Actors and Performers


Introducing... From Craft to Career

Practical, positive and uplifting, the advice in From Craft to Career: A Casting Director’s Guide for the Actor is designed to lead to the best outcomes possible for any actor making the transition from craft to career.

Gain insight into the various types of casting directors across the industry and how that practical knowledge can benefit you and increase your chances of success. While providing an in-depth insight into the role of the casting director, this book explains the jobs of all the other people involved in the casting process – including producers, network executives, writers – and how they influence casting decisions.

Below is an extract from this book, by the renowned casting director Merri Sugarman, outlining top tips that can land you that dream role.


4. Your Two Different Day Jobs

Your Survival Day Job

While working toward the first acting job or even while between acting jobs, you will need to find a way to pay the bills. It’s time to get a survival job.

After the Aspects of Love tour came to a close, I asked myself if I’d become one of those actors who didn’t actually need a day job anymore and reached the conclusion that since the percentage of those people seemed to be in the negative numbers, I knew I still had to figure out a way to keep money coming in. I had some savings but I wasn’t about to plow through them. Waitressing was what I knew how to do. I filled out applications at every place from the deli on my corner to The Rainbow Room. I got something in between and tried not to get too depressed as I married ketchups and wiped down syrup holders. And I started auditioning. Again.

I had to pay the rent and presumably, so do you. Even if money is not an issue for you, honestly, it should be—how to make it, how to save it, how to handle it.

If you’re just out of school and have your mom’s credit card— great. You’re lucky. Use it to help you with voice lessons and scene study classes and, by all means, treat yourself to a massage or a gym membership. But get a job and pay your own bills. You’re an adult. Working is good. It builds character. It raises the stakes.

What kinds of jobs might give you the freedom to pursue acting work?

Waiting tables is back-breaking work but the money’s good and the hours are flexible and there’s a good chance your co-workers will want your shifts when you have an audition and they’ll need you to take theirs when they get one. A restaurant job will mean you’re memorizing lines and learning music at 2:00 a.m. Well, okay, that’s part of what you signed up for when you decided to go pro.

There are many online work-from-home jobs like proofreading and music transcription that you can do on your own schedule. If you read music, you’d be a great help to composers, music directors and music librarians. Apply for a hotel concierge gig. Love to clean out your closets? Go organize someone else’s. Babysitters make decent money. Clean apartments. Be a telemarketer. Get a taxi driver’s license. Own a car?—Uber and Lyft. Can you sew? Hang pictures? Do any and all of that for profit. Go sing in a wedding band or better yet, find a job that gets you an insider’s view of the industry. Bartend at a theater, sell merchandise or usher. Be a personal assistant to any industry professional.

Jobs are everywhere! Do some research, find a good fit and get to work.

Your Actual Day Job—Being a Professional Actor

An actor is never truly out of work if the actor is always looking for work. Looking for work is a job and should be treated as such. What brings actors down so quickly is not having auditions, not getting callbacks when you do have auditions, not booking the jobs from those callbacks. And often that cycle can last a long time. You must fill those hours. Just because you are in a moment when you are not being paid to act, it doesn’t mean you rest.

There are so many ways to create your own work. Be inventive! Get together with pals and read a play out loud and invite a handful of people who might be connected to a handful of other people or even connected themselves somehow—in any way—to industry people. Or rent a studio and do a scene night and make everyone involved sign a contract that ensures they are responsible for bringing at least two industry folks in to see it.

One of the things I did to fill my time was to put together a showcase for myself. Cabaret was and still is a great way to create your own work and get seen by industry people. I had a ball doing it. I mean, I just sang songs that I loved. I used a lot of props—berets, long cigarette holders, boas—you get the picture. But for one night I was the star. While that part of it may seem self-indulgent, I learned so much about what it takes to produce a show. I had to pay an accompanist and I had to guarantee a certain amount of money at the door and pay for my own club soda. It was worth every penny. Absolutely nothing came of this except a full house of adoring fans, aka my family and friends, and a much-needed confidence boost. Sometimes you just do stuff because you’re challenged by it and you grow from it and that is enough.

Since you may not have a place to go to every day where you’ll be working toward getting your next (or your first) professional acting job—you must develop the discipline to make the pursuit of happiness (working as a professional actor) part of your daily routine.

Half the working actors out there are less talented than you. The harsh reality is that they often have more success than you because they work harder at getting work than you do. This you can control. Here’s how:

  1. Do a mailing a day. Picture/Resume in an envelope addressed to an actual person with the name of the project you are self-submitting for. Forget the cover letter—a post-it™ with a quick salutation and maybe a note will suffice. If you have mutual friends or you want to invite them to something you have coming up, then a brief note is fine. As you begin to meet casting directors and agents and producers and directors—stay in touch with them. It may feel like you’re spinning your wheels but if just one of these relationships leads to an audition or a job then it’s worth it.

  2. If you’ve met anyone even remotely in the business you should have gotten that person’s contact information. Depending on the circumstances, you should follow that up with either a thank you note or a postcard with your headshot on it as a reminder of who you are, where, when, and how you met and a reiteration that you’re going to keep in touch. It could be that the host of the dinner party you attended last night as someone’s plus one is a producer. Maybe the guy you met at a political rally mentioned his friend is on the creative team of Hamilton and will introduce the two of you. Perhaps your headshot photographer hired you to hold his equipment when he shot the wedding of a Tony Award-winning director’s daughter. Later you got to meet the father of the bride and now he’ll remember you when you follow up. Maybe while working that restaurant job, you waited on the table of a producer and helped him show his guests a wonderful time—he’ll remember you—send a note with a picture and resume. Your actor friend heard his agent lost a client who is your type and tells you about it—you now know there may be a place for you at that agency. Then you send along your picture and resume with a brief note, get an interview and wind up signing with that agency. It’s all Six Degrees of Separation! Be relentless yet strategic with the stuff that is tangible and clear. The lists, the correspondence—it’s the follow-up that never ends. Seriously, keep in touch with anyone who has been or is likely to help in any way at all, all while keeping a professional distance.
  1. If you’re in musical theater you must sing. Every. Damn. Day. Seriously. Sing every day. Always be working on something new. Always. Once you’ve added a song to your book and you’ve perfected it—get to work on a new one. Your work is never done.

  2. Stretch, run, work out, go to dance class, do yoga, do Pilates, do something—anything—that keeps you fit and healthy. Every Day.

  3. Learn to play an instrument. The more you bring to the table, the more chances you’ll have to get a job. Learn to play the guitar, ukulele, piano, trumpet, drums—anything. Root through your basement at home and find the recorder you played in your fifth grade Spring Chorus Concert. Try and be capable on some instrument. Personality emerges when we watch someone playing an instrument. Trust me. It’ll come in handy. Or maybe it will just make you feel good. Either way, it’s a win-win.

There. Five things for you to do every day to keep your business plan on track and moving forward.

Keep a checklist and make these things as big a priority as if it were your money job—because frankly unless you’re signing a contract—that is your job. And once you book a job, keep it up. All jobs end. It’s the career that endures and it’s your job to carry on with it.

At the end of the day, doing those tasks may not always feel like progress and may even seem like busywork but it can’t hurt and will most probably give you a leg up even if you don’t know how or when. Also, there is dignity in discipline.


From Craft to Career: A Casting Director’s Guide for the Actor by Merri Sugarman written with Tracy Moss is now available via