August 24th, 2015

If you ask for suggestions on actor survival jobs, you'll get a predictable list of usual suspects: waiter, bartender, babysitter, temp work - it's a long list of (I think) unappealing options. What if there was a job that paid really well, allowed you set your own hours, work from anywhere, and didn't require a lot of physical/vocal energy? Stick around, I have good news.

First of all, I envy those of you who can handle these regular survival jobs without having a nervous breakdown. The problem with most of them is that they require a ton of energy, leave you exhausted, hoarse, bitter, and burnt out. That's not a place you want to be as an aspiring actor. I've watched too many people arrive in New York bright eyed only to jump ship a year-or-so later. A lot of the burn out can be traced back to their survival job.

When I was in high school, I taught myself photography and programming. The first hobby turned into a career over 15 years ago as people started to ask, "Hey, can you take headshots?" It just started happening again with my second hobby. Now it's, "Hey, who built your website and iPhone app? Wait, you did it!? How much do you charge??"

I know what you're thinking, "Programming is too hard for me." It's not. I promise. Last year I spent two nights a week teaching high school students how to program. They started with no experience and by the end of the year they had built a working version of Street Fighter II as a web app with only HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. If you can read music or decipher Shakespeare, you can program.

I'll get to the best ways to learn programming in a bit, but I want to point out the reasons I think it's a smart choice for actors:
  • You can work from anywhere. You're constantly on the go as an actor. With programming, all you need is a computer and an internet connection. You can work on your tour bus, a cruise ship, or a middle-of-nowhere regional theater.
  • You can sit still and save your voice. Don't underestimate how valuable this is. When I accepted a job as an agent's assistant in 2001, I thought I had landed the perfect job for an aspiring actor. Reality: I was on the phone (read: constantly talking and frying my voice) while calming down stressed out actors and casting directors (read: absorbing everyone else's stress). A few months into my new career, I tried taking an acting class. Guess what? I was fried vocally and emotionally. Many acting survival jobs have the same side effects.
  • It pays really well. Once you move beyond basic web design and into building apps (web, iPhone, Android, etc.), you can make some serious money. It's not unusual to bring in more than $100 an hour. Full-time programmers, should you choose to do that, regularly make six figure salaries with impressive vacation and benefit packages.
  • You can set your own hours. Generally, when you accept a programming job, you only promise a delivery date and then give updates along the way. I know your schedule is all over the place with auditions, rehearsals, readings, etc. You can program whenever you want. Your client will not know the difference.
  • Your acting website will be the envy of all your friends. This one's self-explanatory.

Okay, so you want to give it a try? I think you should. Fair warning: it's going to feel like a lot of information to take in at first. Think of it like learning a new instrument. It's intimidating at first. Lucky for you, there are tons of classes in New York and Los Angeles. Here are some of my favorites:

New York classes for those who prefer having a teacher (recommended): Online resources (warning: doing it yourself can quickly become overwhelming): Places to find freelance programming work:
So why not give it a try? Learning to program is just like learning a new language. It's fun and you may find it's the perfect survival job!





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