Actor Hack Podcast

The Business of Being an Artist


September 2014

Get Exhausted for What you Believe In

by Leicester Landon

I moved to NY with two suitcases and $1,000 dollars. It was 2005.

Smart phones weren’t big yet, so we all walked around with a little book of maps called the Not For Tourists guide (NFT). Any new transplant will have it easier than we did. With smart devices you have all the information you need right at your fingertips. However, there is something to be said for what NY has to offer when you aren’t searching for something specific, rather just searching.

I suppose that’s not necessarily to do with this business, but with life in general. Try to get in conversations with people. Be present in the city. Ask for directions rather than getting all the answers from your machine. Chances are you’ll get more than you bargained for.

My first apartment was $300/mo in Bushwick. At the time, no one even knew where Bushwick was. Now, that place would be over a thousand dollars. I moved out after a few months to another unbelievably cheap place just off Central Park on the Harlem side. I moved again and again – at least once a year – unsatisfied with certain places that, in retrospect, would have been ideal homes for the long term.  If cutting costs is important to you, find a great deal in an area that seems less-than-desirable. Be patient. The area will change. Eventually you won’t be able to afford it anyway. Things change that fast. 

I’m now in the cheapest part of Manhattan that exists: East Harlem. It has some grit that will never be gentrified; many of the city’s housing projects are there. There are luxury condos going up close to the train stations, but there will always be a corner for budget-conscious artists; I maintain hope. When I’m priced out of this apartment, I will move to Brooklyn.

Most alternative-turned-mainstream artists are doing things in Brooklyn now. This means many of the intern and apprenticeship programs crucial for new-comers are housed in offices in Brooklyn, a quick bike ride away from Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, even Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Greene Point…

We have to be honest with ourselves and admit New York is not the gritty, east village squatter dream we imagined at some younger age. Practical proximity to business opportunities is what keeps me in Manhattan, though it’s quickly becoming less practical as most small and not-for-profit theater companies are setting up shop in Brooklyn.

As I write I’m remembering things I wish people had said to me. I wasn’t good at asking for help. I was determined to figure things out on my own. I wish I’d been more vulnerable and honest about my incapability – about the fact I was new and from a much smaller place.I wanted it to be a seamless transition. What a waste! Let it be a shock. Let it be new. Let it be a surprise!

Back to internship opportunities: Find them! Find companies doing the work important to you. Watch them, pay attention and figure out how/when you can help. Volunteer to help with a fundraising event. Sacrifice for the work that matters to you. It will bring you closer to the artistic community in which you belong. You do not want to waste your time with mass mail-outs hoping just anyone will take a chance with you. No one will take a chance with you. They already know too many people who want and deserve a handout. Be selective. Your art is worth it. I wish someone had told me this. Don’t just give your art to anyone. Put it where it belongs. Every artistic choice you make is building your creative identity. Be proud of who you are becoming and the art you are doing.

I know, “How do I afford to live if I’m giving up all my time to theater companies.”

Believe me, the people for whom you are volunteering your time are more tired than you’ll ever be. They spent years sacrificing and building their own creative communities, struggling for their art. They do not get vacations. They are always working, building, contacting, and creating. Your exhaustion is not special. Get exhausted for what you believe in. That’s what everyone else is doing. And it’s worth it.


Stop Comparing Yourself to Others (& checking your News Feed every 2 seconds)

by Alix Paige

We’ve all heard it a million times (usually from friends of parents or random strangers):
“Acting is really hard!”

Yes…. We know. We know theatre doesn’t pay and New York is the most expensive city in the country. We know there are literally thousands of people trying to do the exact same thing and the cards are pretty much stacked against us. We know it takes years, sometimes even decades, to have what WE imagine to be “success”.

BUT, one thing we do to make this business even harder completely involves our own psychology: Constantly comparing ourselves to others. It’s natural to be somewhat competitive to try to place yourself in this industry, or get advice from friends who’ve had success, but what I’m talking about is more specific and completely unhelpful.

