After moving from Texas 3.5 years ago, I feel as if the city has taught me phenomenal survival instincts (in both personal and professional ways) and my pursuit of making a profitable career from acting, solely, seems to be getting its sea legs in these treacherous waters. On the flip side, my impatience has started to rear its ugly head stronger than ever and I find myself questioning just how long I choose to remain in a somewhat masochistic relationship with the city and the constant rejection of this career. While I don’t want to give up acting, defining the “finish line” or goal to accomplish from moving here has never been more difficult. Now seems to be a pivotal fight or flight moment. How does an actor know when their time in New York has come to an end?
Querulous in Brooklyn
Dear Querulous in Brooklyn,
Uh oh. This is really hard to say but here it goes. I’ll try to be gentle.
You’ve had 3.5 years to reach the finish-line, Querulous, and you didn’t do it. The “Acting Gods” (a ghoulish mix of Harvey Weinstein and your high school drama teacher who said you’d never make it) have spoken and, well - they’re pissed as hell.
20 years in “Actor’s Purgatory.” And what is “Actor’s Purgatory?” I want you to imagine the lobby of a “Theatreworks” audition BUT NOBODY EVER GETS TO ACTUALLY AUDITION. That’s right, you’re forced to sit in a tiny room with a bunch of desperate actors in solid-colored tops that scream, “I don’t want to be too much but also I’m a goddamn star and I want you to know it!” - for 20 years.
Okay, so I’m being a little over dramatic but I think a lot of us feel this artificial time crunch - like we’ve been allotted a certain amount of years to achieve artistic success and every day we get closer to running out of hours, weeks, etc.
I’m sorry, but this idea is total bullshit. It’s a fucking CONSTRUCT and we need to KICK IT IN THE BALLS. In fact, get out of your chair right now and making a “ball-kicking” motion with your leg. Do it! I’ll do it too and throw in a “ball-punch” because I’m short.
Before we go any further, I want to say that you’ve actually asked me two different questions. The first question is, “how do I deal with the anxiety of being an artist?” and the second is, “should I leave New York?” While actors (and artists) often confuse the two as the same thing, they’re actually two very separate questions.
Let’s deal with this question of “art” and “success” first.
You’ve been in NYC for 3.5 years and that is admirable as fuck. For real. Pat yourself on the back for that.
I also want to say that I have a bag of clothes that I’ve been meaning to take to the dry cleaners for like 9 months now. My dry cleaning lady is literally 2 blocks down the street, and I’m so goddamn lazy that it’s taken me a quarter of the time you’ve lived in NYC to move a bag of clothing from one location to the next.
What I’m saying is that time is very, very relative. Did you know that Matthew Weiner shopped “Mad Men” around for 6 years before AMC finally bought it? 6 years!! What about Jane Lynch, who didn’t really get her break until her 40’s? Did you know that Samuel Beckett got rejected 50 times before his first play was even published? Samuel Fucking Beckett. These people are the standard, Querulous. For every hot, young prodigy actor/writer/musician, there’s a hundred of THESE people.
Three and a half years is the amount of time it takes to just start figuring things out: how to write, how to audition, how to build relationships with people in your field, how to work a day job you don’t hate (or how to turn the day job you do hate into a hilarious one-man show).
And the finish line?
The finish line is when you’re dead, Querulous. I’ll be done being an artist when I’m a rotting corpse. And even then, I hope to haunt my still-living colleagues and mess with their shit: spooking them right before they go onstage, deleting pages of their memoir off their computer. You know, fun ghost stuff!
Am I making sense? I hope so - because I’m moving onto question number two, “should you leave NYC?”
Woof. This is a hard one because I also struggle with this question like every day.
First, let’s get one thing straight: just because you leave NYC doesn’t mean you’re resigned to a life of being a dentist or selling insurance (no shade, dentists, you guys do important work). Folks are getting paid to be creative all over the goddamn country and you certainly don’t need to suffer in NYC to do that. People will tell you that’s it’s NYC or bust, but don’t trust those assholes. Atlanta has a huge film scene, friends are killing it in Austin, and Chicago has one of the greatest comedy communities in the world. Leaving NYC isn’t failure or “settling.” In fact, it’s possible your career may totally bloom somewhere else.
NYC seems to be the only city where its people use words like “survive” and “hell-scape” on a daily basis. There’s a kind of distinct, city-wide pride in “surviving” and most New Yorkers wear it like a badge of honor. I get that. It’s very Western. It’s very American. It’s very Jewish.
After living here for 12 years, I - like you - have started to wonder about different ways of existing. I’m less seduced by the idea of fighting my way to the top and more interested in ways to calmly and consistently “do the work.” I went on a solo road trip to Joshua Tree and found myself on a boulder, looking out across hundreds of miles of desert, the lone human in a huge expanse of space, and felt very… alive. And creative.
I like the idea of having a big dog. Maybe a golden-mix? And I like the idea of having a backyard with Christmas lights strung through some avocado trees. I imagine myself sitting in this backyard, sipping a glass of wine and writing on my computer - whilst occasionally being interrupted by my old dog who just needs a good head scratch.
But this is just my fantasy.
Anyway, here’s your assignment.
I want you to make a “Desire Rant.”
“Felicia, what the fuck is that?”
Good question. I want you to get yourself a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea. Great. Now set a timer for 15 minutes and open your computer to a fresh document. Did you do it?
Now you have 15 minutes to write down all the things you want, career-wise. Wanna star in a Broadway show? Write it down. Wanna be a series regular on one of those terrible shows about ethnically diverse twenty-somethings trying to “make it” in NYC but they already live in really nice apartments so the whole fucking premise is shot? Write it down. Keep writing shit down and don’t stop for 15 minutes.
I’ve done this exercise myself and it also included things like “learn the ukelele” and “become a better freestyle rapper” - so don’t censor yourself.
When the timer is done, that’s it. You’re done. Refill your cup of coffee or tea because there’s a part 2.
You ready? Okay.
Go through your list and delete anything that doesn’t make your heart sing. Maybe you included some goals you thought you should include, but don’t really speak to you. Did you get rid of that shit? Awesome.
So now maybe you have like 10 solid goals that really get your juices flowing. Got ‘em? Cool. Beside each remaining goal, write down how long you think it might take to achieve that goal, using the increments of “6 months,” “one year,” “two years,” and “beyond.”
For example, I’d like to sell a script! When I was 25, I would have put that in the “beyond” category because I had no idea how to write a script and also because I was extraordinarily anxious and depressed. Now it’s in my “one year” or “two year” category because I have the skillsets to (hopefully) make that happen! On the other hand, I decided that I wanted to start a creative project just for me. That’s “Hi Felicia” - the advice column you’re reading now - and it belongs in the “6 months” category ‘cuz I’m already doing it.
Does this make sense?
As a side note: this goal-setting exercise was taken from Capes Coaching. I did not invent it. Do not credit it to me. If you’re looking for an entire class dedicated to helping you define your own sense of success and move towards your goals, take the class. It’s a life changer.
And Querulous? You got this.
My alter ego, Felicia, cuts through the bullshit with real-life advice