Before they made it big, the Broadway stars of today were just like many other actors struggling to book it in the Big Apple. They get real with Playbill about the survival jobs that allowed them to pursue their real passions.
1. Unpopular Party Guest
Former Kinky Boots star Wayne Brady used to dress up as characters and perform at kids’ parties, except he wasn’t always welcome. “The kids never liked the characters, so I'd walk in and get booed at the parties,” he tells Playbill. When he was 15, the Emmy winner was also a door-to-door salesman, selling car wash kits, brushes and other assorted goods.
2. Cleaning Crew
Stage and screen star Sam Rockwell had an array of jobs while starting out as an actor: burrito delivery man, busboy, bar back, but the worst? “I think taking debris out of a dead woman’s house,” he says. “That was the worst, that was pretty bad.”
3. Field Worker
Growing up in a rural area and living on a farm, Tony winner Kelli O’Hara didn’t have much choice when it came to her pre-theatre hustle. “My first job was chopping cotton,” she confesses. “From the time I was seven or eight until I was 15. I wore some sunscreen but I chopped cotton in my bikini so I’d get a tan. I wore shorts and a bikini top. We all chopped cotton; you made a little money and helped your dad.”
4. Jack of All Trades
Seminar star Hamish Linklater also boasts an eclectic resume of side jobs that supported his acting career, including a one-day stint as a busboy at Café Mozart, filing death certificates at an insurance company and tending the cash register at the Drama Book Shop, the longest-running of all his endeavors. Linlkater says he also tried his hand at sign-making, without much luck. “I would make big signs that go on windows. It was really hard,” he says. “That guy screamed at me, and I only lasted two weeks...It wasn't just my father who thought I was useless as a practical tradesperson.”
5. Faceless Waitress
While Waitress star Jessie Mueller says she never was one herself, she did work as a caterer— what she describes as “a faceless waitress.” “Catering is like being a human tray,” says the Tony winner. “I enjoyed aspects of it, though, because I think I actually enjoyed the sort of, ‘I don’t really have to deal with people. I’m a fly on the wall.’ And, I got to go to a lot of fancy people’s houses that were gorgeous, and the precision of setting things up—I dug that!”
Tuck Everlasting star Andrew Keenan-Bolger describes being a telemarketer as “so terrible.” The Broadway actor used to call recent college graduates for donations, but his phone calls were not always well-received. “People said really mean things to me on the phone. I know how to get on the do-not-call list,” he laughs.
7. Cinema Staff
Fool For Love's Tom Pelphrey worked at a movie theatre in college, but when his manager told him he couldn't leave early enough on Christmas Eve, he walked out. “I just left,” he says. Though it didn't sound like they were too strict. “When I went back about a month later to pick up my last paycheck they asked me if I wanted to come back to work.”
8. Chief Cook and Bottlewasher
Like most actors, Nick Cordero worked his fair share of hospitality jobs, from cook to a waiter. “Every waiting job is your ‘last,’ so if you have an opportunity to leave, you’re like, ‘Get rid of that apron! I’ll never use it again,‘ and then you go back to it,” he says. The Waitress star says working in restaurants isn't so bad for actors, as it can be a great place to network and hone some physical skills. “It’s a good thing to learn how to do because you meet a lot of actors—especially in New York—you meet a lot of people who are doing the same thing you are. It’s a great way to establish a community, and you learn to multi-task, which, quite frankly, if you’re an actor in New York, is a good skill to have.”
9. Macy's Perfume Girl
Carolee Carmello may have never worked as a waitress, but she still sold things to strangers. “I was one of the girls who sprayed perfume in Macy's,” the Broadway star says. “I also did temp jobs on the streets like handing out cigarettes and packs of gum.” The Finding Neverland star says she was lucky enough to also book jobs in theatre that kept her afloat. “Every time I was about to leave and go back to law school, I would get another job that would suck me back in.”
10. Substitute Teacher
Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda was a substitute teacher while he worked on his creative projects. When he was offered a part-time job teaching at his old high school, he considered taking the secure paycheck. “What should I do? Should I keep teaching or should I just kind of sub and do gigs to pay the rent and really throw myself into writing full time?” Miranda remembers questioning at the time. The answer came from his father, who despite having wanted his son to be a lawyer, advised him to follow his heart and focus on his writing.