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What’s Next

December 28, 2010

Here I am, half-way done with my first year/one-quarter done with my training/one-sixth done with my grad school experience. And yet, one question seems to be burning a hole in everyone’s figurative pockets.

So what’s next? What’s after grad school?

I’ll be damned. I don’t know.

I thought it might be fun to make a list of options. You know, so I can direct all of you to this particular post when you ask that completely innocent question. I’m having a hard time giving a completely innocent answer. I just. Don’t exactly know.

In no particular order:

A) New York. After all, my showcase will be in New York City (though I hope we can get one in LA. And Chicago. And…everywhere), and quite frequently, actors from my program are getting picked up by agents after this. One kid who just graduated made his way into the right agent’s care and ended up on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (I don’t watch the show and I don’t know the student, but I’m told he got killed off after a few episodes).

Still, I’m not crazy about this idea. I don’t know why. Well, yes I do. Taking a wild leap into a sea of a million actors all scrambling for jobs like ravenous, hungry dogs fighting over scrap meat has never really appealed to me. One of the main reasons I started my theatre company in Baltimore was so that we could avoid ‘throwing ourselves to the wolves’ of cattle calls, holding spears, and months without work. I didn’t necessarily become an actor to go out there and be a Broadway star. I want to create and collaborate, not starve and pray. So it’s not so much fear of rejection as it is a fear of stifled creativity, tough breaks, and the prospect of living in one of the most expensive cities on the planet while working in a career that isn’t known for it’s consistency or generosity to your bank account.

And, what are the options for a working actor in New York anyway, Suzie? Let me count the ways… A1) Triple threat your way to Broadway, do musicals. Make $2000 a week. A2) Eek into one of the four non-singing, non-played-by-a-celebrity roles on Broadway per year. Count your benjamins. A3) Find your way into an off-Broadway career. Get paid sometimes. Or not. A4) Find great agent. Get into some film, TV or commercial work. Kiss your agent. A5) Work the regional theatre or Broadway tour circuit. Yes, you’ll pay rent and audition in New York. No, you will not live in New York. A6) Find a combination of A1-5, also choosing from a plethora of auxilliary jobs like cruises, showcases, improv, voice overs, industrials, print work, and the like.

Most actors fit into #6, I’m guessing. There is no city in the country with more access to work. And also no place with more actors out of work. So it’s a risk. I’ll probably finish school with a very low amount of savings, if any (mmm, rice and beans), so if I went to NY I’d have to like, use a student loan or immediately find my way into paying acting work (live the dream!), or most likely, take my MFA to a retail store and beg for a $9 per hour job so I can pay my $1500 rent. I’m sorry, am I sounding callous? It’s okay. I’m jaded. Or, as I like to think of it, realistically and reasonably cautious.

B) Move to Chicago. I don’t know a whole lot about Chicago, besides the fact there are about 300 theatres. Yet, of those only two are members of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT). So, the box offices are small in Chicago, and while there is plenty of equity work to be had, there is also plenty of non-paying work to be had. I need more research. But there she is, America’s Second City.

C) Los Angeles. Sunglasses. Tans. Muscles. Whiter teeth. Commercials. Film. TV. Ass-kissing. One of the visiting actors who occasionally come through our department to give us a professional pep talk, as it were, once said “You can be an artist in New York. You can pay your rent in LA.” I think that about sums it up. It’s much more appealing that NYC, but does the camera love me? That’s the question you have to ask yourself. Our acting technique applies to film in a major way. In fact, the biggest thing I’ve learned while being here, probably inadvertantly, is understanding why some actors are so interesting and honest on film. It’s all in the technique, and it’s all much simpler than I thought it was. And you know, the city gets a bad rap for lack of stage, but it has a couple of LORT theaters. More than most big cities. And, the diversity of the types of jobs is appealing. But can you play the games?

D) Washington DC. After living in Baltimore for three years, I admit I really should have gotten to know DC better. There are about 25 producing theaters, 20 more presenting/rental theaters, and anywhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 independent theater groups, all making work happen. The foundation and grant support isn’t the same as it was pre-9/11, but the Maryland/DC area is one of the best in the nation for arts funding. I love the people and places in Baltimore, which is 45-60 minutes North of DC (on a good day), and if there were better professional options in Ballmer, it’d be one heck of a hot choice. I mean, look at it this way. You live in Baltimore, and you are open to the work in your own city, PLUS Washington DC, and ohbytheway Philly is only an hour North of Baltimore. There is no other place in the country with so many big cities grouped so tightly together (the Twin Cities is a close second, but you’re one city short. Sorry, MN). And, if you didn’t mind commutes, you could make a real run at being a three-city pro stationed in Baltimore, the city in the middle. However, despite how much I like the city and how perfect of a place I think it is for a young company to start, the options for a professional actor in Baltimore are very limited, with only three professional theatres. So, while it’s nice to have by, DC has most of the available work. But I like the region. A lot.

E) And here’s where it gets fuzzy. Hey, there is good theater in the Pacific Northwest, right? What about the Tampa/Sarasota region? I hear Boston’s got a few joints. Pittsburgh always comes up. Minneapolis/St. Paul is as happenin’ as you can find as far as Non-Chicago Midwest goes. But why roll the dice on any of the cities? I mean hey, its always been a dream to return to Denver as a professional, but to work for who? I think the biggest appeal to me in cities like this is that there is the chance of being a big fish in a little pond. Or, a medium pond, at least. It’d be a great life to know all the players in town, and have them know you. And, to work in a place where you don’t have to throw elbows and bite ankles to get noticed in the masses, hey – who doesn’t want that? But starting in a town like this would be hard. I don’t think there is a blueprint for it, necessarily. It’d be a whole new type of adventure, but honestly, I see it every bit as valid (and risky) as throwing myself off a cliff and into the void in NYC or LA. Just different.

F) Start a company. I…ah. Well. Don’t think this hasn’t crossed my mind about 1000 times. “What would you do differently if you could start all over again, huh?” Another post, my friends.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lee permalink
    April 4, 2011 11:14 am

    I have been researching MFA programs, and wanted to say thanks so much for your blog. You mentioned moving to the Pacific Northwest, so I thought I’d pass along my thoughts about the area. I moved to Seattle last year about this time thinking it would be a great place to be an Equity actor. I am 26 years old and joined Equity last year.
    Seattle has a lot of good theatre. It is pretty safe stuff for the most part; the big houses, except for Intiman, aren’t really taking risks, but that’s what the economy has done to so many towns. The mid-size theatre companies are a little more theatrical and interesting, and there is a pretty healthy fringe scene.
    My one recommendation, if you are seriously considering Seattle, is not to go Equity. As a young man new to town, it is particularly difficult to get work. There are so few contracts to go around, and it is better to wait until you absolutely have to to join. I hate to write this; I wish actors were given a living wage for all of the work they do, but…doesn’t work that way if you want to practice your craft.
    I will probably take off, go to grad school, maybe look at another city on the West coast before long- perhaps San Francisco.
    Good luck with the rest of your training!

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