I was recently reading the multitude of posts by the brilliant Ben Whitehair, fellow PlaybillsvsPayingBills contributor, and I realized that I have fallen behind (again). I’ve been busy crashing EPAs (Equity Principle Auditions – which, side note: are always open to non-union actors if you are willing to get there an hour, two hours, a day early) but mostly indulging in my post-collegiate angst by streaming… 2… 4…. 6 Netflix videos a day while working retail at the Urban Outfitters in the middle of hipsterville. Lets admit it: I just graduated college, I just moved away from home for the first time, I am just now fully supporting myself for the first time, I know no one here and am doing this all for the first time, alone, and in New York City. I am not excusing my lack of enthusiasm for blogging or my recent dip into the recession-depression, but I am admitting to it. Right here, right now: I admit it. I have been a big WET BLANKET. Boo, Emily. Boo. Not okay.
So, to get me back into the swing of things – I am going to respond to Ben’s blog about why or why not to move to L.A., New York City, or Chicago. He chose L.A. and has given many of his reasons for doing so in his post, City of Angels. Granted, I have only been here for 3 months and I will be very honest in saying that I have no clear answers on how to succeed here as I am not doing that. But I am surviving. And I did make the choice to move here over the other options so I will share with you those reasons now.
NYC is awesome …
…though maybe not for everyone. New York City is alive. It is its own character that just happens to host millions of people with their own unique and lively characters. It has a pulse, a rhythm, but also a demanding pace that you can quickly get lost within if you do not have a good head on your shoulders that can keep you above water. I love the possibilities of New York – when a project fails, when an opportunity passes you by, there are millions and millions to look forward to within the next blink of an eye. The people, the culture, the food – I can say that I both love them and hate them for their own reasons (and the main reason would have to be money). Its an expensive place to live and there is no denying that. Free things can be great but, for the most part, this is life. And you have to grow up quickly if you are going to live here without the ‘rents picking up the tab. But, if I am grateful for anything over these past three months, I am so grateful for the smack in the face that New York has given me. I have grown up more in these couple of weeks than in the total sum of my life before moving here. New York teaches you about discipline, hard work, earning what you get, and being proud of every single thing you accomplish because you have to work your ass off for it all. You will never feel like you havent accomplished something – theres always a sense of fulfillment for just surviving the day. And of course – New York City is the center of the world: theatre, film, museums, clubs, restaurants, universities, parks, rivers, public transportation, new ideas, artists, musicians, the greatest hospitals, etc, etc, etc… You will find it ALL here.
Apart from money, like Ben, I have also noticed that #1 reason people don’t like New York City is related to community: “If you don’t find/establish a community, you will be lost.” There are people everywhere but at the same time, it can make you feel even more alone if you have no one. I moved here alone and that has been the hardest part for me. “If you don’t have cool/fun/invigorating people in your life, you won’t like where you’re living. Duh. It has little to do with (NYC) itself…”
There is an insane amount of opportunity here
Haha, I can pretty much copy and paste this section verbatim from Ben. I will do just that and interject my own differences tailored for NYC. Here goes: “I often hear people talk about how moving to (New York City) is scary or a bad move because there are so many other actors here. While I suppose that’s true, it has been mind boggling to experience how many things are being filmed (and how many shows are being cast) at any given time in this city. The number of short films, student films, commercials, TV shows, etc. being put on tape at any given second in this city is nuts.” In New York City, you will find there is decidedly more Musical Theatre and more stage productions than film projects. I think that the BIG fear for people moving to NYC is not that there are so many actors here, its that there are so many TRAINED actors here. There is a mild pretension here that REAL actors go to New York City because stage work is more legit than film or something bogus like that. I was worried that this would be the case but it was also NYC’s appeal for me as I felt that I would be joining the ranks of legends. I have realized that there are just as many pretty people with no training here as there is everywhere else so dont let the pretension scare you away. The truth is that there are good actors and bad actors everywhere. And then there is you. You can only be you. So, that is what I am trying to do: be the actor that I am and continue to grow, evolve, and challenge myself every step of the way to keep up with the ‘legit New York actor’ as well as the ‘beautiful starlet.’
