Theatre. Can you make a living out of it?

When we tell people that we are engaged in the art industry rather than banking, law or finance, the question that very often and almost immediately pops out from the other side is the following:

“Do you actually get paid for what you do?”

Being an artist has a lot of difficulties. At times, artists are happy to give their own time and effort to the community just to pursue what they love the most – and, at times, a concerned expression from the listener follows; why would one do something for free when you can get a well-paid job?

The question is: can one make a living as an artist? Maybe. Can one make a living as an actor in Hong Kong? Not impossible, but hard. If you, like me, dread the office life and the 9 to 6 (is it even ever 6, anyway?) routine, then there is some good news: if you are willing to work things around, chances are that you will get paid for doing what you love the most. Will it be all sweet and roses and cupcakes and flowers? No. However, one always needs to balance the sourness with the sweetness. Crap always comes with any circumstances; how much are we willing to handle? If, despite the crap, you still feel lucky and blessed to be doing what you are doing, then most likely you are on the right path. Are you in the situation where you really cannot take your full-time job any longer, and you have an itch to do what you love the most?

Put everything under consideration, and then decide whether a different and more volatile job option would be better for you.

Several artists in Hong Kong from different backgrounds and nationalities are often engaged in the following activities, that pay and that allow individuals to make a decent living:

– Voice over and dubbing.

Usually, the most wanted dialects are American and British English. Voice talents are usually requested to be able to work their voices for a particular character (very often cartoons) with a particular pitch and tone. This is a great chance for native speakers; however, for those who do not have English as a first language, there are companies in the market who need other languages for launches of products or events. A bit more boring and perhaps more sporadic, yet it pays well. Make a Google search for translation and language companies in Hong Kong, and leave your details with a few of them. They might not get back to you immediately, but something always comes up. You never know.

– Drama teaching.

Drama in Hong Kong is becoming more and more popular since it became included as elective in DSE; schools have also understood that it is one of the most effective tools for students to develop and improve their oral abilities. Many schools and institutions, both local and international, have drama departments and they always look for talents who can lead groups of students towards drama introductions or school productions. This option can be both part time and full time; teaching artists can be hired directly from schools, as well as through agencies (Eureka English Centre) or providers (Dramatic English), and usually the money is more than decent enough to make a living out of it. It is a great opportunity for teaching artists, as they get to work in drama and get to spread the word about it to younger audiences, inspiring them and guiding them towards a possible artistic future. Being a drama coach has its charms, and can bring a lot of satisfaction, as well as personal growth.

– T.I.E performer.

Many artists in Hong Kong, myself included, are involved in this kind of activity. There are a few companies around town that are always on the lookouts for talents (AFTEC and Chunky Onion as an example) as they put on shows that tour around schools and theatres. It is a fantastic opportunity for actors to be working in their field of interest and get paid for it. As I have mentioned before, drama in Hong Kong is becoming more and more of a big deal, and schools are not only willing to pay for courses and workshops, but also for shows to come to their venues and entertain the students.

– Movie and camera acting.

This is definitely a freelance, one-off thing; however, there are production companies in town that always search for different types of looks and talents. Your best bet is to contact the various local production companies and drop your contact details, photos and resume. Whenever they have a movie coming up they might give you a call; wage depends on the importance of your role (on whether you are a lead or an extra), and you should take long hours and plenty of sitting around into account (remember to have something to read). In Hong Kong, it is often the case of dealing with movie productions coming from abroad and looking for extras or one-line speaking roles. Therefore thinking about movies as a possible career move is particularly hard. It is still great to do it as it can be a great opportunity and can help you create more contacts for your acting network.

-Extra in Opera and Ballet productions.

With the Hong Kong Art Festival coming up yearly, opera and ballet productions always look for extras to fill the background. Opera singing or ballet training are not requested, as it is more important to have the right look and physicality depending on what part they are looking for.

And ultimately…… do your own!

– Create your own theatre company and put productions on.

Alright, as this is going to be a long discussion, we’ll leave this for another time. Yet, it is something to put under consideration.

As you can see, the choices are multiple. At this point, consider what you value the most in your daily life (stability, security, freedom?) and decide what works best for you. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t have a regular job, and you should prioritize what works best for you. Life’s too short to be wasted with the wrong industry, profession, boss, and so forth.