In a city where young, educated people with good jobs and a stable income now struggle with the sky-high costs of living in Toronto, you have to wonder how the 20 and 30-something artists, musicians and actors are surviving, let alone living.
What people may not realize is that you could easily find the very same actor or musician who you saw on Breakfast Television promoting a TV show or concert serving a tray of hors d’oeuvres at an event a few months later.
In between gigs, most need to supplement their income other ways.
Toronto artists are taking on side gigs in everything from the typical restaurant jobs, to catering work, market research groups and even promotional marketing gigs. “Among all of my friends who are artists in the city, one of the most frequent things we moan and groan about are the inconsistencies financially,” says Allie Dunbar, a Toronto-based actor. “You can book a commercial, for example, make more money in a day than you usually do in a month, and then have a dry spell.”
As a young actor paving her way in New York City and Toronto, she says she used to find balancing her passion projects with a “bread and butter job” almost impossible. “I would bartend until 4 am or nanny for a family every day and the impact on my acting career was never a good one,” said Dunbar. “I dreamed of a job where I could have flexibility, reasonable pay and a support system of artists and entrepreneurs.”
So, she created The Summerhill Club – a popular babysitting and tutoring service – because she wanted to “push the stereotype of the ‘starving exhausted artist’” and to create a more balanced work environment that supported artists. When artists on her roster book a gig, they can take as much time as possible off and be confident that they have work waiting for them if and when they need it.
Dunbar is not the only one to take proactive, entrepreneurial measures while working as an actor. Many have honed in on other skill sets, like photography, videography or acting coaching.
Toronto actor PJ Lazic owns Out of the Box Studio (OOTB), a private coaching and self-tape facility that’s become a go-to for actors – some will even fly in from Los Angeles to tape with him. He started OOTB six years ago as a side gig because he noticed a void in services available to actors. “I was frustrated that other facets of the industry take precedence over the artists themselves and yet, we’re expected to deliver our best work on-call without any help at all.”
Of course, it also means a stable flow of income for Lazic in addition to his acting gigs – and he is well aware of the financial struggles of an actor.
“All of my clients struggle financially. From beginners to series leads… Even when you’re making a ton of money, you don’t know how long it will last for. I’ve seen artists go from nothing to something, to nothing again. It’s all very humbling. That’s the reason why services like OOTB are so highly valued.”
Angela Besharah is another Toronto-based actor who opted for an entrepreneurial route within the industry. She is the owner of Inside Light Studio, a creative space that specializes in all things acting and photography-related. When she isn’t in front of the camera herself, she is a personal acting coach, offering self-tape coaching and filming privately out of her studio. She teaches two larger classes each week – a scene study (Fridays) and an on-camera class (Tuesdays).
As a sought-after photographer, Besharah also specializes in headshots for actors. “I try to book in one every other week,” she says. Mixed into her busy schedule are auditions, voice gigs and set work. As a director, she is also currently in post-production of her next short film, Rive.
Some gigs are a little more unusual. At the encouragement of fans on his fan page, over a decade after playing White DinoThunder Ranger on Power Rangers: DinoThunder, actor Jeff Parazzo decided to take a leap and join the comic convention circuit a few years back. Not only does it offer the chance to explore new cities all over the U.S., it puts extra dollars in his pocket for when he is back in Toronto. In between conventions, he can afford full focus to his acting pursuits.
While Dunbar, Lazic, Besharah and Parazzo have figured out lucrative ways to make ends meet, the struggle remains more real than ever for other Toronto artists, musicians and actors.
Not only is the city not getting any more affordable, the grassroots arts scene is actually threatened as of late – it seems like a different indie music venue is closing its doors on the regular. In the past year, we’ve seen the closure of everything from Hugh’s Room and Soybomb, to The Hoxton and the Hard Rock Café.
Indie theatre venues aren’t immune to this either, and a lot of actors are worried about the closing of indie venues. “I am absolutely concerned,” said Besharah. “We’ve lost a couple amazing indie spaces this year. There was Unit 102 & The Storefront Theatre and our famed Silver Dollar Room is slated to close at the end of this month. I’ve been looking to direct another play in the fall, and the options for space are now very limited in this city.”
She knows first-hand the struggles of the small-scale Toronto theatre scene, having co-ran an indie theatre herself. “Without grants and public support, it’s next to impossible,” says Besharah. “Sadly, there just isn’t much money working in theatre, which is a shame as I believe it’s such an important part of our culture fabric to see our stories reflected back to us.”
The good news is that the actors and artists are working hard to keep the indie scene alive and thriving.
“I think the indie theatre scene here is very unique,” says Dunbar. “There is a network of people who support each other, talk about theatre, go to theatre and make their own work. Likewise with the photography, fine art and film scene. There is something happening in Toronto; a low buzz of new work, coupled with excited and talented people who are realizing their voices need to be heard.”
As for the non-actor set, there are many ways to support local talent without breaking the bank yourself.
Do you think there is a better way Toronto could be supporting its indie artists community? Let Vv Magazine know in the comment section below or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.