So this month marks almost 9 months living in New York City – in other words, my gross and slimy NYC gestation period is over. Since popping out of the urban womb, I’ve earned little money, gathered lots of knowledge, and developed a tolerance for foul odors/foul manners.
As we reach graduation season (congrats Tar Heels, Class of 2013… and also the rest of you) I know many of my North Carolina acting buddies will be waking up hung over the morning after graduation, drinking a cup of coffee, and realizing that today is the first day on a journey for the rest of your career.
If that career has somehow led you to think about moving to New York City to pursue art, here’s some advice:
- It’s expensive. New York is not conducive to artists and their lifestyles. Even when you find that first odd-job to make ends meet, you’ll likely find yourself a little panicky at the end of the month, wondering where your rent money is going to come from. (“Hi… Mom? It’s me… Yeah, I was wondering if I could ask a favor…)
A lot of people move up with the support of their parents. Be advised, however, that this isn’t like college or North Carolina, where your share of rent was about $400-$500/month. Up here, you’re lucky if you find something for less than $800/month (and that’s talking your share, not including utilities, Metro Cards, groceries, all of which are more expensive).
Don’t waste time. Make money now. Find an odd job that you loathe now and save up all the money you can. Consider waiting longer than you’d like to before moving. If you want to move up immediately, don’t blow your graduation gift money on a senior trip to the Bahamas. Invest in your career. And be ready to find a paying job first when you move to the city; don’t start blowing your money on classes/headshots/mailings quite yet. All that stuff is expensive, and it’s going to feel like you need to do it immediately – but trust me when I say that there is no rush. Stabilize first. Then go for it.
- It’s hard. People here are frequently rude. It’s the nature of a city where people are living on top of each other and are forced to live in such close proximity. You remember the movie Crash? It’s like that – too many people from too many different backgrounds, all looking out for their own interests.
My advice? Be kind. Reach out to friends in the city. Be polite to a stranger on the subway. Don’t let it get to you. Remember why you moved here and remember that, as cliched and ineffective as this advice will seem a few months into your move, the first year sucks. Don’t let that get you down, and don’t let that define you.
Another important note is that there are too many people here with low-rent apartments their grandma left them. That, or people live with their parents, or they live with a very generous friend, or their parents give them a lot of money to pursue their dreams. Whenever you’re freaking out about how to make ends meet and do what you want to do, take into account that the people moving past you just might have an advantage that you don’t – like the fact that they’re not paying rent, or at least as much as you are. Life’s not always fair. You can still make it work if you’re patient.
- It’s cold. I’m saying this assuming that you’ll be moving in the fall, as many people do. The weather here sucks, and I spent a looooong time after my move to the city battling a cold or fighting off a fever. You get sick here, and it’s more than just “moving sickness.” This city is gross. It’s the only city that makes its own gravy when it rains. Too many people, too many germs, too many lapses in sanitation… you’re going to get sick. Get ready for it.
That being said, do yourself a favor and be healthy. If you smoke, quit. If you drink to much, consider cutting back. If you don’t exercise or haven’t in a while, find some way to do it. It’s hard being healthy in the city, but doing so will (1) protect your health, physically and mentally, and (2) it’s expensive to smoke and drink here.
- It’s slow. I know some friends who have already seen some success. One of my friends booked a commercial, one of my friends was in a popular web series, a few of my friends have been doing a lot of theatre, and a few more have landed awesome jobs and production companies or television networks that I would have killed to get. Sometimes it feels like the world is going on without you, and when your friends are starting to see the all-to-brief glimmers of success this business has to offer, it can be discouraging.
When I did poorly in class or wasn’t a starter on the various sports teams I played on in school, my dad used to tell me to only compete against myself. Am I better than I was yesterday? Am I making progress toward a goal? Even if it doesn’t seem like it, you have to find a way to be. Take a class. If you can’t afford a class, make money at your job. If you don’t have a good job, find one. If you don’t know where to search, ask around and do some research. That’s all progress, and it may not seem like a lot in the moment, but you’ve got to feel good about what you’re doing once in a while.
Some people find consolation by reminding themselves to celebrate their friends’ and peers’ successes – if someone gets an audition or role that you feel like you should have gotten, then be happy for them. If that sounds like New Age hippie bullshit, then don’t feel happy for them. Reassert yourself. Challenge yourself. Use that to make yourself work every day toward your goals. Whatever works for you is fine – just find a way to keep busy and keep your head up.
- It’s pretentious. This business is filled with awful people who have their heads shoved up their own butts. One playwright might go to someone else’s play and talk later about “how awful it was.” One actor might see a less experienced actor in the same waiting room for an audition and find it “cute” that they’re trying. Let me remind you of something…
All of it is “cute.”
We’re all playing make-believe, and we somehow feel entitled enough to attempt to make a living out of it. We’re all dressing up, pretending to be who we’re not, and selling our souls a little bit each day to do it. We all think we’re better than the people below us because we’re more experienced, and we all think we’re better than the people above us because they’re deluded and snobby.
When someone acts like they are better than you, talks down to you, or makes you feel small, do yourself a favor: Picture them sticking their finger in their own butt. Just trust me on this one. Nothing is more satisfying that picturing someone who hate sticking their finger in their own butt in the middle of a crowded room. What do they know… they have their finger in their butt!
Anyone who acts better than you is infinitely worse than you, because it’s all just playing dress-up. And even if you get payed a million dollars to play dress-up… you’re still playing dress-up. Make sense?
The bottom line is to pursue happiness, whatever that means to you. New York is a crazy and difficult city. It’ll make you analyze yourself and really consider what’s most important to you in life. What are your priorities, what makes you happy, who do you want to be? Don’t let it get you down or wear you out. When you’re bummed, you can always grab a beer with a friend or go see a movie. Treat yourself once in a while.
This is a long topic that could take forever to discuss (I might try it.) But you’ll be okay. Hit me up if you need a buddy to grab a beer with or go to the movies with. I want you to succeed.
I’m ending this post with a picture my friend Meghan drew in my notebook couple years ago in school. It makes me laugh to this day, even if it’s stupid. I suggest you find a stupid thing that makes you laugh, too – it’ll keep you sane.