Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Lauren O’Brien was juggling three jobs: She’s an on-camera actor; a comedian and house performer at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, California; and, along with her musician husband, Matt Commerce, the owner of a small events-booking business. All three, she told me with a sigh over the phone this week, “collapsed at the same time,” when California issued a statewide mandate to shelter in place. Working from home isn’t applicable when crews can’t gather for shoots, theaters are closed, and events are canceled in droves.
The couple confronted their new reality quickly: They slashed their spending, asked to defer payments on their credit cards, and planned to talk with their landlord. “We went from a difficult discussion to tears to freaking out to ‘Okay, what do we do, then?’” she said, adding that they’re also the parents of a 3-year-old son. “We’re just kind of on a wing and a prayer now.”
The pandemic is hitting every part of the economy, but when it comes to the entertainment industry, actors in particular are paying a steep price financially and creatively. The vocation has always come with financial uncertainty, but today’s acting community had been working in a flourishing landscape. The number of television shows airing every year surged to a new peak in 2019 thanks to streaming services, and more productions meant more opportunities to be cast. Pilot season—traditionally a months-long stretch from January to April when actors flock to Los Angeles to audition for new shows—had lately morphed into an all-year-long process. And between creator-focused crowdfunding sites such as Patreon and social-media platforms, performers had been finding more and more outlets for expressing their art.