The last time we talked, it was 2001, and I mentioned that I had a job as a receptionist in New York City; I went to Texas to do a film for the summer, thinking that I would just slide right back into my receptionist job when I returned. But as I was returning, while I was driving through Nashville toward home, a couple of planes crashed into the World Trade Center in my city.
New York City in the aftermath of 9/11 was, as you can imagine, a chaotic place. For several days, no one was allowed into the city unless they were emergency personnel. I stayed with my parents in New Jersey, watching the unbelievable footage on television over and over. When they finally opened the bridges and tunnels, I went to my old job headquarters on 6th Avenue and asked when I could begin working again. I needed to work. I had spent most of my savings doing an unpaid, low-budget film. My previous boss, a nice young woman from Staten Island, said they didn’t need me, and in light of the recent events, they needed to downsize and cut costs.
Many events converged to put me out of a job in September of 2001, but half of the city was out of a job. Lots of people were volunteering at Ground Zero or around the city to help families find their loved ones. I decided this was the perfect moment for unemployment insurance.
So, this stuff is insurance, and our employers pay it on our behalf. Sometimes we need to use those systems that are set up as safety nets. Sometimes we fall, and a program like unemployment insurance is designed to catch us. I used the few months after 9/11 on unemployment insurance to audition vigorously for any and all performance opportunities. I worked a day here and there as an extra on several television shows. I spent time with actor friends, working on audition material and perfecting my acting resume. And this work actually did pay off.
In early December of 2001, I found out I got a really good tour gig. This 6 month tour would be a children’s theatre production in schools and venues across the country. We would get in a van, drive to St. Louis or Montauk or Ithaca or Cleveland, check into a cheap hotel, put up our set, perform our 60 minute musical, and drive on. Sounds like hard work, right? It was. But we were paid fairly well; we got to join the actor’s union, and we got health insurance because of the union. In all, it was an amazing break for me.
Next time, I’ll talk about what happened on the road. Hope your semester is going great and that you’re enjoying “Confessions of a Career Changer”.
Jessica Baron is currently a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at OSU and a full time student in the College Student Services Administration Program. Before making her way to Oregon State, Jessica worked as an actor, waiter, online tutor, receptionist, college composition instructor, creative writer, gas station attendant, nonprofit program director, writing workshop leader, high school drama coach, Hallmark card straightener, substitute teacher, real estate office manager, and SAT tutor, not necessarily in that order. Her “Confessions of a Career Changer” will focus on her wavy career path and the challenges and joys of wanting to do everything.