When you scroll your Facebook feed for what-feels-like eternity and you see a friend you did a show with once just booked a commercial…. or a guy you went to school with (a freshman when you were a senior) created a show being produced at a major NY theater, or a friend got nominated for a freakin’ TONY at 27… You see all of these things and immediately feel jealous or horrible about yourself, or a combination of both. I admit I have participated in this kind of self-degradation many times and still have to remind myself of something:


It sounds a little “crunchy granola”, but it’s absolutely the truth. We’re all unique individuals from different families and places with different looks and personalities. We are all on different paths with different timing. Everyone has been through stages of their career where they’ve been confused, self-doubting, “unsuccessful”, etc… We’ve all also experienced some success. It just happens at different times for different people.

First off, Facebook is evil. Try not to check it so often and DEFINITELY try cutting back on scrolling your News Feed, because guess what? Most people (usually) post about the best stuff going on in their lives. There is a WHOLE other life not on social media for every “friend” to see. People’s accomplishments are wonderful but don’t define WHO they are as a person and especially as your friend.

Secondly, YOUR LIFE IS AWESOME TOO! You may be having a horrible week, month, year, or decade (in which case, I’m sorry, that’s terrible.) BUT the fact is, we all live in one of the best (albeit far from perfect) places on the planet. We’re born with all kinds of rights and freedoms, clean running water, electricity, and plenty of food. PLUS we have people who love us, support us, and think we are great! Our lives are not that bad, in fact, most of our lives are pretty freakin’ awesome. We are performers for god’s sake!

Worst case scenario: We get to do what we love once in a blue moon.
Best case scenario: We get to do it all the time! Some people never experience that kind of joy once in their life. Let’s all take a step back and think about our blessings and what we are grateful for.

Lastly, use what other people are doing as INSPIRATION and NOT DEGRADATION. If you see someone you know has been nominated for a TONY, think Holy shit! It’s possible!. If you see a New York newbie you went to college with writing and producing his own stuff, think I should see it and support him. Maybe I’ll take him out for coffee & ask what the whole self-made-work experience was like, If you see a girl just booked a commercial, think That is awesome. I remember when I did that thing once and I was super excited” and go write a list of all the things you’ve done (regional theatre, print work, PSA’s, concerts, recordings, voice-overs, student films, etc….) Check that list when you start to doubt yourself. You will be SHOCKED at how long your list actually is.

Start comparing yourself to YOURSELF. If you think you didn’t do your best and can do better, challenge yourself to push harder, wake up earlier, go to that dance class, or just know when to take a break and give yourself a hug. Acknowledge you are wonderful and awesome, and realize this business is not the be-all/end-all, because, as my friend Henry would say,

“We’re just putting up a skit ya’ll”.

Top 3 Reasons Why Improv Training is a Must for NYC Newbies

by Andy Phillips

When I moved to NYC to pursue acting, the best choice I made within the first year of being here was to take improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Regardless of your studio of choice, I believe that improv training is an amazing asset in any actor’s toolkit. Here are my top three reasons why I think it’s great for actors fresh to NYC.

1.     Immersion into a Committed Creative Community
At UCB, if you miss more than two classes you’re out. Therefore what is created is a like-minded group of artists committed to the work and to supporting each other along the way. That type of community is invaluable and isn’t always found in random drop-in acting classes.

2.     Access to Free Theatre
Most improv training programs include free admission to weekly shows with the cost of tuition. Being new to a city like New York, one of the most overwhelming things is the plethora of options available to you. How do you know which show to see or which theatre to go to first? Well, having the opportunity to see shows for free certainly narrows down the field. Plus your fellow classmates will probably be attending the shows as well. And there in lies the amazing community building that improv provides. Keep working and it just might be you and your new friends on that stage next!

3.     Resume Boost
Having improv training will only help your resume. If you’re new to NYC then your resume probably needs a little boost. A reputable improv school will do just that. A quick wit and the ability to think on your feet are skills that transfer to every performance no matter the medium. Casting directors, talent reps, and theatre and film directors alike all don’t mind seeing that on a resume.

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