Labor Day honors America's wage earners, its waiters and cabdrivers, salesclerks and secretaries. Actors have held down all these jobs--for a time. But when that big audition comes up, away they go.
That's the myth, anyway. The facts are otherwise. Actors have proven they're able to succeed in the real world: Just look at who occupies the White House. In fact, some actors are able to combine a real-world career with a life behind the footlights.
Some have the theater to thank for leading them into their second occupation. Marrian Walters of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater once helped to found an acting troupe. Needing costumes, she sharpened her sewing skills. Today, when not on stage, she tends to her flourishing lounge-wear company, named after its biggest seller, the Josef Robe.
Terrence Evans, now in "The Tavern" at Theatricum Botanicum, had no interest in carpentry until, as a fledgling actor, he helped out building sets. Discovering a natural aptitude, he earned his contractor's license. Now he remodels homes and commercial properties. Each night, after a quick cleanup, he's off to the theater.
Other actors just fell into their second callings. After his last musical closed abruptly, Barry Ramsey (of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion's "On Your Toes") decided that life without work was not for him. Today he is set to buy his own pizza franchise. When future shows fold, he'll always know where his next meal is coming from.
Melinda Peterson (featured in "The Tavern") flopped as a waitress, then landed a job with the California Community Foundation. She is now its program officer for the arts, in charge of doling out major grant monies to arts organizations.
John Mirabile, in "Bleacher Bums" at the Burbage, tried 18 jobs before discovering his calling. Now he handles computer installation, repair and maintenance for Hughes Aircraft.
Tabi Cooper (of the Eagle Theater's "Andrea's Got Two Boyfriends") runs a portrait photography studio. She has also launched Tender Bartenders, providing catering services for parties.
Most actors agree that their theatrical skills come in handy in the business world.
Says Cooper, who as a photographer poses entertainers for shots that will help get them work: "I know what actors need. I also know how to direct someone into a very centered place, so that you really have a sense of who that person is."
Negotiating with arts leaders, Peterson finds that "I can speak their lingo. We can talk very straight together." Moreover, she has "a feel for what things really cost in the arts world."
Ramsey, in managing pizza parlors, finds acting skills useful for dealing with customer complaints. "I can keep my cool, deal with them with a moderate temper." After all, "even if you're not on stage, you're still performing."
Mirabile admits that the theater world and the world of computers are total opposites. Nothing he's learned through acting helps him at Hughes. Yet the theater keeps him sane. "At work I learned how to think like a machine. It's fun for eight hours, but if I wasn't acting at night it would drive me crazy."
Some actors who work outside the theater are loathe to admit it. Evans, for example, tends to keep mum about his dual careers. As a contractor, he recognizes that theater ties are not seen as a plus by every client: "People celebrate actors for their flakiness, not their steadiness. You don't want a flake with a key to your house."
He's equally reluctant to tell theater people about his second occupation. "I don't want to get cast in a show because I'm the guy who remodeled the director's house."
Eventually, an actor must set priorities. This problem is minimized for Walters: As a member of a full-time repertory company she can tailor her schedule to accommodate both stage roles and private enterprise. When she's overloaded, her husband and daughter--both actors--pick up the slack.
Mirabile, who hates hustling for theater jobs, has almost decided to stick to computers: "I refuse to sacrifice my peace of mind financially for the sake of an acting career."
Peterson craves financial security too. Still, "the artist in me speaks the loudest." For the past two years the foundation has let her work half-time, so she can divide her days between her two worlds.
When his pizza parlor is a going concern, Ramsey trusts he'll be able to concentrate on show business. His brother, also a franchise-holder, can mind the shop while he himself learns to direct and choreograph.
Insists Cooper: "Everything takes a back seat to acting." If her career were to soar, she'd get someone else to run the bartending business and save photography for a hobby. Right now, she "can enjoy all the other things I do because I haven't given up on my major goal."
Evans spends far more time on his construction jobs, but "I think of myself primarily as an actor. It doesn't make sense, I know, but it doesn't have to."
Whatever his schedule, there's always room for auditions. "Contracting provides the food for my belly, but acting provides the food for my soul."