Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Acting in LA: "Where is my standing ovation?"

I’m an actor. So my life, like many other actors’ lives leading up to
Bitches has NOTHN' on me, dude! 
the move to Los Angeles went a little something like this: The young Actor is an adorable toddler growing up in Suburbantown, USA. Your parents video tape you constantly, catching classic moments like you singing The Donkey Song because it's just so sweet the way you really nail the voice of the donkey. Or they capture your best re-enactments of scenes from The Outsiders. At 5 years old, your impression of ‘Blanch’ from The Golden Girls and ‘Jessica Rabbit’ from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the HIT of your family parties. Your parents’ friends say things like, “You’re kid is so cute! You should get them to Hollywood!” So, your parents put you in dance classes, piano lessons, voice lessons, clarinet lessons, karate class, etc. because you’re a kid and you can’t make up your mind. All you know is, doing all this stuff is fun and you’re pretty good at it!  Then you hit middle school and you’re doing school plays, you’re the class clown, you’re crying after a really intense debate in Social Studies even though you don’t really care if “Friday should be pizza day in the cafeteria,” you just know that was the role you were given and dammit, you’re passionate about it. This only intensifies when you get to high school. Musicals, dance concerts, choir concerts,… your talents are endless and your focus is stardom. You are the envy of your friends and the hit of every party. Next, you go to college, where, naturally there are more like you, but this only motivates you further and you manage to still come out among the top talents! You’re nominated for awards, you’re cast in local films,
There are no roles like this. Anymore. Ever. 
you’re all up in the community theater scene where standing ovations are regular thing and people are like, “Actor! What are you doing here!?! You should be in LA!” And you start to think…. Yeah, I love to perform and yeah, people seem to think I’m pretty good at it. Yeah, YEAH, YEAH!!! I’m moving to Los Angeles, CA to be a STAR!

Exactly how my exit from AZ went.....
So, with a family and a community of supporters, you pack up your life and head to Hollywood to be in the movies. You’re so excited. You sell your things. Surely you’ll be on a TV show within the year because you’re hilarious and talented and everyone says so. Well-wishers are telling you how “incredible it is that you’re following your dreams!” and “Good luck! I know you’ll make it!” So, with extraordinary motivation, you arrive in Los Angeles, where dreams come true!

Reality hits hard and fast in LA.

The only place you can afford on your $1000-a-month budget (That paid a mortgage on a 3 bedroom in Suburbantown) is a dilapidated “bachelor” in a super sketchy neighborhood in the not-so-glamorous part of East Hollywood. It has no parking, no laundry, no windows, and the toilet probably does a weird thing. It is a 400 sq. foot room with a mini fridge and hot plate. But, this is fine because it’s definitely only short term….. You spend your first days scouring the internet for auditions and open calls. And because you don’t know about Actors Access or LA Casting yet, you spend a lot of time trying to decipher which of the Craigslist auditions are legitimate. (The answer is "none.") You and your inbox are flooded with advertisements for workshops, classes, headshots, agent showcases, etc.  As you explore your neighborhood, you realize that everyone is in “the industry.”  EVERYONE. Even the homeless have probably had a guest star on Everybody Loves
"Who hasn't, homeless dude? Who doesn't need help?!" 
Raymond or a documentary made about them so, fuck ‘em. Most in “the industry” are so self-involved, they are unwilling to help you and if they do, everyone’s opinion about what to do to “make it” in “the industry” is so vastly different, how do you decide who to listen to? And there are literally, 10's of millions of people in LA trying to make it. Just like you. All of the sudden, the hometown superstar feels insignificant at best.

But you are resilient! Because you are SPECIAL!

1.       Mail your headshots to agents, check.
2.       Sign up for that really expensive acting class a few recommended, check.
3.       Sign up for Improv, check! (Good luck picking that class. Diehards. All of them.)

Now, 6 months have gone by. You still have no agent. You’ve been on a few auditions for UCLA or AFA student films but have not booked one. You were an extra once for a friend’s short film. Well, twice if you count your spot in the audience at Norm McDonald’s short lived comedy sports show on Comedy Central. But you only saved for 6 months of living because you were sure you’d be making $100,000 an episode by now.  So, you’re broke and you need a job. No problem! You think. Because you’ll just get a serving job. Well guess what the fuck every one of the other millions (literally) of struggling actors are doing for money in Los Angeles? You guessed it. They’re getting a measly, pathetic serving job. That’s fine, you think, because you were a server in college! I have experience, you think. This does not matter. You simply have to be lucky enough to find someone that is hiring and get through the “headshot” round of interviews for the little, B-rated, Korean BBQ restaurant in Hollywood (Yes, most Hollywood restaurants will ask for your headshot. And nooooo, this city isn’t superficial at aaaaallll) and hope they hire YOU out of the 100 applicants they received for the 1 open position.

But you find one! Because you are SPECIAL!

NOW you’re a server. You’re an intelligent, immensely and 
Could make millions from the people who claim the titles on this hat.
multi-talented SERVER. That’s OK! You think. Because it’s just your "day" job. And while this may be true, after a little while, you start to get really good at bringing people ketchup because you’re doing it A LOT. After all, you have to pay for the acting classes, the casting workshops, the 2nd and 3rd round of headshots people in “the industry” insisted you needed, and GROCERIES… and it’s bumming you out.

