You’re not going to like what I have to say, but you’re here, so here goes:
I cried almost everyday of my first 4 months of living in Los Angeles. Seriously.
I should’ve really paid attention in the days leading up to my arrival in LA as a sign of what was to come in my first year here, because I probably would have been a little more prepared for what was to come.
It was a sh*t show, and I’m #sorrynotsorry for my language, because there’s no other way to describe that storm that passed very slowly through my life.
Just to give you some background: I traveled from NY to LA via Amtrak, because well, I’m an adventurer at heart. I love embarking on new journeys and experiences and am quite the solo traveller. I actually paid more for the train ride, though I could’ve easily taken a 6-hour plane trip for a hundred dollars less. Anyway, a few weeks before my trip across the country, I started experiencing excruciating pain in my gums and found out that I would have to remove one of my wisdom teeth. Everyone told me it would be easy-peasy and would take 2 to 3 days tops to recover from the soreness and pain.
Then God laughed at me and quickly demonstrated that there was another plan for me.
Of course, the pain lingered and if someone had gotten hold of my bag on the train and opened the big side pocket, they’d think I was a drug addict. I travelled for 4.5 days on the southern route in the dead of the summer with DRY SOCKET and tons of mind-numbing medications that kinda sorta worked. And to make it worse, I got stuck with 75 boy scouts in my car for 17 hours of the longest leg of the trip.
So that was the light drizzle before el nino hit, but I weathered the storm (loving these rain analogies) and I’m all the better for it. I am the person I am today because of those tough times in 2013. If you don’t wish to learn the hard, expensive, painful way, however, read on for the 9 very important lessons I learned during my first year in LA.
Save Even More Money Than You Planned
Growing up as a child actor, I had the opportunity to travel all over the United States for acting work quite a bit, to places like Orlando, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I had been to LA several times because my dad’s family lived here and still does, but I saw it from a totally different perspective when I came here for work. It was clear to me that this was the place I wanted to live. When I finally decided to make the move in January 2013, I had been consumed by a fire burning inside of me to get to LA for a very long time, about 10 years.
Once I decided it was time to make the move, I jumped in head first and worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. From January to the end of June, I:
- worked from 5:15am – 12:30pm at my indoor cycling studio front desk job almost every day of the week
- picked up other people’s shifts when they couldn’t work
- babysat for 3 families 6 days a week
- booked a few voiceover gigs that paid me handsomely and my first notable theatre job in NYC which paid pennies
- asked family and friends to save me cans and bottles so I could get money from recycling (yep, I went there)
Fast forward to July. I began my journey to LA with $5500! AND OMG IT WENT FAST, which was heartbreaking. I ended up having to pay for unexpected medical and housing bills, my job that promised to transfer me to their studios in LA suddenly took it all back and told me that they didn’t have a place for me, and the other part-time that I snagged wasn’t going to be starting until a month later.
I ended up having to delay buying a car (which actually has never happened, but that’s a story for another time). I spent a big chunk on a week-long acting intensive workshop, a headshot session plus printing and retouching costs, and a bunch of other things. My first year was jam-packed with learning experiences that I honestly wish I never had to go through (though it built character and determination or so I tell myself). A good way to avoid all of this is to look at what you’ve saved and give yourself another few months to save even more on top of that. I wish I had come to LA with $10K. My first year might have gone a lot smoother and I might be a little further along my journey had I done so. You don’t have to rush yourself. Make sure you take care of yourself to prepare adequately for the unexpected. It’ll make a world of a difference. LA will always be here!
Take a Trip (or a few) Before You Make a Permanent Move
I am still amazed when I hear that people move to LA without ever having stepped foot in the city before. What in the actual f*ck? It’s mind-blowing, really. Looking at pictures and listening to people’s stories is not enough to make a huge decision like moving your life to another city. Uprooting your life before ever seeing LA for yourself is a terrible, terrible mistake. Of course, it’s fantastic to seek out people to listen to their perspective of LA, but it’s JUST that, theirs. We all experience life differently, so don’t take anyone’s word for something this life-changing. Not even mine!
When I moved, I had been exposed to LA countless times. I had the opportunity to visit all throughout college for 2-5 weeks at a time, because my sister lived here 4 years before me. I had also been here for work and family vacations. It was comforting to know what and where different neighborhoods were. I still had to figure a lot out once I moved permanently, but it wasn’t overwhelming. I already knew what to expect.
