I’m recycling this post from back when I was a blogger for Opera NUOVA a few years ago… Of course, things have changed–I am no longer a pharmacy employee, instead I’ve taken on the swanky position of Heritage Interpreter with the AB Legislative Assembly Office–but the sentiments in this piece are still relevant.
When people ask me what I do, my answer is usually along the lines of, “Well, I’m a performer—singer/actor/dancer—and a writer, daylighting as a pharmacy assistant and post office clerk.” …It makes me feel like my joe job is really just the alter-ego for my superhero artistic self, and so far people seem to get a kick out of it.
The thing is, a lot of people who call themselves “artists” have a lot of other roles in their lives, often including the dreaded “joe job.” The classic, of course, is being a waiter, host, or bartender, because of the flexibility generally offered with those positions, but I’ve met performers who work retail jobs, are stay-at-home parents, teachers, oil field workers (especially in Alberta), and even one lovely actor who works at my favourite local tea shop. Artists are everywhere, and their day jobs are not always so “artsy.”
Making your living from your art is by no means impossible, but it can be incredibly difficult. It also depends on what other goals you have in your life. If you want to raise a family, buy a house, or do a ton of international travelling, than being a full-time artist might turn out to be a bit of a stretch financially. However, I know a few single people who graduated college around the same time as me who are managing enough performing gigs throughout the year that there’s no need for them to get any other work—they make enough to support themselves, and that’s all they need. I guess they count as the “lucky ones,” depending on how you look at it.
There is something nice, though, about being an artist in the “outside world.” If you manage to get or create at least enough work to sustain yourself artistically, than working in retail or, as I do, in science(ish), can be kind of cool. It’s like you have a secret, and this whole other life outside of work. Then, when customers or co-workers find out about your performer’s life, you’re made to feel like something shiny and interesting and novel.
“Wow! So you, like, sing and act and stuff? That is so cool!”
It can be very validating, because yes: what we do is so cool, but we tend to be very nonchalant about it around other artists. “Oh, you’re a singer? Yeah, me too—what else is new?”
I think the main trick is finding a day job that doesn’t suck the soul out of you. Find, if you can, a joe job that only sort of feels like a joe job. One where you leave work every day feeling like you’ve accomplished something. That’s what I’ve found with pharmacy work (of course it helps that I only work part time and that my boss, aka mom, is really flexible around auditions, rehearsal and performance schedules, and me taking a six week leave of absence for two summers in a row in order to attend the NUOVA six-week program).
As artists, I think we can do better for ourselves, and stop treating our joe jobs as something to be embarrassed about. Having a good ol’ nine to five position does not make you less of an artist, but for some reason we all seem to think it does. The same goes for doing community theatre or other unpaid gigs. Of course we all want to be paid for our work—especially after all of the time, energy, and money that goes into honing our talents and creating that work—and I’m all for artists being a little bit picky about which shows will fulfill them artistically, but the money you make does not determine the quality of the performance you put forth. Nor is it any indication of what you are capable of.
You are an artist because you make art. Working in another industry in order to financially support yourself does not diminish your identity as an artist.
Not to mention all of the bonuses that come with a joe job. Customer service can be a great help with improving small talk in auditions, and every interaction is fodder for characters you may play in the future—you work any job long enough, and you’re going to meet some true characters. I had an acting teacher once tell me to study people every day—it’s all part of your job and experience as an actor.
Originally posted on March 29, 2016. Edited November 2017.