Unlike Ben, I started focusing on the stage when I was in the second grade. I vaguely recall a post of Ben’s where he compared a lady with outside interests and a man who lives-eats-breaths only theatre and said that the girl with outside interests would be more successful in the long run. I took a deep breath when I realized that I am much more the theatre-nerd guy (though I DO do Jiu Jitsu, fine arts, and write). After I graduated, I was very lucky and went straight into an educational touring production of Hamlet with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and then acted in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s summer season for the second year before moving to New York City. I moved here having gone on 2 professional auditions: the tour and the summer festival. When I moved here, I began submitting for everything on day 1. I bought toilet paper and a bed on day 2. I had an audition on day 3. I have not booked anything substantial. I’ve probably submitted myself for an average of 25-50 projects every day, I’ve probably gone on a total of 60 auditions so far (including the ones that accepted my submissions and actually scheduled me an audition as well as EPA’s that I have crashed and gotten in to). Of these auditons, I have gotten 1 student film project and no call backs for anything else. I have not doubled my resume by any means. My resume is awesome but quickly growing out of date. The only thing that I can say is this: a man from The New School came to my audition techniques class my Junior year of University and told my eager BFA class that, in NYC, you have to audition 100 times before you get 1 call back. In New York City, it is, sadly, ALL about who you know. A Broadway director friend of mine (who was AD for Julie Taymor’s The Lion King) told me that the first thing she looks for on a resume is to find how she may be linked to that person – who do they know in common. So, its slow here: getting a connection is equivalent to getting the role which makes auditioning pay for itself. Especially since, when you arent getting the chance to perform, you get to do it in that little room as frequently as you are able. You learn to LOVE auditioning because it becomes your chance to perform.
I, too, am a nobody here. I don’t have an agent, had never been on a legit TV show, and wasn’t in any of the unions. I am EMC (equity membership candidate for the Actors Equity Association) but it has only gotten me to the head of the line once. But I have heard on more than 50 occassions, successful actors say this: you do NOT need an agent, you do NOT need to be equity, and you do NOT need to shamelessly sleep with everyone to make it here (especially on the stage).
The traffic DOES NOT SUCK and public transportation is AWESOME (but expensive)
You do not need a car here. I never took my driving test because I knew I’d be coming to NYC. You do, however, need to get around somehow (especially if you arent living in Manhattan and even when you are). Its a small place, you will learn, but its not small enough to walk absolutely everywhere efficiently. You have to pay for some mode of transport. The subway is awesome and I find to be mostly reliable but its $89 a month for an unlimited pass (which is justifiable if you use your pass at least twice a day). Traffic only sucks if you have a car or if you ride in cabs. But my thought has always been this: plan for traffic. Plan for incidentals. PLAN. There are so few things you can control in the audition/work process. One of these things is your punctuality. Wasting someone else’s time is a clear way to make a bad impression.
There are seasons and each is beautiful.
Fall in New York City is THE BEST thing to look at in the world. You get magical snowy winters, you get beautiful blooming springs, and … you get sweaty awful summers. BUT, everyone leaves for the summer which makes it worth sticking through. Pools, beaches, few pieces of clothing.. there are ways around the heat. Its not too bad if you enjoy change and seasons. My main reason for not moving to Chicago is the weather reason; I HATE WIND. Chicago is a magnificent theatre city with, albeit, amazing stage actors and incredible training programs. Its the damn wind. THE WIND. Dont even bring it up, I dont want to talk about it anymore!!!
The competition will kill you
I think I’ll just quote Ben verbatim on this one too: “Ok, whomever is spreading this rumor should be flogged. Yes, there are a ton of actors here. Yes, there are lots of people who look just like you. Yes, there are tons of beautiful people. Yes, there are lots of very talented actors. No, there are not enough jobs for everyone.” BUT…
- The actors here are nice (albeit, CUT THROAT, in New York City but I think its because we have winters with snow and so people have to worry about the whole keeping warm issue). I haven’t met a single actor who was discouraging towards me or didn’t help in any way they could. People want to help others. They want to help you succeed, because then you might return the favor. We’re artists, we’re in this together.
