Today’s cool careers segment highlights someone many of you already know in the personal finance world: Stefanie O’Connell. Aside from having a really great personal finance blog called, The Broke & Beautiful Life, Stefanie is also a musical theater actress trying to make it in one of the toughest cities in the world: New York.
What I’ve always admired about people like Stefanie, who are in such a tough and often unforgiving industry, is the drive one must have in order to continue pursuing the dream of “making it on Broadway.” It would be easy…with probably no judgement from anyone, to pack up the one bedroom apartment many actors probably share with eight other people, and head back to the hometown from which they came and get a desk job. But many, like Stefanie, have found ways to make life in New York work, both on and off Broadway.
How did you get interested in theater?
I think I had the same experience a lot of little kids have growing up – participating in the school play and becoming totally infatuated with the theatre and storytelling. My mom loves to remind me of the story of my first musical performance. We were doing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and after it was over I couldn’t stop crying. When my mom asked why, I cried, “this was the best of my life and nothing will ever be better.” (Good news kids… it gets better).
What kind of training did you get?
I went to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and got myself a degree in Drama. (Go ahead, shake your heads at me).
Was there ever a time you debated doing something more “practical,” knowing that you’re in a tough business?
I think it was understood from the beginning of my college career that I would double major, not that my second major was super practical either (Psychology).
What are some professional jobs that you’ve had?
My first job out of college was on an international tour of the musical Cinderella, where we traveled around Asia performing for seven months. The show starred one of my idols growing up – Tony award winner, Lea Salonga (singing voice of Disney’s Mulan and Jasmine), and I got to understudy her as well as perform in the ensemble every night. That one is a definite highlight.
I’ve done several tours of musicals in the United States as well. More recently I was in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which played The Chicago Theatre in Chicago and Madison Square Garden in New York.
I think the first day of rehearsal for Cinderella was one of the most magical moments of my life. I was fresh out of school, 21 years old, in the Philippines, sitting in a room with my idol as my co-worker, and listening to her sing as we read and sang through the show for the first time. Just thinking about it gives me chills.
There are lots of moments like that that creep up on me when I’m working, and totally overwhelm me with humility and gratitude for what I get to do for a living.
What is the best thing about what you do?
When people see theatre, especially musical theatre and especially for the first time, it can be life changing for them. Being a part of that experience is powerful and important to remember when you’re thinking how tired you are of doing jazz hands for the 8th time in one week.
What is the hardest thing?
Money! Seriously, theatre is not lucrative like film and television (unless you’re already a film or television star). It’s also ridiculously unstable and unpredictable. I have a friend who was a lead on Broadway for two years, who hasn’t worked now in three years. There are no guarantees, even when you’ve “made it.”
What are some ways you supplement your theater income?
Up until last year I did a lot of random side hustling – babysitting, working in restaurants, personal assisting, etc. Now I run my blog, The Broke and Beautiful Life, and work primarily as a professional freelance writer. I’ll still take the occasional tradeshow hostess gig or assistant job, but starting my own business and working on my own terms has really saved my sanity. I can’t tell you how hard it is to get up to stand in line in the freezing cold at 6am for an audition when you didn’t get home from your restaurant job until 2am.
Get a skill. If you have a skill that allows you to create sources of income on your own terms – web design for example – you’ll have much greater flexibility, both financially and time wise when you start your career. Oh, and get your money right – obviously. Seriously though, I would caution young people against taking out big loans to finance a theatre degree. Carrying a crushing debt load in this business is just not worth it.
Do you have any ultimate goals with acting?
I just want to work on Broadway as much as possible. There are so many amazing shows out there and I want to be part of all of them!
Do you have any upcoming or current projects you’d like to plug?
I WROTE A BOOK! Yeah, so there’s that, you can check it out HERE (it’s about basic money lessons, told from my “starving artist” perspective).
I’m also looking to get more into speaking in 2015. Connecting with people is obviously my passion, and if I can motivate them, financially, or even more generally, to make meaningful change and progress towards their goals, I’ll be a happy lady. I think that’s the next big step for me. My new website, stefanieoconnell.com, has all the latest news and updates for what I’m doing on ALL fronts.