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Can an actor make a middle-class living in D.C.?

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Yes! With one caveat: Not as an actor. Or, specifically, not only as an actor. “I know of actors who only do things in the arts,” says Holly Twyford, a four-time Helen Hayes Award winner widely recognized as one of D.C.’s best stage actors. “But they aren’t just actors.” Over the years, Twyford has been a bartender, made training videos for federal agencies, and delivered City Paper. She’s also done work as an “under five”—an extra with fewer than five lines—on bigger-budget flicks. “I get checks that are, I’m not exaggerating, like $1.63,” she says of the residual payments.

Likewise, Marcus Kyd—now rehearsing The Gaming Table at Folger Theatre—teaches summers at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre and has done background work on TV shows, including The Wire. (To D.C. area actors, David Simon’s crime show, like Homicide before it, was a cash cow.) Still, Kyd says he lives on Capitol Hill “solely by the generosity of my housemate.” Middle class, it seems, is a tricky descriptor. “I guess it depends on what standard of living you’re used to,” Kyd says.

Which is why a lot of actors try to move into management. JoAnn Williams, executive director of African Continuum Theatre, decided she had to go white-collar to stay afloat. “It was my choice to move into administration to have a stable income,” she emails. “From my experience as an African-American actress in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, it is almost impossible to maintain a middle-class life performing in theater because there are just not enough jobs in the area for my type.”