It’s been a year since your move to Los Angeles and now you’ve got a commercial agent that you got through mailing your headshot and resume, but she keeps sending you out on bi-lingual, "ethnically ambiguous" auditions because she’s senile. You’re still in acting classes and in Improv
Estelle had nothin' on my first agent in LA. 
and now you’re doing a play! It’s in a theater smaller than your “bachelor” apartment, but you’re doing what you love! You continue to meet more and more exceptionally talented people. And while this can be so inspiring, it can also be discouraging. Everywhere you turn, someone is doing something way better than you. You even met someone whose impression of Drew Barrymore puts yours to shame…. and Shit! That was kinda your thing! You can’t figure out how people get real, theatrical agents (a theatrical agent is the kind of agent that represents actors for film and television) because most agents won’t even consider you as a client unless you’ve got “a few co-stars under your belt.” ('co-star' is LA lingo for 3-5 lines on a TV show.) BUT YOU CAN’T GET THOSE AUDITIONS UNLESS YOU HAVE A THEATRICAL AGENT!! Therein lies the problem.

But YOU are resilient! Because YOU are soooooo FUCKING SPECIAL!

It’s been two years since your move to Los Angeles. You’re feeling just OK at this point. You booked a small commercial for an app no one’s heard of. You’ve probably created your own webseries by now that your mom and her friends really love. You’re in an Improv group with a supremely clever pun as the title. (ie. Barren Mind, Cerebal Ballzy, etc.)  You’re really nailing this amazing scene in your acting class. Your acting teacher thinks you have something special. You subsequently bought 6 more months of classes. You
"I have a gun!" -The best entrance in to any improv scene. 
sign up for a theatrical agent showcase with incredible confidence. You will definitely get an agent this time. You’re performing a scene perfect for YOU. You arrive at the showcase, and you’re definitely the actor with the most “it factor” in the room (because of your new boots.) When you perform your scene, you really “get there” and you know the agents will see this. (Because big Hollywood agents are always intelligent, intuitive, compassionate human beings with an empathy for the plight of actors and an eye for talent. Insert sarcasm asterisk here.) In a room full of your peers, your scene is the performance of a lifetime. Better than anything you did in college or anything for which you won an award. Meryl Streep herself would need to avert her eyes from your radiance.…… As you finish though, there is a painful silence. Crickets. An actor asshole in the back row yawns while the others are looking at their own scenes or are on their phones. The agent isn’t even looking at you, he is scribbling something down on your feedback form you paid $150 for this showcase to get. You stand there awkwardly for a moment because this was somehow supposed to feel different, but you say a confident (still acting), “thank you” and sit down next to an asshole actor who, instead of saying a polite, “good job,” says, “Do you have a highlighter I can borrow?” (Actors like to color their scripts with highlighters, for that is only way they’ll know which line to speak.)  Your ONE hope is that, whatever that agent scribbled down on that form, that piece of paper, it will offer some response, some closure to your performance or maybe, just maybe, it will change your life by saying something like, “You’ve got the “IT” factor. Call me!” You patiently wait until the end of the workshop. You scramble to get in line to collect your form. You retrieve it and shove it in your notebook and briskly walk past your cackling fellow actors (who might as well have their noses directly inserted into eachothers’ anuses) to the parking garage where you can read your feedback in private. You finally arrive at your car, hop inside, and pull out the form……

 It reads only “nice” No capitol ‘N,’ no punctuation, just “nice”         .
This may or may not be an actual real photo from my actual real life. 

Deflated, you fight horrendous traffic back to your much too small and too expensive apartment. You remember you have to get groceries but you gave up that serving shift tonight to go the aforementioned workshop so you have no money and no choice but to heat up that Ramen from the back of your cupboard. On your couch with your noodles and tall glass of faucet water, you sit and question all of your life decisions that led to this exact moment in your life.

THIS. THIS is what it’s like to be an actor in Los Angeles. (For most.)

The glimmer of hope is this: It happens for some. The definition of “it” is different for everyone but whether “it” be fame, fortune, or just a humble, honest living as an actor in LA, “it” dangles in front of millions of aspiring, like a carrot in front of an ass.

My only advice, (if I’m qualified to offer any) is to follow these 3 rules:

Never has a gimmick gone so horribly wrong. 
1.       Do only what inspires you. – You might feel good getting a paycheck for “acting” but after a while, commercials holding a cell phone just so or insisting that a certain tampon was the best for your fictional ski weekend, will not be the fulfilling, meaningful career you hoped it would be. Gimmicks are a great way to “get in the door” but look what happened to Carrot Top.

2.       Create your own work. (Art) Only you know YOU. Create roles for yourself that showcase your abilities. If you are creating and creatively fulfilled, others will be attracted to that. And more work and opportunity will come.

3.       For the love of God, do NOT go on Facebook. Never was there ever a bigger well of depression than the site that makes EVERY one’s lives look way more fantastic than yours. Don’t do
This guy used Facebook to save his father's life... Nothing I do will be better. Ever. 
it. Don’t fall into that rabbit hole. Nuff said.