Let’s get down to the bare facts. When I was growing up and dreamed of being an actor, there was a lifestyle attached to the dream, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking. It wasn’t the dream of limos and stardom. It was the dream of living in a small apartment in Manhattan and working in theatre… small theatres, big theatres, traveling theatres. It didn’t matter, the excitement for me was friends sitting around and discussing the “work,” heating up water with our old teapot, staying up all night exhausted from conversation, having very little material things and just loving our artist lives. I never saw it as the “starving artist”; I never really bought into that. I just saw it as “artist”. There are people in the world that are truly starving and we weren’t that. It’s living a smaller lifestyle, to be prepared, to always spend your life exploring artistic endeavors. Usually these endeavors didn’t include medical insurance and new clothes, but you were happy. You were starting out and you had something to build upon. That was the blue-collar American Dream.
At seventeen, I moved from NY to LA with forty dollars (I know, it makes no sense, it’s a long back story, but I did it) and just went from there. Because I was only seventeen, I couldn’t get a job that wasn’t minimum wage. By the second day, I had a job in retail and within three months I was in an apartment with roommates. Paying rent, mattress on the floor, working two jobs, walking everywhere and excited about where my tomorrows would bring me. It was hard, there were days without a lot of food. I was tired from working seven days a week but I could always see down the road to what I could build up to. Ok, lets fast forward many years and land in 2013. I have many friends of many ages (a lot of them younger than me) and I am blown away by the abundance of worries that they are bogged down with.
My first apartment of my own (without the need for a roommate) took me three years of needing roommates before I got there. It was a tiny bachelor in Westwood with a monthly rent of three hundred dollars. I was able to buy my first car by putting down five hundred dollars my grandmother gave me and I had nine months of payments at one hundred and sixty dollars each. Gas was practically free and car insurance wasn’t required. When I got sick I went to UCLA and didn’t pay a dime. I started College at SMC and it was completely FREE (it wasn’t until a few years later that it was five dollars a unit). I didn’t have a phone or a kitchen but rather a hot plate and toaster oven. It was stressful but it was possible for me to move forward. I remember my first summer in my own apartment, with my own car, I was working at a movie theatre at night, doing extra work during the day, getting ready to start college, and doing my first play in Los Angeles. It was what I had dreamed. I was in heaven. When I got my first job waiting tables a year later I was making a hundred dollars a shift. I was able to take the next step and spend my money on classes and pictures, get a phone, clothes for auditions etc, and it all just kept moving from there.
But in 2013, I have actor friends that are struggling. They are homeless, yes homeless, without health insurance, without car insurance (praying they don’t get caught), without cars, worrying about securing any kind of survival job (those jobs that used to be the default jobs you knew you could always get). Now there is major competition for securing a job working in a movie theatre! Living on food from the 99 cents store, having very little clothing, and the icing on the cake is being buried underneath huge student loan debt. Today my twenty something friend who is in over one hundred thousand dollars of student loan debt asked me, “I wonder if I go to prison if they would defer my student loans”. There is less fear of prison than of having a life that seems impossible to afford. I’m perplexed as to how this new generation is supposed to find their way. How do you have all of that on your plate and pursue your dreams? How do you pay for new pictures, get to your auditions without owning a car, stay sane with no place to live, oh and eat?!
So I’m asking you all if you can enlighten me, if we can work on the answers together, if you could leave me comments to help give answers to these problems? Because working on an acting career, or an artist’s life of any sort, is HARD work. It takes time and money and transportation. How is that even possible when all these other issues are in the way? So, I want to start with the basics. I want to hear your stories, because people are still getting off the bus to come here and obviously somehow finding their way. I recently wrote down an imaginary budget of bare basic living in Los Angeles in 2013 and honestly it was still a lot of money. Tell me where do you all find cheap housing? Do you have transportation? Can you get a car with bad credit? Is it possible to take the bus, train, cabs etc. and make it work? Do you have health and dental insurance? If not what do you do when you get sick or have a toothache? Are there secrets we need to share with each other?
Please email me your stories at email@example.com and/or leave me a comment on this blog post, and tell me how you’re doing it so I can pass the info on. I can write an article and tell you about acting do’s and don’ts that I’ve learned along the way (and we’ll get to that in the future). But first, this Blue-Collar actor wants to be able to tell you how to exist as an artist so you can live an artist’s life. Perhaps, with your help I can put together a mock lifestyle that can help answer some of these questions. And feel free to tell me your stories from any location. It doesn’t have to be Los Angeles; the entire country is struggling so we can all relate. Let me know what solves your budget problems. Again you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write below and we’ll figure this out together!!