How an actor and yoga teacher making $50 for an online class is getting by

Keri Setaro
Courtesy Joseph Marconi

For Keri Setaro, a yoga teacher and voice-over actor, the pandemic came with an unemployment "double whammy." Still, she hardly missed a beat.

"As an actor, I always thrived having lots of weird rules," she says. "Like if an author said, 'This is how it has to be done,' I became more creative with all the ways within that parameter it could be done. So I work very well within limitations, actually." 

Though Setaro is good at finding innovative ways to operate within constraints, she couldn't have foreseen how Covid-19 would disrupt her income, the majority of which came from teaching at YogaWorks and a handful of small "mom and pop" studios in Brooklyn. "I had one business that completely closed due to Covid, that was my W-2 [job], and the other ones that are strongly affected," she says.

The smaller studios where she taught were shut down temporarily. When YogaWorks permanently closed all its New York studios in mid-April, Setaro was laid off by email. 

Here's how Setaro, who is currently quarantining with her 18-month-old daughter and partner with extended family in New Jersey, is making ends meet.  

The earnings strategy: Virtual yoga and unemployment

At her smaller studios, Setaro had earned anywhere from $150 to $300 per class, depending on how many people were in attendance. At YogaWorks, Setaro earned $50 to $60 per class plus bonuses based on attendance, pulling in a total of about $300 per week.

She continues to teach a few virtual classes via Instagram Live and Patreon for them, but she pulls in only about $50 per class.

After being let go from YogaWorks, she knew she was eligible to apply for unemployment, but she hesitated. She found the application process "confusing" because her "employment comes from so many places." Also, the previous time she'd had to apply for unemployment, back in the early 2000s, didn't go smoothly. Setaro had more acting gigs then, and when she received an unexpected residual check after a TV episode she'd appeared on aired as a rerun, she had to reimburse the tax agency. The experience left her "gun shy" about applying for unemployment again. 

After waiting a bit, Setaro finally applied for unemployment based on her W-2 earnings from YogaWorks, and is still waiting on her claim. 

I have this fear of, 'What if the smaller studios close too?' So I have to find a plan for myself.
Keri Setaro
Yoga instructor, actor, and podcaster

With the pandemic upending the yoga and fitness industries, she's "trying to figure out the long haul." After all, she points out, "when things reopen I don't think people are going to be rushing back to a yoga studio where everyone is close quarters, sweaty, breathing." 

The small studios are staying afloat by way of personal loans and GoFundMe campaigns while waiting on PPP. Post-pandemic, Setaro suggests, change will accelerate, for both the industry and for her. "I have this fear of, 'What if the smaller studios close too?' So I have to find a plan for myself." 

The spending strategy: Meals that are 'so cheap' but filling

Setaro is finding ways to cut costs to offset her loss of income. Her partner's salary covers rent, which they're still paying on their Brooklyn apartment while quarantining with extended family in New Jersey. She's relying on savings she earned from a previous podcast, since her current podcast doesn't yet generate income. And she's spending less on food by cooking all her meals and splitting grocery costs with family members. 

One of her go-to quarantine meals is a simple pasta with fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, shallots, cooking wine, and a small amount of prosciutto. "It's so cheap, it feeds a lot, and it looks fancy, so you feel like you're fancy when you're eating it," she says. "You just put some shredded cheese on top and it's so filling."   

Her daily expenses have dipped dramatically: "It's not as hard here, financially, where I am in New Jersey. A bagel doesn't cost, like, $8."

Keri Setaro.
Photo by James Fideler

The silver lining: Teaching yoga virtually

Setaro sees big, and perhaps permanent, changes in her industry as it moves away from "big business yoga" and toward more "collaborative" teacher-run spaces. "Like, 'let's do yoga in my garage that I've made into a yoga studio,' so that you don't need 70 people to pay your bills, you need 10. Because I think people are going to feel more comfortable with those numbers, being in a [smaller] space."

For now, though, she's building on that new momentum by offering yoga on Instagram and Facebook live, and giving viewers the option to make a Venmo donation. It's free for now, but eventually she'll "need to monetize it," she says.

In the short term, she's looking for "a steady platform on which to teach virtually, such as Zoom or Namastream. In the long-term, Setaro, who has been practicing yoga for 20 years, foresees a return to the the way things were before yoga became trendy. "It'll be bring your own mat, wear your sweatpants. It'll be about the yoga, less about the glamorized version of it and the clothes."  

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