By Whittney Millsap
How does an actor in Atlanta make a living? While we may think of “actors” as people who move here from Hollywood to work in our film industry, there are many home-grown talents working smaller gigs that keep Atlantans entertained. My name is Whittney Millsap and I am an actor, an ensemble member at Dad’s Garage, and even a homeowner! I’d like to share with you what it’s like to be an actor in Atlanta, and how I support myself through creative work.
I’ve been a performer my entire life. When I was 3 years old I would stand on my grams’ coffee table and give full performances, singing and dancing, for anyone who would watch. I went to LaGrange College, where I began my development as an actor and received my B.A. in Theatre Arts, and then moved to Atlanta in 2008. I was an actor with a day job for several years, until going fully freelance in 2014.
In order to be a full-time artist, it takes a certain level of discipline. You, the artist, are essentially a small business owner and you alone are responsible for all parts; marketing, accounting, scheduling, customer service, content development, product development, and never forget you are the product. Every moment it’s a simultaneous juggle.
Before I became a full-time artist I was a restaurant hostess, bank teller, employee of the Georgia Aquarium (first Guest Programs and later the Education department), and finally Manager of a luxury hair salon. Working a day gig while trying to establish and cultivate an arts career is a lot of schedule juggling, which is at times difficult as well as taxing on your body. Working an 8 hour day and then going straight to the theatre until 2 am leaves little time for sleep or anything else. It certainly brings into focus what exactly you want, how much you want it, and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your career as an artist.
The biggest challenge being a full-time actor is work/life balance. Since you are in charge of your scheduling, you’re also in charge of creating time off. I often work 7 days a week, hour to hour. Sometimes it’s necessary because everything is time sensitive; plus there’s always the thought of “who knows when the next job is coming along- take the gig!” However, sometimes it’s just as important to understand that time off would be more valuable than the check.
On a practical note, I have the same bills and expenses as anybody else. The difference is that as an actor I’m pulling together multiple paychecks every month to cover my expenses. I’ve also been able to buy my own home, which is an incredible accomplishment for anybody! I get insurance through the marketplace. In fact, without it, I’m not sure that I could afford it. In all complete and absolute seriousness, Thanks, Obama.
Last month, I worked 35 different gigs- ranging from teaching improv, private acting coaching, taping/coaching actors film auditions, performing improv shows, performing dinner theatre, and recording radio voice-overs. Those were 35 different scheduling correspondences (often times multiples for each), invoices, delivery of service, customer service follow-ups, and collection of payment. These were just the gigs that helped me pay my bills, this is not including the hours spent marketing, development meetings for new projects/content, rehearsals, auditions, and networking.
Being a full-time artist requires a lot of time, dedication, and energy. But even on it’s hardest days, there is no other job or life I would be satisfied with.