Every year, countless numbers of hopeful dreamers move to Hollywood in order to become the rich and famous superstars their friends always told them they were supposed to be. And every year, countless numbers have their hopes and dreams shattered by the grim face of reality: creating a stable and fulfilling acting career is hard work, and it doesn’t always pay off.
With that happy thought in mind, here are some things to know before you make the leap, so that you’re not surprised when paparazzi aren’t here to greet you when you land.
No One Does Theater
The first thing you realize when you get to town – right after finding out how far LAX is from anywhere you want to go – is that The Theater is the middle child of LA performance art. You know that scene from La-La-Land where (spoiler alert) Emma Stone’s one-woman show is attended by precisely seven people? It’s kind of like that, except you don’t get to go back to being Emma Stone once the director yells “cut.”
If you’re interested in performing on stage, the best thing to do is head for one of the improv shops in town: Groundlings, UCB, Second City, ioWest, and some others. First, because literally every casting director in town wants to know if you can do improv. Second, it’s also great education: not only will you get to perform in front of actual audiences who genuinely want to be there, you’ll also strengthen various facets of your acting toolbox, including your scene work. Which is helpful, because…
Your Monologues are Useless
When I was in school pursuing an acting degree for which I paid with student loans (#decisions), one of the most common class assignments was learning theatrical monologues. Besides being good practice, the expectation was that we would find monologues that we could later use on our auditions and showcases. One teacher in particular drilled into me that I needed a half dozen contemporary pieces memorized for instant performance if needed, plus a couple from Shakespeare just in case the Bard was rolling through town.
And it was great preparation – in theory. In reality, I have never ever, ever, ever used one of my over-rehearsed monologues in Los Angeles. Ever. And neither has anyone else.
The reason no one uses monologues here is that film and especially television typically involve these neat little storytelling devises called scenes , and scenes often involve more than one person, so casting directors and agents want to see how you deliver dialogue, not monologues. So you better be prepared to spend your auditions talking to another living, breathing human being, because no one cares how well you emote while talking to yourself.
You Don’t Need an Agent
Speaking of talking to yourself, maybe you’ve told yourself that you’ve got to get some representation the minute you get here. After all, agents and managers are the gatekeepers to the industry, the ones who not only open doors, but have all the keys and know all the secret passwords. It makes sense to entrust your career to a stranger because they can make phone calls for 10% of your salary, right?
Settle down, cowboys and girls. For the time being, there are plenty of ways to promote yourself and find and submit for acting gigs on your own. Actors Access and LA Casting are two of the most popular (and most useful) breakdown services available, with loads of opportunities ranging from student films to national commercials. IMDb lets you create your own Pro page, while also providing you with contacts for when you actually do need an agent.
And yes, once you have a base of credits and footage to showcase your talent, eventually you will need an agent. Like they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Networking is Nine-Tenths the Battle
It’s unfair and no one is happy about it, but having skills doesn’t always translate into success. You might be the most talented performer in the world, capable of plumbing the emotional depths and ascending the heights of theatrical expression, but that means precisely sharkfarts if the people who make TV shows and films don’t know who you are. That means you’ve got to get out and meet them.
Attend actor seminars and stay for cocktail hour. Take acting class and start making friends with your fellow thespians (and don’t skip the holiday parties). Go to film festivals, screenings, and yes, even the occasional theater production. To be a part of this industry, you must be a part of the community.