Advice for Beginning Actors – Part 6 – Do you have to live in New York or Los Angeles?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, and Rachel F. Hirsch.

Do you think it is vital to live in New York and/or Los Angeles to make it as an actor?

I think it’s vital to live in NYC or L.A. if you want to be a STAR. If you want to be a working actor, you can do that most anywhere. So you need to figure what “making it” means to you. I don’t need to be famous. But I do want to be respected for the work I do. – David Deboy (email) (website)

No, but it can help.  However, the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area is probably the third-best place to be an actor, which is something very few people know.  In addition to the films and television shows which visit, there’s also a significant amount of commercials.  When you also consider DC is the documentary capital of the country as well as home to dozens of government agencies and contractors shooting industrials AND the third-largest regional theatre market in the U.S…you can see the opportunity for growth here.  And since there’s less competition than LA or NY there’s also more work to be had.  Whether it PAYS as well is another matter entirely due to the fact that casting directors are used to having a glut of perfectly acceptable non-union talent so why pay union scale wages?

 – Regen Wilson (website)

It depends on what “making it” is to you.  I know a lot of actors who have moved away from LA to a decent sized city (e.g. Spokane, WA or Austin, TX) and they suddenly found themselves with more auditions and, more importantly, more actual work.- Chris Pentzell (email)

No. It is becoming easier to just send in auditions via the internet. The last 3 big roles I’ve gotten have all been sent via email/casting web sites auditions. Obviously there is more opportunity in those markets and it helps to be there if needed quickly but is it an absolute. No. You can be an actor anywhere. – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

Well, since I do NOT live in either of those places I would say I think…no. I have made a very nice little living for myself not living in a large market. Do I think it is easier to do it in NYC or LA? Sure. Maybe. I like being a medium size fish in a small bowl.-  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

Yes. While there is a lot of really good work in markets outside NY and LA, living in LA, I can now see that casting directors here never look outside the city for talent. Since the biggest roles in the biggest stuff is cast from here, you can only go so far elsewhere. – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

If you want to make acting your full-time career, then you need to be where the action is. New York and LA are not the only vibrant acting communities. You can also check out Washington, D.C./Baltimore/Philly, or Chicago. New York and LA have the highest concentration of opportunities. It can make it easier to find work, but there are also more people looking for work. I think you’ve “made it” if you are creating art and happy. You could do that in a community theater or with a student film.- Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

– I think everyone needs to define “success” for themselves. It depends on the level you want to reach. If you want to be on television, your best shot is living in LA. Shows shoot all over the place, but most lead roles are still cast here. If you want to be on Broadway, you need to be in New York for the same reason. You can work occasionally as an actor in other markets, but I don’t think you can make a living doing it. I’ve lived in both New York and LA, I went to NYU Tisch for college to train as an actor and then moved to LA to pursue my film/tv career.- Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to

 Not at all. I got my start in the Baltimore/Washington. I was working there non-stop, making some good money. More than I am now actually living in LA. As long as you know (or don’t want to get famous), you’ll be fine. I know plenty of actors all around the country who make their living acting. – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

The instability. My husband and I have the hardest time planning our life because I never know when some amazing opportunity might come up. You have to be willing to completely change directions at a moments notice. 

Absolutely not. It’s all about what your goals are. Yes, if you want to be on Broadway then New York is the place for you. And if you want to be a movie or sitcom star than most likely you need to be in LA. But if what you want is to be a professional actor you just need to find a town that has a few professional theater companies. With a little research you’ll find that there are plenty of options.

            I started my professional acting career in Birmingham, AL. My goal is Broadway, so the move to New York was important. But I still know many incredibly talented people who stayed and have constant work because of it. (Believe it or not, you sometimes avail yourself to more work opportunities in a smaller environment because their are fewer actors). – Rachel F. Hirsch twitter, website, acting website, website)

Professionally?  To qualify for P&H consistently over the course of a career?  Yes, for the most part.  There are exceptions of course.
Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)

Inspirational Songs

I’m a big believer in celebrating every victory you can as a Wannabe because victories can be few and far between. You don’t have control over whether someone will publish your book or hire you for a great role in a commercial or feature film. You do control how hard you work. When you finish a draft of a novel or screenplay or you get a callback from an audition, it’s time to celebrate! Don’t wait for an agent, publisher, or producer to pat you on the back and tell you that you’ve done a good job. Only you truly know what you’ve been through and how hard you’ve really worked. 

