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You’re Not Famous Yet?

February 22, 2013

What are the factors that mean the difference between finding success in this industry and becoming one of the many artists who are out of work? Is it having a solid network and a fantastic agent? Is it living in a city that’s bursting with opportunity? Is it simply being in the right place at the right time?

I’ve spent two decades of my life living and working in the alluring yet heart-breaking city of Los Angeles: the entertainment capital of the world. Subsequently, I’ve lived and worked in major cities throughout Europe and Asia, encountering all kinds of jobs and all manner of performers. My encounters in the latter continents all seem to exude a common theme: glamorizing and idealizing an actor’s life in America. Entire attitudes seem to change in an instant if someone hears that I’m from Southern California, as if I must be a famous movie star, or (slightly less appealing) as if I’ve simply had opportunity thrown at my feet my entire life and I am absolutely aloof to it.

On my current contract, I am the only American in my dressing room. I work with mostly Australians and have heard all manner of feedback about my hometown. These discussions range from quixotic plans to move to America and, of course, become effortlessly and extravagantly successful…to grievances about how difficult it is for aspiring foreign performers to get any legal work in America. Some of my Australian mates have been drowning in paperwork and fees for years trying to get a green card so they can find legitimate work in America, others made the move across the pacific and couldn’t get any work because they were foreigners, others (to my ever-growing surprise) entered a business agreement in which they pay a US citizen to marry them for two years and then divorce them so that they can legally be a citizen themselves thereafter!

Suffice to say I feel rather jaded with the ignorant talk of what life in LA is like, but these conversations spark two very poignant thoughts in my head. First and foremost, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that I was born in a city with abundant opportunity in my chosen field. I never fully understood the struggle that foreigners have to go through to work in America until I personally listened to their stories of squashed dreams and countless efforts. I’ve always felt thankful to find the kind of work I’m looking for, but I never realized just how much access I had at my fingertips until I spent time living in countries with very little available work. I plan on returning to America with an entirely new attitude that focuses on things like how many auditions were available to me this week, rather than one that dwells on how many jobs I didn’t land this week.

That being said, I’m absolutely aching to sit down with every one of my fanciful foreign friends, and tell them the reality of LA from the point of view of someone who has been personally drenched in it their entire life. I agree that the pages of Backstage West and Actors Access have a good chunk of notices about Southern California jobs, but the last time I checked, simply showing up to an audition does not mean that you will land the job. Granted, I have been out of the country for some time now, but I know that simply being in the proximity of Los Angeles does not mean that you will soon become a coveted actress. It’s not the available work that landed me jobs when I lived in LA, it’s the training I stuck to my whole life, working full-time to pay for my university degree in performing arts, marketing myself to tears, continually subjecting myself to rejection until I’m on the precipice of a mid-life crisis in my 20’s, being persistent, being diligent, working hard, and having every other tough skinned, tenacious attribute that an actor must possess to not get eaten alive in this “City of Dreams”.

I beg you: go attend an audition call for DreamWorld on the Gold Coast of Australia. Then stand in a line with over 2,000 people at a Disneyland open call audition in California. Your romanticized vision of life as an LA actor is going to waste away like your day will as you wait nine hours to be seen…for ten seconds…and then ushered out the door because there are 1,500 other available actors who simply look more like the character than you do. At the end of the day, you may prefer a job at the well-known, well-loved Disneyland over Dreamworld, but I’d prefer to simply land A job. In this city, the line of competition doesn’t just wrap around the building, it wraps around the city and down the bumper to bumper freeways as actors pour in from all over Southern California and beyond to get their “big break”.

This is not my idea of opportunity….this is The Hunger Games: Actor Edition. While I was getting started in this career, the only time I took a day off from my job was to work one of my other jobs. I definitely did not spend my time stylishly laying out in the Santa Monica Beach Sun all day, I had to focus more on earning a paycheck from my many backup jobs so that I could pay for gas to drive an hour an a half to the next casting call that I might have a chance of sticking out in. Glamorous, right?

Yes, I agree that you are more likely to come across an audition for a Broadway tour or a Hit TV series while living in American. But don’t expect to hear about all these auditions without an agent, who probably wont take you on because she already has so many actors with more experience (experience you can’t get without having an agent). Oh, and don’t bother showing up to these auditions if you’re non-union because they wont have time to see you. If you put in the sweat and tears and had enough talent to finally become a Union member, don’t expect to find enough union work in LA to always pay the bills. But don’t expect to always be able to land those non-union jobs that do pay the bills, because you’ll end up breeching union rules. Uhoh, time to downgrade to a hideously small apartment in a frighteningly gang infested area of Los Angeles and get a back up waitressing job…which pays your bills while sucking the optimism right out of your soul. Jealous yet, Australia?

There are over 22 million people in Southern California of every look, background, and level of talent. You are not going to waltz out of the airport terminal and be approached with work. If you do, it is a scam, and there are plenty of those to go around in this cut-throat city. You don’t have time to skip an audition or workshop you should have gone to, you can’t allow yourself to relax and fudge an interview, you can’t afford not to update your headshots, because if you don’t, there are literally millions of other people who are willing to do that and more, and they will land the job.

I could be burnt out from the smoggy, crowded “City of Angels” that breeds fake smiles, fake boobs, and fake success. I could grow weary of the catastrophic prices of everything in “La La land”. Or I could learn to make the most of what I have. I love the fact that LA has a variety of diverse work from dinner theatres and theme parks, to commercial work and a bustling music industry. I love that you can go surfing and snowboarding in the same day with a killer location like Southern California. And I love the perfect weather and the endless supply of entertainment to keep you beaming all year round.

If I move to Australia one day, I will undoubtedly find that I have to work just as hard, and possess all the same attributes to succeed in their performing arts industry. But I will also appreciate the fact that there is significantly less competition for the auditions I’m attending, a lovely freedom from the union regulations that sometimes make finding work difficult, and a vastly different tone to working in a city not known for their entertainment industry. I will find happiness and enjoyment in the wondrous natural beauties and gorgeous weather that the country has to offer and I will most definitely have heated discussions with every Australian who approaches me with their plans to effortlessly move to Los Angeles and become a movie star. Every industry has its ups and downs, your career is what you make of it!

The Reckless Artist sig

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2013 10:36 am

    Much much much luck to you! I’m sure you will do very fine 🙂

  2. The Growing Artist permalink
    February 28, 2013 11:15 pm

    Wow. This was a great post! I have been considering moving out to LA, and this definitely gives me something to think about. Very eye-opening.

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