It’s no secret in this performing arts business making money doing what we love can be hard,
especially when you’re just starting out. Sometimes we say no to the jobs we really want to do
and yes to the ones that aren’t so great because the former pays better. Many actors have chosen
their careers because they want their work to produce change and inspire. However, this isn’t
always practical, especially if you’re living in expensive cities like New York or LA.

It’s no secret that’s it’s often a struggle for actors to make a living wage, especially when you’re
just starting out.

Imagine having steady income from a series of one-day jobs so that you could do that obscure
downtown play. The problem is that many young actors have been blowing off these
opportunities since they started auditioning. Yes, I mean the often disparaged commercials.
You don’t have to be a Paul Marcarelli, the Verizon-turned- Sprint actor, to be successful in
commercials (although a networth of $10 million doesn’t sound so bad). Doing a regional
commercial can still earn you upwards of $10,000, enough to pay the bills while you do that
soul-fulfilling work.

As of 2016, the minimum day rate for a union (SAG-AFTRA) regional commercial actor was
$671.69 (but is often higher). Each time the commercial airs, you earn residual money, which is
where most of the living is made. A union national commercial might earn someone hundreds of
thousands of dollars if it airs often. Even non-union work can earn an actor a nice check, and
sometimes even more than what the minimum for union work is.

Many actors outright reject commercial work because they simply want to be putting more time
into “legit” work, such as film and TV, or theatre. If you’ve got three auditions this week and
two of them are for pilots, chances are that commercial is taking a back seat. Admittedly it’s hard
to get excited about a sometimes “sell-y” script you received ten minutes before going in front of
the casting director.

One positive approach: a job is a job and acting is acting. Commercial veteran Gameela Wright
says, “Whether it’s for 30 seconds or for 10 minutes or for 2 hours, an actor’s job is to tell a story to convey or create an emotional response in the viewer. Acting is acting. You’re an actor. Find
as many opportunities to act as you can.”

Wright, who now teaches a class at NYU Tisch’s Stonestreet Studios, has done a range of
commercials for nationwide companies such as Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Aquafina,
Stapes, Tide to Go, and New York Lottery. Her advice on landing the job? Be yourself. “They want PEOPLE,” says Wright. “All shapes, sizes, ages, genders, races, etc. Why? Because here in
the U.S., that’s what we have. That’s what we are.”

Commercials are also a great way to meet casting directors and become familiar with being on
set. If you are professional, show up on time, and just tell the story, that casting director will be
grateful, and remember you for other film or TV projects they’re casting. Becoming familiar on
set can be an asset so that when you book that stellar indie film, you know how to hit your marks
(without looking at it first).

“Luck is just opportunity meeting preparation, so if you see these commercials as being your
preparation, when the opportunity arises, it feels very lucky,” says Sophie Hoyt, a 20-year- old
actor who has recently found liberation in commercial work.

Thanks to three commercials Hoyt booked this year alone, Target, DePaul University, and
Blackhawks, Hoyt had the financial stability to be able to say yes to two projects that she
otherwise could not have afforded to do. She is is currently involved with two productions in
Chicago: understudying a role at Redtwist Theatre, which she considers a true “passion project,”
and rehearsing a play called La Ronde which will premiere at American Theatre Company.

Hoyt leaves us with a piece of advice from her mother that she carries with her always, “Figure
out what you love to do, and then find a way to make money at it (Hint: if you love to act, your
solution may begin with a ‘c’).”