Whenever I interview for a “joe job,” I dread talking about being an actor. It’s the first thing on my resume. It has to be; it’s the only “steady” job I’ve had for the past fourteen years. But they never want to hear about what it requires to be a self-employed actor in Canadian theatre (discipline, strong work ethic, intelligence, problem solving skills, a great memory, etc), and how I could bring those skills and my years of experience to the position. They just want to know one thing: do you actually make money?
In almost every job interview in my life since graduating from theatre school, I’ve been asked that question in one form or another. The first time it truly shocked me. I had been out of theatre school for three weeks and needed a joe job stat, so I applied for a hostess job at The Pickle Barrel (it was across the street from my apartment in Toronto). The guy looked at my resume, “A diploma in theatre,” he observed. “Well, that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on! Bahahahaha!”
“Ha ha!” I laughed, “So true, so true.” While inside, I was quietly freaking out. Is that really true?!? Am I destined for poverty? What the fuck had I just done with the past three years of my life?!
(Ok, to be honest, that memory still stings a bit).
Today, I interviewed for a Clerk-Steno position at the city police, and at the end of the interview as they were copying my business college transcripts, the Director asked me, “Is acting lucrative? I mean, can you actually make a living at it?”
I answered honestly, “No, it’s not lucrative. Yes, you can make a living at it. I’ve paid off my student loans, I own a car (no loan), I own a house, and I usually only work part-time. Not that it’s any of your business.” (Okay, I didn’t say that last sentence; it was a job interview after all. No need to be rude.)
This question pisses me off. I get annoyed when I’m asked. Why is it okay to ask an artist how much money they make? Or to even question that a professional artist gets paid for their work? I wrote professional actor on my resume, not amateur.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think people in other professions get asked this question. We assume that lawyers, for example, make money in their chosen fields. No one would ask them if they can make a living at practicing law. No one would insult their education or suggest they wasted their time and money pursuing a worthless career. (Well, okay, maybe they would. I’m thinking of all those lawyer jokes. Maybe lawyers were a bad example. Let’s say plumbers instead). Why do people assume that actors cannot/do not make money, and why is it such a bloody surprise to find out that yes, it is possible to make a living from acting?
Most of the time, I try to use it as an opportunity to educate. But I often feel like I end up pathetically defending my decision to choose a career for love rather than for money. Because I’m in an interview, and I obviously want the job or I wouldn’t be there, I don’t feel like I can afford to be snarky and rude. So instead, I humour them.
“Ha ha!” I laugh, “It’s true. I don’t make a lot of money, but whenever I have the privilege of being in a show, I wake up in the morning excited to get to work. Not many people can say that, right?”
Usually that’s met with some variation of “Well, it’s also exciting to be able to pay your bills and buy groceries” (as if I don’t do those things already) or “Must be nice. The rest of us has chosen to work for a living” (because being an artist is not real work).
So what am I saying? I don’t know. Mostly I’m just bitching because it’s fucking hard being an actor in Canada, and I don’t say that enough. I don’t say it enough because I don’t feel like I have the right to complain about it. After all, I am the one who chose this profession (no matter how much I believe this profession actually chose me. Kinda like a calling, you know? Like a priest?), I am the one with the worthless education, I am the one who persists even when kicked down, and I am the one who keeps coming back for more. So why complain? No one is forcing me to be an actor. If I were smarter*, I would’ve walked away years ago.
I guess some respect would be nice. Some validation. Some recognition that acting is a real career that makes real, live money. And maybe some manners. Didn’t your parents teach you it was rude to talk about money, politics and religion at the supper table? I’m sure it also applies to job interviews. I wasn’t asked if I support the NDP (I do), or if I’m a recovering Catholic (I am), but it was perfectly reasonable to ask how much I made last year from acting (I’m not telling; it’s rather embarrassing).
Have a lovely weekend, everyone. I will spend the weekend avoiding anything to do with Black Friday.
*I actually am quite smart. My IQ is 130. Apparently not smart enough to leave this fucking awful profession though.