Search for a cheap flight, call someone you know in LA who will be trustworthy and generous and ask if you can stay for a week on their couch or spare bedroom. If you don’t know anyone at all, look for an affordable airbnb and car rental! Explore the city for yourself. Take note of how you feel, how you experience the city, the types of people you attract, what excites you, what bothers you, what feels familiar and foreign, what feels comforting and what feels like a huge pain in your ass. Take it all in from the moment you step foot in LA. And maybe avoid a “sightseeing” trip where all of the tourists go. Try to research places where locals go; not necessarily the glamorous stuff, but rather the stuff you’ll encounter on a daily basis.
Fair Warning: Stay away from Hollywood Blvd, trust me, it’s not fun or worth it.
If you’re reading this and saying you can’t afford to come, I’m going to say “make a way” because you can’t afford NOT to come before moving.
Keep In Touch with the People You Meet and Hold Them Close
Once you’ve made that visit we were just chatting about, be sure to hold onto the contacts you made while you were here and store them in a database on your computer (google docs, Evernote, your address book, whatever works best for you). Reach out to those people, remind them how you met, thank them, and let them know you’ll be in touch! People in LA are either busy, flaky, or both, so you’ll definitely want to follow up and sometimes even just say HEY!
These are the people you will most likely need to call on when you finally move to LA. You’ll have questions, need to ask for suggestions and recommendations, and job referrals, which leads me to my next point.
Word on the street is “no one really does theatre in LA” which is a big load of garbage, people. @ashleyisbrown
Try to Find Work Before You Get There
This one is kind of tricky and a bit of catch-22, but you’re going to see why that visit before moving is so handy. This lesson I learned is one of the most important, because it may not directly have to do with acting in anyway, but having a job, whether you choose to go freelance, part-time or full-time, will certainly affect your acting career.
So when you’re on your visit to LA, walk through neighborhoods like (I’m just going to guess where you’ll visit) West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood, North Hollywood, and take note of small businesses where you could apply. Walk your pretty little self inside and inquire with a manager about what you’ll need to apply and successfully snag at least an interview. Be transparent about what you’re doing in town (visiting before you move in [insert month here]) and let them know that you wanted to come inside and check it out to see if it was a good fit.
Even though you won’t be applying for a little bit, this is a super smart and proactive move on your part. If you get his/her contact info on the way out (which you should absolutely do), be sure to send them an email JUST like you sent your new friends that you met during the week, and thank them for chatting. They will now be able to put a name to a face the next time you talk. They will know your energy and what you look and talk like in-person, so you have a leg up on other people applying solely through a career website.
As it gets closer to your move, remind them that you’re coming and would love to set up a date. People pick up and move out of LA so quickly, that sometimes business owners and managers are skeptical when they hear people say “I’m moving to LA” before it actually happens. Letting them know specific dates is always a great idea. Once you finally move into town, contact him/her again to let them know. All of this might sound like a bit much, but once you factor in the number of people, actors, and job seekers in LA, you’ll understand that being proactive in the job search is a smart move.
Now back to those friends you’re going to meet along the way on your trip– they will also be important on your job search. One of the most popular questions I get from people moving to LA is, how did you find your jobs? I actually went through my email address book and found all of the people whom I thought would have some remote connection to Los Angeles. I then drafted personal emails to everyone on my list to let them know my plans for moving. I was super transparent and let them know that I was looking for a job now to support myself. This allowed me to secure 2 other part-time jobs when I got here, which was a god send when my job transfer didn’t work out.
Make Sure You Know How to Drive Before You Get Here
I’m going to plead with you to practice wherever you are currently located before you attempt to do it here. You’ll thank me. I’m from New York and have been driving for a while now, but I had to ease myself into driving a car here, especially on the freeways, because people be reckless on the road in LA. I wouldn’t really suggest “learning” to drive here. Don’t do it. You might be saying to yourself, “what the hell is this girl talking about? It’s just driving. I can drive anywhere.” You can, of course, do whatever you want, but take it from a big city girl who’s been driving for a long time– Los Angeles is a huge, overly populated place.
Give yourself the time, space, and peace of mind you need to learn how to drive responsibly and comfortably. In addition to driving to commute to and from work and social activities, you may also be asked to drive a company car or find yourself in a position where you need to pick up a side job like delivering food. It’s a good idea to be confident with your driving abilities before you get here, even if you don’t initially have a car, which leads me to my next point.
“Most Angelenos will tell you ‘you can’t get around without a car’ but I promise you, I’ve worked many, many jobs for 2 years without one.”
Public Transit DOES exist in LA and it’s Actually Pretty Good (and Expanding)
If you don’t have a car *GASP* and don’t think you’ll have one for a while, don’t freak out. It might be more of a challenge getting around to certain places, but ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft will get you to the “hard to reach” places just fine. If you research neighborhoods and plan carefully (keep you’re job and home within walkable distance of public transit), you’ll definitely make things easier for yourself.