- 80% (maybe 50% in NYC) of the “actors” here aren’t taking the business seriously. This was definitely the most shocking part of moving here. (Half of the) “actors” here don’t have training, are using black and white headshots, don’t treat acting like a business, or spend only a few hours a week in pursuit of the career – OR are relying on AGENTS to get them work. My point is that the mere commitment of 20+ hours/week pursuing an acting career here will put you far beyond the vast majority of actors in this city. (The problem with NYC being that the expences get to be so much that actors find themselves immersed in their days jobs too much to commit this 20 hours to their business).”
Access to resources
There are classes, readings, internships, workshops, non-union projects, student work, fringe festivals, other struggling artists, the best univiersities, performance libraries, drama book shops, and millions of ideas and unique experiences here. I have found that there are tons of options for resources and making your own work, meeting the right people (actors connection, one-on-ones, etc), and things of that matter. BUT there is ALSO an enormous amount of inspiration here. I find that I write and think more on one 10 minute ride on the subway than I ever did sitting in a course in college learning correct sentence structures or how to play an intention. If acting is a reflection of society and human culture – there is NO BETTER place in the world to observe that than in New York City. (Insert my ridiculous stories incurred through every subway ride… but thats for another post).
No one cares what you did elsewhere
This is NOT a blessing for me (though I am very happy for Ben that it is for him). One notable exception is studying with Second City in Chicago, or being in legit LA features, but even then… Unless the things on your resume are currently running on Broadway (or also airing on NBC), people don’t really care.
“This absolutely does not mean that having things on a resume, building a reel, or honing your craft in other cities is useless, it just means that everyone moving here is starting at square one.” This is scary. But this is also a blessing. Starting at square one gives you no attachments. No one knows what to expect from you and you have no reputation: you have every chance in the world to make everything you want happen! You can… do whatever the hell you want (in theory). Its kind of exciting. Terrifying too because you dont want to make any mistakes upon all of these first impressions. Eh, two way streets. Its all in how you choose to view it.
For New York City, you can build a resume, stay in a small city and get experience and stuff like that. But, like LA, its kind of BS. Its not that people only want to see NYC stuff on the bill (which they DO) but its that they want to know WHO YOU KNOW. So… thats the real, daunting task of NYC. Slow and steady wins the race. You cant force people to accept you in and know the real you and what you’re about in one audition, in only three months of living here, and with no New York City credits. Ho hum. Keep trucking and bringing GREAT work to auditions. Again, the audition (even when you dont get the part) is KEY to getting to know who you need to know and make that tiny teeny step.
New York City is a much older crowd – in ALL areas of work. Its often said here that the 20-somethings of NYC are barely scraping by and that we are the ‘work-horses.’ Paying your dues was an expression MADE for New York City. Like Ben, “I was rather shocked to find that I am very young relative to the majority of actors taking the business seriously.” At the Equity auditions, I am definitely one of the youngest people there who isnt technically non-union because I am EMC (because becoming union takes a long time or at least a few shows). Under 30 is “young” in this city. If you’re under that age people don’t really expect you to have done anything – UNLESS you’re Musical Theatre. If you are Musical Theatre – you have got to have it from 13+. But, whats nice about NYC, there are shows here for all 60yr olds, there are shows here for all 30 yr olds. Just know that the people playing these parts and getting these roles have been here for min 10 years (on average) – so, know that you’re committing to a world of ages here.
What I would say to those of you thinking about moving here? DO IT. But do it when you are ready.
New York is a hard place to live and it is also a great place to live. Unfortunately, you wont live like a king (Ben’s apartment complex :-p). Save BIG time before coming here and learn how budget. If you are here to club and party and shop (all great things that I would do if I had the financial resources, dont get me wrong) make sure you have some expendable income or wealthy benefactor to give you that support. If you have any real desire to make money from your acting (and there is great reason not to have that as a goal), you’re going to have to accept that it will take time and that it will get you by. Broadway contracts wont even pay you enough for glorious expenses and movie star lifestyles. There is every oppotunity here that you could be a star but that is not the main goal for a New York actor. A New York actor acts for fulfillment – the money is … a bonus.