Los Angeles is a sprawling, massive city. A city of freeways and byways and endless studios and theatres and casting offices and coaches and Industry must-haves. And it’s shockingly easy to feel isolated, unmoored from everyone around you, even if they work in the same industry or travel in a-centric circles.
But this is illusory–the truth is, when considering the City through the lens of the Industry, Los Angeles can be much smaller than the sum of its parts. And, I’ve found, unless you treat LA (and the Industry) as a community worth participating in, the vastness of the world we’re living in can come along and swallow you whole.
Now, I’m lucky and have family and friends–some of whom I consider a second family of choice–in Los Angeles, and that has empowered me and enriched my life in all manner of ways (more on this in a later post, trust). But while the placement of my family is serendipitous, I’ve also consciously worked to continue to build this network of amazing folks and support for myself to ensure that I remain grounded and connected. And because this work has kept me sane and fulfilled, even when I’m not actually working, I wanted to share some thoughts on some strategies for building similar support networks and finding great folks of which everyone can avail themselves.
Theatre Companies! Guys, theatres are great; theatre is great. Working on a stage, whether it’s classical work or avant garde or anything in between, is the best way to keep your muscles limber and your creative mind active. And the theatre scene in LA is amazing–spectacular, rich, and varied, with opportunities large and small everywhere you look. I know people give LA theatre a bad rep, but I’m telling you, as an actor who has had the privilege to work in some of the best and the least glamorous venues in this City, they’re full of it. Theatre is alive and well and just killing it in the City of Angels. So, go and seize it! From the Rockwell, to the Center Theatre Group, the Geffen, Antaeus, Theatre West, Musical Theatre West, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Road, Sacred Fools, Boston Court, the Laguna Playhouse, Rogue Machine–the list goes on and on and on. These theatres make great theatre more often than not, and oftentimes, they have a company of actors that they call upon to do so. Audition–get involved! Though there are usually dues, the benefits are well worth it, and there’s always ways to make up some of the financial burden. Usher a show, volunteer to stuff some envelopes and sell some concessions, become an apprentice, and get in there. Company members can and probably will become like family to you (complete with drama: you’ve been forewarned), and they will support your hopes and help you achieve your goals. So go get in there!
Class! Speaking of working your muscles and your craft–class is an absolute joy, and in many ways, a must. The professional benefits are fairly self-evident: in class, you hone your craft, work on material you’re prepping, learn new skills and refresh oft-used ones, are exposed to new work, re-evaluate the classics, see yourself through the lens of a collective. But the social benefits, these are what really make class a necessity, to my thinking. With the right class or studio (whether they be a larger community like the amazing BGB Studio, or a single-instructor studio like those belonging to Jeanie Hackett or Cameron Watson), the folks that you meet are truly peers–both as artists and as people. They’re diligent, and they’re interested–they’re exploring the craft and the Industry just like you are, and that’s incredibly valuable. In my experience, classes are where you find some of the best and truest friends you can in this City, because they’re active and they’re also looking for community, which is the best possible scenario for establishing a friendship.
Co-ops and Salons! This is a broad category, I know, but man is it one of my favorites. There is first the formalized, professional Co-op–like The Actors Co-op (Which doubles as an incredible, professional theatre space), or the working actors collectives, such as the ReelPros Co-op, which provides members with classes and workshops and resources, contingent on a successful admission audition. Both of these Co-ops require monthly dues, but the services provided are well worth it, professionally and socially. Much like a theatre company, formalized Co-ops bind folks together for a common purpose through contractual obligation and passion, which allows everyone to feel they’re equally invested in the ventures success. No small thing, as this is often a great motivator for continued participation, but also for your continued creative drive.
In many ways, I use the term “salon” to stand in for a less formalized version of a Co-op; in this way, I’ve coopted (yes, the pun occurred) it from its 18th century iteration–a regular social gathering of a group of intellectuals or eminent people/artists in an informal setting. Thus, for me and in the now, salon is a catch-all term for the groups of actors we find organically (through previous stage or film projects; in class; at auditions). Artists with whom we find ourselves connecting and then take it upon ourselves to be sure to follow-up with regularly. For example, I myself have several (occasionally overlapping) groups of friends who have since become collaborators, and the work we create is artistically and sometimes professionally fulfilling: we make the effort to see each other, to write together, perform together, and to advance our creative and career goals together. These informal salons can become focused points of grounded energy in this hectic and mercurial business–something steady and supportive that you can sink your teeth into and that generates work proportionate to what you are able and willing to put in. Again, worth it.
Regardless of how and where you find your communit(ies), the important thing is really to make the effort to find and then maintain it/them. And apart from the work of establishing your social sphere, the maintenance is key–especially since it’s easy (as in all things, friends) to self-sabotage on this front.
Actors are often insecure, and groups of actors can breed and exponentiate insecurities in each other. Don’t let that invade your communal space, if you can help it (SPOILER: you totally can). I don’t mean that you shouldn’t feel safe to share your fears in communal spaces, but rather that you shouldn’t give into them. To be clear: you should protect yourself from n00bs, who are overeager to learn how YOU achieved this goal, or made this specific thing happen–operating as they do under the misguided assumption that so knowing will let them do the exact same thing. You should not feel obligated to share your secrets to success (hard work and networking and getting it wrong and class, etc. The secret is out, all.) with folks who haven’t earned it. But, the world is not all newbies and veterans, you and the evil dead, Elizabeth Bennet and zombies. Your peers are there too, and with them, a similar approach of playing your cards close to your chest isn’t always the right way to go.
Remember, honestly and always, that there is enough work in this business to go around. Among your communities and outside of them–don’t hoard information or support from others because you’re afraid. Support is not finite. And in giving it to others, you invite more for yourself, both metaphorically and tangibly. We’re all in this together, and we’re all going to make it as far as our own ambition and luck and choices and the unknowable 93% will allow. So why not help each other and find some real happiness and support along the way?