One of my big concerns when I first contemplated moving to Los Angeles was that I would arrive- excited, motivated and ready to hustle- and, after a day or so, I’d be bored out of my ever-lovin’ mind.
It was easy to imagine: No agent, friends busy and dispersed, no prospects whatsoever and little to do with my time except continue to go back and forth to the gym (when I wasn’t banging my head against the keyboard trying to inspire myself to write- the creative well in this scenario
being, tragically, dry).
Fortunately, every day this week has presented something new, interesting, hilarious or fascinating. So let’s back up a bit and summarize:
First, after lunching with my friend Michael Sheppard on Tuesday, he got it into his head that I would be good for a part in a play he was auditioning for at South Coast Repertory on Thursday. He forwarded me the script and, after reading it that night (and seeing that, indeed, I would be perfect for one of the roles), I reached out to Michael to see if he could wangle me an audition. (LORT contract, $900 or so a week? I’d stay in L.A. for that, sure.)
Michael did what he could, but a formal submission was impossible. Was he out of ideas? He was not.
“Crash it,” he said. “What’s the worst that could happen?” What indeed?
But…first there was Wednesday to get through. As previously noted, I had my first audition that day (which we don’t need to rehash) and then afterwards I got to reconnect, albeit briefly, with Chicago friends Ben Carr and Jasmine Ryan. I stopped off at Ben’s restaurant for a couple of pops and then, later, Jasmine was kind enough to take me out to a local vegan restaurant as a sort of “Welcome to L.A.” gesture, which was very much
appreciated, as well as being super-Californian. (And I must say, after having my first vegan meal ever, I was pretty impressed. It tasted almost exactly like food!).
That night, I had an appointment to head up to a comedy club called “Flappers” in Burbank. My old college chum Susan Gaspar thought that her friend- comedian Jeff Ahern, who was hosting a show at the club- might be able to give me advice about open mics, comedy clubs and the L.A. comedian’s life in general.
Unfortunately, I got my wires crossed and showed up one night too early to see Jeff’s show. Not a big deal- I just watched the set that they had scheduled for the night instead (which will be chronicled in a subsequent, oh-so-hilarious post). Then I went home.
So that was Wednesday. Woof. Full day. Hot damn.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thursday, the sun broke through the clouds and, at last, I got my first picture-perfect Los Angeles day. It was still a bit chilly (for here, I mean), but I was finally able to enjoy a morning’s run outdoors for the first time since I arrived. In celebration, I ran for a good hour (and, frankly, may have overdone it). It was gorgeous, though.
Once back at the apartment, I finally sat down and forced myself to do some writing. Banging my head on the keyboard- thankfully- was not necessary. The muse arrived on schedule and I was able to get in two good, solid hours of work on my play before I had to get ready to split for my (unscheduled and unsolicited) audition.
South Coast Repertory, by the way, could not be further away from Tarzana. It is in Orange County which, if you’re a Chicagoan, is like driving all the way to South Bend from O’Hare. Luckily, it being mid-day, traffic was almost non-existent and I made it down in just over an hour or so.
Good thing, too. Because if I’d been stuck in traffic and driven for two or three hours and then been turned away, I would have been pretty goddamn upset. As it was, when they announced to me that the auditions were running way behind and there was absolutely no way they could squeeze me in…it was only a couple hours of my life that were wasted instead of the entire day.
Besides, those are the risks you take. You want to try and crash an audition? Fine. Do it. But don’t throw a baby-fit if it turns out they can’t see you. You didn’t have an appointment, asshole.
So I pulled up my big-boy pants and left.
It was easy not to feel frustrated by SCR turning me away because by the time I left to head back to North Hollywood, two wonderful things had happened:
- My Chicago voice-over agent- who had forwarded a recommendation to an VO agent here in L.A.- got a positive response. I was asked: Could I meet with her some time in the next week? Why, yes. Yes I could. Appointment set for Monday at noon. My first agent meeting. Perfect.
- My friend Matthew Miller, who had directed me in Chicago in Seanachai’s “The Weir” and “The Seafarer” before heading to California to direct, sent me a message telling me that he was calling me in on Friday to audition for a Hyundai commercial he was directing here in L.A.
So….boom. And then boom again.
High from getting these two bits of good news, I zipped back north to L.A. because I had made arrangements the previous day to have a “Sit Down” meeting at a place called BGB Studio.
This is a casting agency where my Chicago friend and colleague Kyle Gibson works. And like almost every other casting agency in town, the place also offers- surprise, surprise- a series of classes to help actors to hone their on-camera skills. The whole thing is run by a longtime casting agent, Risa Bramon Garcia, and her partner Steve Braun. Every month, they have a meet and greet for actors who might be considering their classes.
I will freely admit to having entered the meeting with a cynical eye. After all, it had exactly the kind of touchy-feely, Southern California, granola vibe to it that I had steeled myself against.
But once Risa and Steve came into the room and started fielding questions from the gathered performers (there were about 20 or so present), you could see that they were not simply selling a bill of goods. I’m sure there are many L.A. acting coaches who are conning their students, but these two clearly were not those type of charlatans.
Their philosophy was to create a place where they could assist and educate the “community of performers” here in L.A. As they spoke and fielded questions, you could see that they had an undeniable authenticity that is rare in this business. And while yes, they were getting paid for their time, you could see that they truly felt they were providing a valuable service to their clients.
What’s more- there were obviously many in the room who needed their help. As the would-be students spoke, I could see that there were some confused, damaged, scared or just directionless people attending that session who would clearly benefit from the classes at the studio.
Trouble is, I wasn’t one of them.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean to say that I’m so wise and all-knowing that I couldn’t benefit from an on-camera class from a seasoned, veteran casting agent. Of course I could.
The problem was that, as far as I could see, all of the classes appeared to fall into one of two categories: (1) classes that allowed actors who rarely get to perform the chance to get up and stretch their acting muscles (and have professionals weigh in on their abilities, of course) and (2) classes for actors who were creatively distressed and emotionally frustrated with the audition process who needed to break out of their respective ruts.
What’s more, the class descriptions tended to have phrases like “move through your anxiety, your fear, and your distress, to settle into your work,” and often referred to the “paralyzing confines of the audition process.”
In other words, these were classes for actors who were already very upset with the industry. And the studio offered a welcome, necessary relief to those performers.
And that’s just not me. Maybe it’s where I’m from, but- thankfully- I already feel a strong connection to the community of actors and have happily felt that connection for years. I do not feel paralyzed or creatively frustrated with my process and as far as my acting muscles go, I have never lacked for an opportunity to give them a regular workout in almost three decades as a performer. And for that, I could not be more grateful.
But the frustration and disillusionment that comes from not working- that is a theme that appears to run (practically gallop) through this city. If there is one thing that most of my actor friends appear to have in common out here, it is the shared feeling that finding work- any work- is next to impossible. Theatre, film, commercial- it doesn’t matter. Some of them go months, even years, without any opportunity to act at all.
This is a horrifying discovery, actually. Back in Chicago, you might not make any money (and likely never will). But by God, if you’re any good at all, you’re going to work. A lot. It might be in a storefront theatre with six people in the audience but…you’ll be on stage. Performing. Learning. Connecting.
Without the ability to express themselves, artists can go mad. And I mean tear-out-your-hair, climb-the-walls, stark-raving cuckoo. Lacking a creative outlet, the pressure inside a frustrated performer can build and build until there is a danger of simply exploding with bitterness and rage.
I can imagine it. I just haven’t experience it. Yet.
But then…I just got here. Let’s see what happens after a few weeks, shall we?