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TBA Online: News & Features: June 2013

The Business of Show Biz: Too Broke to Act

Friday, June 14, 2013   (0 Comments)
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By Velina Brown

Q: I'm suffering a dark night of the soul over my career, or rather the lack of it. I need a new headshot, a few sessions with my favorite acting teacher, and renewal of my [] subscription. But all of that takes money, and I have none. My last two headshots were taken by a photographer who made me look good for a reasonable price, but he has left the area. I may give up my internet service and use Facebook for my website. I'm trying to economize everywhere I can. I keep hoping that I can pick up a commercial or a paying gig, but I find myself passing up opportunities because I can't swing the gasoline or the train fare. I work full-time at a “real job," but at the moment I haven't paid PG&E in two months, and I don't know if I can make next month's rent. Is there anything that will get past the whole 'have to spend money to make money" thing?

Actor and career consultant, Velina Brown.

A: The situation you describe is not just about having "to spend money to make money." It's about having money to keep the lights on and a roof over your head. 


To be very honest with you, I don't have any great ideas of how to run your acting business with literally no money at all. Actors tend to be masters at getting the most out of a dollar. You compliment actors on their audition outfit and they will proudly gesture from head to toe and say, "This whole outfit...$6.99!" Not a lot of money, but they did have some money to put together a fun outfit, get themselves to the audition and hand the casting person an accurate photo of themselves. If you aren't currently able to do this, your first priority is to shore up the basics: food, shelter, utilities. We're talking Maslow's hierarchy of needs here. 

It's not clear from your letter what happened. Did you lose a roommate? Did you have your hours cut at work? You say you have a "real job" but it isn't covering your basic expenses. Something has clearly changed, since at one time you were able to pay your rent and utilities, take class with a "favorite acting teacher" and have headshots taken by a photographer you liked. You say you are economizing where you can. If you just can't cut your budget any more, then you must earn more. I don't know if you would feel this is relevant for you, but I just recently learned of a 12-step program called Underearners Anonymous. Their slogan is "Prosperity, Freedom, Abundance, Serenity." It's pretty interesting. Check it out at All my other ideas are the obvious things, like get a roommate to share living expenses, really double down on your job, become indispensable and ask for a raise, get an additional side job, etc. 

Of course acting could be that side job, but again you would have to be able to make the investment in at least three basic things:

1. The means for casting people to contact you. You need a phone and an email address. If you try to rely entirely on your Facebook page you will miss opportunities. The worst thing for your acting career is to make it harder for people to reach you.

2. A headshot that looks like you. Casting folks want the person in the headshot to be the person who walks into the audition room.

3. The means to get to and from auditions. I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Eighty percent of the job is showing up." You must show up. This is how you will have any opportunity to get a return on your investment.

What you can do without money? Go to your local library, read plays and trade magazines to keep you in trim and in the know, and practice scenes and monologues with friends. Perhaps barter with an up-and-coming photographer so that you get new headshots while they build their portfolio. Set up a free email service such as Yahoo, iCloud if you have a Mac, or Gmail. For free mass mailings look into MailChimp; for free website hosting check out or, to name a couple. You can put these things in place now and maintain them regardless of cash flow issues. But you must focus on earning. It's a juggling act. 

Only you know if you have the bandwidth to juggle your acting career while addressing your very pressing financial issues. You may need to put the acting ball down for a while. You can pick it up again once your finances stabilize. Whatever you decide, take good care of yourself. Let me know how it's going.


Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at