get a gig with Soho’s own Gordon Gekko. If nothing else, it should prove a good exercise in building self-belief and a great elevator pitch, both also useful skills for marketing your acting chops. Remember, though, it took Bud 59 days and 59 calls.
4. Tour guide
You don’t need to be a Londoner, nor even a Brit. Spend a couple of weeks on deep research into a niche London scene that meshes with your own life. Let’s say you’re American and gay. Two weeks or a month, at most, should be enough to make you an expert on central London’s gay scene.
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Now, compose a flyer about your newfound expertise in appealing language, with timings, charges, your face pic, and your contact details. Drop it off at gay hotels, post it on US gay travel websites, chat-rooms, and blogs, and hand it out to anyone on the street that your gaydar flags as a likely mark. Ker-ching!
5. Dog walking
The British are a nation of dog-owners, with a total canine population of over nine million (but some estimates run to more than twice that). London houses more than a third of the total. They all need exercise, so busy families have created a thriving industry employing people to provide that essential.
According to my research, no work-permit is needed, but you need to convince owners – or the agencies they use – that you are responsible and, above all, dog-friendly. There are lots of do’s and don’ts, also some legalities. Here’s an overview, with helpful links: http://www.moneymagpie.com/article/make-60-an-hour-while-getting-fit-by-dog-walking.
Apart from the benefits of animal company and regular exercise, the money’s not too shabby. If you work directly for an owner, expect to be paid around £14 ($21.30)/ hour. That will, of course, be lower if you work through one of the several London agencies, but those can also get you more hours, not to mention stand-ins when you’re ill or otherwise unavailable.
There’s another, important, benefit. Some of the opportunities listed here won’t appeal to, or work well, for women, but dog-owners tend to prefer the gentler sex as walkers.
The link given above tells all you need to know, but here are some the site doesn’t mention:
- http://www.bonerangers.com – London dog-walking agency.
- http://greendogwalking.co.uk – Another.
- http://www.theguardian.com/money/shortcuts/2015/may/26/dog-walkers-do-they-really-earn-more-than-average-salary – In the real world, there are always problems.
6. Et cetera
There are many more ideas worth exploring, such as child-care, domestic or office cleaning (hard work for poor pay), on-line surveys (easy, but small money only), becoming a mystery shopper (intriguing), and others.
Moneymagpie, the site already mentioned in connection with dog-walking, outlines several: http://www.moneymagpie.com/category/make-money.