Actress Jenny Keto is moving from Austin to New York this fall and asked me for help. Since many actors know there are few opportunities where they live and they want to try their hand in the big city, here are ten tips on how to succeed and live well in the concrete jungle.
1) Go to Paul Michael’s The Network and sign up to take seminars. www.thenetworknyc.com This is a pay-to-meet-people situation, but it’s the best way to do it. The most valuable casting agents to meet are Tisha Ioli, Janet Murphy-Butler, Liz Ortiz Mackes and Brette Goldstein because they will call in actors without an agent. It will cost you money to do this. Immediately sign up to volunteer to monitor casting sessions. I did this for 18 months and met lots and lots of casting agents, and got jobs as a result. Plus I learned how they do it in New York and significantly improved my audition skills and on camera performances. Get a free mentor session with the owner, Paul Michael. He loves me, use my name in the meeting.
2) Do as many student films as possible. It doesn’t matter that these gigs don’t pay, you will make contacts that will lead to paying gigs. AND if you are constantly auditioning or working on camera everything becomes super easy. You no longer will have any anxiety about auditioning for anything because this is simply what you do, every day. The School for Visual Arts pays actors to do student films. Go to the school, meet the professors, put your headshot up on a bulletin board. You want as many of those gigs as you can get, cause the cash is worth it. The other film schools are NYU, Columbia, The New School, New York Film Academy, and The Art Institute. Make yourself available to all of them.
3) Sign up for actorsaccess.com to get constant audition notices. Put the craigslist app on your smartphone (you MUST have a smart phone) and set the app to message you every time there is a posting for NY actors. Sign up for castingnetworks.com. You MUST, MUST, MUST submit your headshot/resume for these casting calls within the first two hours of posting. Any later than that and you will miss out, because they will be inundated by other submissions.
4) You need a cheap place to live. Plan to live in Queens or Brooklyn and take the subway into Manhattan every day. It would be even cheaper to live in New Jersey and take the PATH into Manhattan. (Cheaper due to lower taxes and rent.) Keep your living expenses cheap, cheap, cheap. You don’t have to impress anyone with where you live. Yes, Manhattanites are snobs and bigoted against people who live in New Jersey. Lie. They don’t have to know where you live. Tell them you live on the lower West Side.
5) You’ll need a small rolling bag for carrying costume changes and your food. Once you leave home you won’t be back till late that night. You may have several auditions in a day. You want to save money by bringing your own food from home; you’ll need costume changes for different auditions. Generally you’ll know about all auditions a day in advance, so you can plan your day before starting. The bag needs to be small enough and light enough you can carry it up and down stairs. You’ll be doing a lot of stairs, in and out of subway stations.
6) Plan to take one day every week completely OFF (preferably Sunday). Do not do anything with anyone. Get on the subway, commuter train or bus and explore a park, a forest, an outdoor sculpture garden. See it all. There’s a lot of nature to discover. Take these trips alone. You will need time to decompress, to think, to just relax. Being constantly around people is stressful. You need time alone, in open spaces. Failure to plan a weekly day of meditation will result in burn-out, bad attitudes, jaded behavior, anger, resentment.
7) Avoid being in crappy theater productions. There is a lot of absolute trash staged in Manhattan. Don’t waste your time. Casting directors will NOT come see you in it, and even worse if they see you in a piece of crap it’s bad for you. Avoid theater UNLESS you are with a very talented and hard working group and you love what you are doing. Otherwise, focus your energy on film work. If I went back I would throw my heart and soul into The Accidental Shakespeare Company because they are so amazing. It doesn’t pay and probably wouldn’t get me a lot of other paid work, but it would be totally worth it.
8) Go see as much theater and art as you possibly can. Some Broadway, but mostly a lot of the smaller theater venues. This is where experimental work is being created and where you might get involved with a production company that you will enjoy. Art is available everywhere, not just in the upscale galleries. Check out experimental exhibitions for inspiration and collaboration.
9) Pay your bills so you don’t have to worry about going bust. Look now for a job you can do online. Copywriter, ebay seller, video game tester, phone sex, whatever it is, you want something you can do anywhere as long as you have internet and a cell phone. With that job it doesn’t matter when you have auditions/filmshoots/shows. You can do your acting life and still bring in money to cover basic bills.
10) Carry cash. They don’t use credit cards much. You can eat cheaper if you pay cash. Plan to do everything with cash and leave the credit cards at home.
Unlike LA, you don’t need an agent, you don’t need to impress anyone with the kind of car you drive, and you don’t need to pretend to be someone you are not. The only time I suggest lying is if you are talking to a Manhattan snob about housing. Other actors don’t care where you live, casting agents don’t care where you live. The rest of the time be upfront and honest about who you are and what you are doing.
Also unlike LA, most actors freelance with multiple agents. The most successful non-famous actor I know has five agents, all of them freelance. He works paid gigs constantly. (He’s even in the safety video on United Airlines. I see him every couple weeks, staring at the emergency exit door. He still looks the same as the last time I saw him.) Don’t put your energy into finding an agent though; put your energy into doing acting work. The agents will be interested in you when they see you are busy.
Finally, post lots of pictures on Facebook and keep in touch with friends from home. We want to know how you’re doing.