Here’s a little secret a lot of LA natives don’t know— there are a lot, and I mean a lot of buses, trains, and commuter lines that run pretty efficiently. I kid you not, I took my boyfriend, a native Angeleno on the metro that he barely knew existed and watched a grown man act like a child on a field trip. He was amazed. He’s now a big fan.
Most Angelenos will tell you “you can’t get around without a car” but I promise you, I’ve worked many, many jobs for 2 years without one. You can do it. In fact, demand for public transit here is growing exponentially, so we have lot of train lines being built right now (May 2016 ushered in a new extension on the Expo line, creating a connection all the way from downtown LA to downtown Santa Monica– thanks LA Metro!).
Do Your Research
I am like a motherf*cking private investigator regarding everything I do. I dig deep, because it’s crucial to know the facts in order to make informed decisions, and I’m a bit of a control freak in some aspects of my life. If you’re going to up and move yourself however many miles away from where you currently call home, you’ll seriously want to do your research. On what you ask?
About neighborhoods in LA, classes, networking events, workshops, seminars, social groups, where to get good deals on cars, furniture, etc. Just do your research. It’ll save you from lots of headaches. This is a big city and there are lots of people drooling at the mouth just thinking about scamming newbies who are fresh off the plane.
If you have no one to ask about this stuff and you’re like, “research? what?” That’s what I’m here for. Feel free to always reach out to me!
“As an actor, your appetite for new, captivating, quality work and talent should take you to black box theaters as well as your Netflix and Hulu accounts.”
Try to Work as Close to Your Job(s) as Possible
I’ve heard horror stories of people traveling hours one way to their jobs, because they didn’t understand the geography of Los Angeles or grossly underestimated how much time the traffic would add to their commute and eat away at their sanity. Find a map and study that sh*t. As a matter of fact, I’ll do it for you. Understand that Los Angeles is the equivalent of several other big cities in the united states (as shown by buzz.edfunders.org on Reddit last published in 2012). It is huge. Make sure that you find a place to live where you feel comfortable and safe and search for your job from there, or vice versa. Trust me, you don’t want to be living in North Hollywood and working in Santa Monica (that was me, dumb dumb dumb). Say no to killing yourself slowly in traffic and wasting hours of your precious time in the car or bus everyday.
A lot of my friends complain about the traffic they endure on our freeways and I feel for them, but at the end of the day, they have choices! When I moved to Culver City, I decided that I was not going to work outside of the westside. I looked for jobs in Culver City, Palms, Venice, West LA, Santa Monica, Westwood, Century City, and Beverly Hills. That’s it. I didn’t budge, I didn’t settle. And guess what? I’ve never worked outside of the Westside for the last 2 years. It can be done and it’s glorious. Set boundaries and stick to them.
Theatre is Alive and Well…and a Respected Part of LA Life
Word on the street is “no one really does theatre in LA” which is a big load of garbage, people. I’ve met so many Hollywood stars at the theatre where I worked for over 2 years (Angela Bassett came to see my show this past summer and I almost pissed my pants), way more than I’ve ever run into at all of those “supposed” celebrity hotspots you hear about. You’ll find tons of successful, very well-known actors performing in theatre and checking it out on any given day. You’ll find tons of actors, artists, non-artists, students, everyone and their mothers at theatre in LA. Why? Because as human beings, we crave stories, human interaction, and emotional escapism to help us relate to each other, yet take us out of our everyday routine.
As an actor, your appetite for new, captivating, quality work and talent should take you to black box theaters as well as your Netflix and Hulu accounts. Agents, managers and casting directors try their hardest to make time for theatre in this city! The biggest reason though, is that whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, working in theatre keeps your muscle strong.
It really keeps you on your toes and teaches you so many lessons about who you are as a human, observe the world, and your whole process as an actor. It definitely pushes hard work and humility, which can be invaluable in this industry.
So don’t count theatre out, even if you want to be a big screen starlet one day. You’ll strengthen your craft, network and relationships, and you’ll probably make some lifelong friends too.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. I can guarantee you that things will not go as planned, so the best weapon with which you can arm yourself, is a thorough plan. Begin creating a network of generous, kind, and supportive people in LA as soon as possible (these people exist? Ah, yes, my friend). Most importantly, whatever you do, don’t sabotage yourself and everything you’ve worked for by rushing to LA without a plan. We’ve seen actor-hopefuls arrive in LA with a dream, guitar, pretty face, and $100 only to realize that it takes way more to make it in this city. If you’re serious about being successful in an acting career anywhere, arrive with a strong artistic and financial foundation so you can start kicking ass right away.
Is there something I missed? Do you have a burning question about it? Email me or comment below with your question and I will address it.