Monday, December 5, 2011

My day job

I've never written about it on here before, but I was talking to another props master recently, and we were talking about money troubles and being freelance. I figured I should be honest. I have a day job.

I had a mild panic freak out about three months after I moved to the city. Money was tight, but things were starting to pick up a bit. I was hopeful. Then I found out that a costume designer I was working with had a day job cutting fabric and teaching classes at Joanns. This was a successful designer that I knew was working in multiple larger theatres around the city. She had been around for years. If she couldn't make a living doing it, could anyone? Is it absolutely impossible to make a living being a totally freelance designer in Chicago.

I am stubborn and hardworking, I thought, I can do it. I did some math and decided that I was going to be able to make it. For almost two years, each time money got really tight or I got worried, a big show seemed to show up and I had enough to continue on (not living well, mind you, this was always paycheck-to-paycheck stuff). I had just enough to hush that voice in the back of my head telling me that I would never make a living.

Finally, last November everything broke down. For a couple of weeks I was dead broke, eating cans of soup from the back of the cabinet, can't take a toll road today because I don't have the $0.80 broke. The worst part was that on paper I should have been fine. Between reimbursements I was owed and pay checks, I had three theatres that owed me, collectively, more than $4,000. Then my car broke down.
My parents were able to help me out with the car, my boyfriend was able to help me with some cash, some of the checks I was waiting for finally showed up, and I got through it. That was a bit of a turning point for me though. I was ready to look for a day job.

My problem was that I needed a day job that was consistent. I had tried working at Joanns, but shift work was too unpredictable. My schedule changed every week and I was never able do do things like plan meetings. The same applied to temp work. They wanted to know when I would be busy, but I never knew far enough ahead of time. I couldn't take a full day job without completely giving up propping. I needed 20 hours a week, roughly the same 20 every week (with a little flexibility). I needed to be able to plan production meetings and work calls around something and I needed time every week when I would be free so I could go shopping when the thrift and antique stores were open. I started asking around at the start of the year to see if anyone had any leads.

Around March I interviewed to become a nanny for a baby that was due to be born in April. I was offered the job in late April with a start date of June 1st. About the same time as the nanny job came up I started getting offers for summer gigs. I had enough offers to financially get me through the summer, and things were starting to materialize for fall gig offers. I could keep going, freelancing, watching things getting slowly incrementally  better, or I could turn down half of the summer jobs I had been offered (all with good theatres I wanted to work with) in exchange for a bit of stability. I had to make a decision. I took the nanny job.

I watch a sweet baby girl two days a week now, and (though it sometimes requires more night and weekend hours than I used to work) I get all of my props work done during the rest of the week.
It might be technically possible to make a living doing props freelance, but I am no longer interested in proving it. My game plan now is to be a little more selective in the shows I take, make sure that I rock every show that I do (which should be easier when I'm not overwhelmed with too many shows at once), and build a solid reputation that I can use to earn that awesome full-time job doing props, when one of the few that exists opens up. In the mean time I have the comfort that comes with knowing where a little bit of money is coming from every single week.