How to Finance Your Training and Acting Career
Performer Michaela Bennison gives practical advice and tips for financing your training and acting career.
By Michaela Bennison
Let’s not sugarcoat it: the acting profession is tough. And when you’re a working-class actor with no money or connections, it can feel even more daunting.
But there are ways to overcome the hurdles we face in our profession. From deciding whether to train at drama school to building good financial habits, here are five tips to help you kick off your acting career.
1. To Train or Not to Train?
For most actors, the first decision we make is whether or not to go to drama school. There is no right or wrong answer other than what is right for you.
Firstly, ask yourself: do I want to train full time right now?
If the answer is yes, consider the training experience you’re looking for. If you want minimal contact time, a university course may be best. If you’re looking for intensive, practical training, look at drama schools that teach the disciplines you’re interested in.
Some courses are eligible for Student Loan Funding, others aren’t. The National Union of Students (NUS) has information on the eligibility requirements for Student Loan Funding.
If the course you’re interested in isn’t eligible, NUS has information about alternative funding options too. There are also bursaries you can apply for, you can organise fundraisers for your fees, or take time out to save up. Some drama schools even prefer candidates with some life experience behind them, so this could be a great strategy.
If formal training isn’t for you, start looking for ways to find acting work, build your credits’ list and hone your skills.
2. Choosing a Location Base
London is the widely acknowledged centre of our industry but living in the city is expensive. There are other cities with lower average rents and vibrant cultural scenes. Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh are just some UK cities with strong creative communities. Whilst you’ll have to take the cost of travelling to London for auditions into account, making one of these cities your base may be a good financial option.
However, if you have your heart set on London, make sure to do your research. This blog post has excellent tips on finding affordable housing. There are also Facebook groups such as The Hustle Homes which have information about flat and house shares with other theatre professionals.
3. Staying on Top of Your Finances
Money is a difficult topic at the best of times, especially if you’ve grown up with financial hardship. But as an actor, you are a business. It’s important to create effective money management systems.
Firstly, get to grips with taxes. Know what expenses you can claim against your earnings and how best to keep your own accounts. Many drama schools invite tax professionals to talk to their students about this, and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can advise you if you’re unsure about anything.
Once you start earning, make a habit of putting aside at least 20% of your self-employed earnings for tax. This way, you’ll avoid receiving a hefty tax bill you can’t pay. If you can afford to put aside a bit more, do. Anything you don’t pay in taxes can then go into your savings for emergencies or future planning.
4. Earning a Living: ‘Resting’ vs Low Pay
Almost all actors have a ‘resting job’ to pay the bills in between acting work. This is a fact of life as a performer. But it can be difficult to decide when to prioritise your day job over an acting gig that isn’t well paid.
You shouldn’t feel ashamed if you can’t afford to work for little pay. Whilst it’s understandable to not want to turn down performing work, you need to be able to eat and keep a roof over your head. Any company who respects their actors should acknowledge this and, at the very least, be willing to work around your paid work commitments.
If you have to turn down the perfect job because of your financial situation, see the experience as a networking opportunity. Keep in touch and who knows? When the company has the funding to fully pay their actors, they may remember you.
5. Changing your Mindset
It’s easy to focus on the things you can’t afford to do, whether it’s the singing lesson you have to skip this month or the casting workshop you can’t attend.
Instead, try focusing on what you can do. Here are some ideas:
- Set up a play reading group with your actor friends
- Practice self-tapes on your phone
- Post monologues or song covers on social media
- Write your own pieces to perform
- Reach out to agents and casting directors.
There are also loads of free resources available. Spotlight's podcast and blogs are full of helpful tips and advice as well as industry insights. Many theatres also have free creative resources for emerging theatre professionals. Have a look around and you’re bound to find something to whet your appetite.
As hard as the acting profession can be, it’s one that rewards talent, hard work and perseverance. And us working-class artists have those qualities in spades. With these tips to add to your arsenal, you’ll be able to lay a stable foundation on which to build a successful career.
Michaela Bennison is an actor and writer, whose credits include 'Into The Woods' at The Royal Exchange, Manchester and ‘Lady of Jazz’ at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester and Wilton’s Music Hall.
Michaela runs a blog and YouTube channel, where she shares her thoughts about the theatre industry and offers advice to actors based on her experiences.
Headshot by Robin Savage.
Hero image by Sam Balye via Unsplash.