Bartending, coding, and other side hustles: How a Broadway actor makes ends meet

Broadway performer Katerina Papacostas.
Photo by David Fang

Broadway performer Katerina Papacostas says that there are "two parts" to the business of professional theater: "Being an artist, and sustaining and auditioning and living when you're not working."

Papacostas recently performed as an ensemble cast member in the Broadway musical "Tootsie," which ran from April 2019 to January 2020. While it's not uncommon for performers to have some downtime between productions, it's these gaps between when one show ends and the next one begins that are most trying, says Papacostas. 

"Auditioning is grueling," she says, "both physically and emotionally, and you need to sustain yourself financially in those in-betweens."

To make ends meet during those "in-betweens," Papacostas has worked several side hustles, including an unusual one: She's been a coding instructor at the Flatiron School since 2018.

Broadway performer shares what it takes to have a career in theater

Video by David Fang

Broadway actors make a weekly minimum wage of $2,168, according to Broadway Journal and a recent post on Backstage. While that could cover a one-bedroom apartment at $3,000, the median monthly rent in New York City according to Zumper, a Broadway performer without a side hustle, or several, may have to stretch out those earnings for weeks or even months between shows.

What's more, rent is only one part of a living package, and a professional performer like Papacostas may well have other ongoing and costly career-related expenses. 

"Voice lessons can cost anywhere between $100 and $300 per hour," says Papacostas. "A good pair of dance shoes that'll last you a couple years is about $300, $400. Dance clothes are $20 to $150, depending on what you're buying."

So finding other ways to earn money on the side is crucial.

'I'm gonna apply to coding school'

Papacostas started dancing as a kid and found her passion for theater in high school, when she began performing in plays. Attending New York University as an undergrad, she began auditioning for roles throughout the city and slowly built up a repertoire. Some of her accolades to date include playing Nicola in the first national tour of Broadway show "Kinky Boots" and performing in the ensemble of the first national tour of "Evita."

From the beginning of her career, Papacostas has always had to balance theater and performance with other side work. She bartended in the city for five years, for instance, and has taught fitness classes. 

After touring with "Kinky Boots," she decided she'd take on something quite different.

Broadway performer Katerina Papacostas.
Photo by David Fang

Having auditioned and come close to being cast in four different projects, Papacostas was rejected from all of them. "And I just said, 'All right, screw it, I'm gonna apply to coding school,'" she says. "It was just a way to have a skill set that was more lucrative and a little less taxing than bartending and teaching fitness."

Papacostas attended the Flatiron School's web development boot camp, where students develop expertise in programming that qualifies them to become full-stack web developers. Papacostas now teaches coding at the Flatiron School herself. On average, coding instructors make $15 per hour, according to Glassdoor. 

Coding, she finds, is a flexible way to supplement the income she earns onstage, and it's a job she finds both as interesting and exciting as theater. 

Overall, though, it's hard for even multitalented and lucky performers to make it in New York City. If you want to try it, make sure you know what you're up against, and make sure you're committed: "This career is too challenging emotionally, financially, and physically, to keep doing if you're not 100% sure it's what you want to be doing," she says. 

Additional reporting by David Fang.

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