The Unemployed Young Actor, a case study

When Megan Farley was still studying theater at Rutgers University in Camden, she thought life as an actor was going to be easy after college.

“I was sheltered in college,” Farley said. “It was a small theater community. So I got all the parts I wanted.”

But Farley, 23, who graduated in 2015, has struggled to find acting jobs since.

Instead, she works full time as a substitute teacher in a pre-school and lives with her parents. “I am grateful that they don’t make me pay rent,” Farley added.

To make more money to pay for headshots, reels, and travel expenses to go on auditions, Farley thought about getting a second job. But the long hours of work would cut time for auditions.

Megan Farley headshot. Photo by Kim Carson.
Megan Farley headshot. Photo by Kim Carson.

“It is just a vicious cycle,” Farley said. “You have to work to make money to be able to get headshots, and travel to auditions. But then, you can’t go on auditions because you don’t have time.”

Farley has been able to find auditions on the weekends, but has not been casted for several of them. “I have heard more ‘no’ since I graduated college than I have heard ‘yes’,” Farley said. “It is really hard.”

Farley is not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one out of three actors worked part time in 2014. Several of those jobs were on holidays, weekends, and evenings.

Besides the lack of full time opportunities and financial insecurity, actors also have to seek education and pay for student loans. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “While a traditional education is not necessarily a requirement to enter the performing arts, many professionals in these occupations are highly educated. More than one third of actors held a bachelor’s degree between 2011 and 2013.”

Actors may face long periods of unemployment and inconsistent schedules. For this reason, several actors opt for being part of a union.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “compared with workers in all occupations, actors had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2014.”

Stage actors have the option of joining the Actor’s Equity Association. Actors who work in television and film can join the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists(SAG-AFTRA).

According to SAG-AFTRA, the union assist actors to negotiate better wages, set work rules, benefits, preserve and expand members’ work opportunities, and enforce contracts. But union dues might be expensive for a beginner actor who does not have many job opportunities, some say.

Not only are regular and consistent jobs difficult for actors to find, but also just few of them get high paying jobs.

According to the Actors’ Equity Association, the average annual earnings in 2010 of 34 percent of actors was less than $14,999.

Despite the low pay, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that many actors find their work professionally and artistically rewarding, and contend with the challenging working conditions.

Those challenges have been present in Farley’s life.

Megan Farley with Sean Lynch (left) in a production of THE FAIRY QUEEN.
Megan Farley with Sean Lynch (left) in a production of THE FAIRY QUEEN.

Recently, Farley drove to an audition in North Jersey, three hours away from her house.

Once she realized the director had favored another woman for the play, she had a breakdown. “On my way home I was upset and I cried,” Farley said.

Due to those difficulties, Farley has considered going back to school for a teaching certificate.

“I have had second thoughts about my career choice,” Farley said. “But I am not ready to give up acting.”

Inspiration has arrived in Farley’s life in different ways. After nailing all the exercises in her voice lesson, and listening to her coach’s comments, Farley decided to postpone her teaching plan.

“My coach told me I was going places,” Farley said. “Just hearing her saying that made me sit back on my teaching plan.”

Besides her coach’s advice, Farley also receives support from the children of the summer camp where she works as a theatre specialist.

Farley said that she tells the kids to not give up on their dreams. “I am sitting in my room two weeks ago having a breakdown,” Farley said. “And I realize I should be taking my own advice.”

Two weeks after the audition in North Jersey, Farley received a phone call from a casting director. She was cast for the short film “The Syndrome” in Philadelphia. They will be shooting it in May.

Even though I have heard more ‘no’ than ‘yes’ so far,” Farley said. “I will hear more ‘yes’ [more often] later on. And, hopefully, the ‘yes’ will be bigger. A little ‘no’ doesn’t count when you get the big ‘yes.’”

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