Moonlighting for art

There’s a reason for the “starving artist” stereotype: It’s true. Making a living in the arts is hard for anyone, and that goes double in a relatively small city like Asheville. It all boils down to supply and demand. Our fair city may be a haven for creative types, many of whom moved here because of the blossoming arts scene, but that wealth of talent has also created something of a buyer’s market.

The grim reality is that unless you have a nice, fat grant or an exceptionally supportive family, you’ll likely need a day job until you can follow your dream all the way to the bank.

To keep the wolf from the door, most talented local artists moonlight while waiting for their ship to come in. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though almost everyone in the local service industry dreams of being something more — not surprising to anyone who’s had to close a bar or wash dishes for a living.

Then again, not all day jobs are created equal.

Take Eric Schweitzer‘s day job, for instance. Although he’s slowly working his way into becoming a full-time professional magician, paying the bills requires more than a little sleight of hand. Meanwhile, Schweitzer works with adults who have developmental disabilities, coordinating the efforts of a variety of doctors and therapists to help make his charges’ quality of life the best it can be.

“It is a bit of a presentation,” Schweitzer says, reflecting that in some ways, his day job isn’t all that different from being a magician. At the core of both is, as he puts it, “getting up in front of people and getting them involved.”

But that doesn’t mean he keeps the two completely separate. In fact, he occasionally uses magic tricks from his show as a way to break the ice with co-workers and patients alike.

For the time being, Schweitzer says he sees his magic act as a “really nice part-time job,” which he’s slowly trying to turn into a full-time one. His wife, Darrah, recently quit her full-time job to work as his booking agent and has begun pursuing her own creative profession, face-painting. In the next few years, the couple hope they’ll be able support themselves entirely off these creative efforts.

But for someone like local actress Kay Galvin, making a living from her creative passion may be even more of a challenge. A noted performer in regional theater — she’s currently rehearsing in the Montford Park Players’ production of the classic British farce She Stoops to Conquer — Galvin has lived in Asheville for more than 15 years, making her something of an authority of local backstage life.

“Being in Asheville is limiting if you want to be a working actor,” she says. “Certainly you can’t make a living — that’s a given. You have to maintain some sort of day job, but that’s true of actors elsewhere.”

Galvin works as a medical case manager, a job she says causes her “major stress.” A former full-time nurse, she now helps injured workers get the help they need so they can get back to work. Although she has the relative luxury of working from home, Galvin says she spends many of her working hours on the road, tying up loose ends with attorneys, waiting with patients in doctors’ offices, and checking in with employers.

“I’m the one in the middle juggling everything,” she jokes. But why would someone as talented and experienced in her craft as Galvin choose to pursue such a decidedly mainstream profession, rather than trying to make it as a big-city actress?

“I’m on the other side of 50, and I’ve got a mortgage,” she says. “There’s big risks involved, and there’s no guarantees that someone is going to employ you as an actor, no matter how experienced you may be. But I have this hope that in a few years, I can work part time and pursue acting more. Maybe when I retire I can do my own thing — they’re always looking for character actors.”

And to drive home her point, Galvin sarcastically adds, “Or maybe I’ll win the lottery.”


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