Music can be a wonderful source of inspiration, so whether you’ve got something to celebrate or you just need a lift, here’s a list of great songs to soothe and inspire the Wannabe heart. Don’t wait for the Big Phone Call to come so that you can celebrate your success. If you are actively pursuing your dream, you’re way ahead of most people and you’ve earned the right to blast from your stereo and/or belt out the following from the top of your lungs: 

Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked.  Being a Wannabe can seem like an uphill battle and sometimes it seems that defying the laws of physics just might be easier than selling a screenplay or landing your dream role. Okay sure, technically this is the song from Wicked when the witch turns bad, but that’s neither here nor there. The song is packed with inspirational with lyrics like “I’m through accepting limits/ ‘cause someone says they’re so / some things I cannot change/ but ‘til I try I’ll never know.” I like that line because it reminds me to take all the statistics, the numbers, the odds of success, and shove them back down to hell with my broom handle. Wannabes know the odds and we charge forward anyway.  The best part of the song is toward the end “And if I’m flying solo / at least I’m flying free/ to those who ground me / take a message back from me / tell them how I’m defying gravity.” Go on: belt it out for all the naysayers (real and imagined) in your life. Don’t forget your big finish “And nobody / in all of Oz / no Wizard that there is or was/ is ever gonna bring MEEEEEEEE DOWWWWWWWWWWWWWNNNNNNN!

Sing it loud enough and you just might find yourself believing it. 

Find Your Grail from the musical Spamalot, of all things, this is a really fun and uplifting song about pursuing your dreams. “If you trust in your soul / keep your eyes on the goal/ Then the prize  / you won’t fail/ That’s your grail, that’s your grail / so be strong/ keep right on/ to the end of your song/ do not fail / find your grail.” Indeed! Get the 2005 version that features Tim Curry’s sexy English accent.

One Moment in Time by Whitney Houston. If you’re old enough to remember when they played the hell out of this for the Olympics, you may have OD’d on this song like I have. However, I think it still holds up and it still gets me sometimes when I catch it on the radio. “Give me one moment in time/ when I’m more than I thought I would be/ when all of my dreams are a heartbeat away/ and the answers are all up to me.” This is definitely a “belting” song. “Give me one moment in time / when I’m racing with destiny / then in that one moment in time / I will feel, I will feel ETERNITYYYYYYY!!!!” 

Finally by CeCe Peniston. There are only certain times that I am “allowed” to listen to this one. Definitely when I finish a draft –the first or the fiftieth – of a novel or screenplay. Also, this song is for when I get good news, as in Finally an option on my script or Finally an agent wants to read my novel. You better believe I will crank this sucker if I ever do get The Phone Call (sold a script or book will be published) but for sure I’m not saving it until then. (Bonus! This song is featured in a fabulous drag queen sequence in the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a movie that I often indulge in when I’ve just finished a draft of something).

I’ve Got a Dream from the movie Tangled. Just a funny, upbeat song for anybody who’s ever had a dream. “I’m malicious mean and scary / my sneer could curdle dairy / and violence-wise my hands are not the cleanest / but despite my evil look / and my temper and my hook / I’ve always yearned to be a concert pianist…,”  sings one of the bad guys. Then there’s the hero, Flynn, (who’s kinda sexy for a cartoon character) who sings “I’ve got dreams, no really / just way less touchy-feely / they mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny/ on an island that I own / tanned and rested and alone / surrounded by enormous piles of money…” I could go for that.

Tonight, Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae. This song puts me in a good mood whenever I hear it. This is a good one to listen to when you’re feeling down after a bad review or audition. Lyrics like “Lalala whatever/ Lalala it doesn’t matter/ Lalala oh well” are deceptively simple, but they make a good point. Whatever. You can’t change what happened, so why not let it roll off your back? The best part of the song for Wannabes is “dancin’ on the edge of the Hollywood sign/ don’t know if I’ll make it/ but watch how good I fake it…”

Believe and You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up) are two offerings that come from Josh Groban (talk about belting). Believe is a song that was featured in the film The Polar Express. “Believe in what your heart is saying /hear the melody that’s playing / there’s no time to waste / there’s so much to celebrate…” See? That’s what I’m saying! Don’t wait to celebrate.  “You have everything you need / if you just Believe.” The Don’t Give Up song was a released when I needed it the most after having been battered by horrible reviews on my favorite script. I loved the song before I even heard it… “Don’t give up/ cause you want to burn bright/ if darkness blinds you / I will shine to guide you…”

New York, New York, the Frank Sinatra version. A song about “making it” in New York, this one also has special meaning to me as it figures prominently in my screenplay/novel Queen Henry (you can’t reprint the lyrics in a novel, but you can mention the song title).  The cool thing about this song is that it is ubiquitous. You hear it everywhere: from Times Square on New Year’s Eve to the elevator to karaoke in a gay bar (which was a highlight for me…) It always makes me smile to hear it. The best part is the big finish “It’s up to you/ New…York….New….YOOOOORRRRRK!”

Okay, I’ve saved the best one for last. If you have not heard this song, go find it on iTunes or Amazon or whatever and plunk down your 99 cents. This song is all about The Phone Call or The Big Moment  – basically that incredible moment when all your dreams come true. 

As with the other songs, I implore you not to wait until you “make it” to play this song. Play it loud and proud. Learn the lyrics. Sing along. I usually listen to this song when something good has happened – a good review, a finished draft, or what have you, but it’s also a great mood booster when you need a lift. If you are actively pursuing your dream, you have earned the right to listen to this song:

This is the Moment from the musical Jekyll and Hyde.

Go ahead and listen.

Your moment is now. 

What about you? What songs are your inspiration? Eye of the Tiger, anyone?