An end-of-year wrap-up, especially one as long as this, feels rather masturbatory, but screw it, right? Masturbation is normal and healthy.
Before packing up and heading west, I remember calling Chicago friends who had made the move to L.A., and I was absolutely starving for any and all guidance and stories and cautionary tales. Did they like it in California? Did they regret leaving Chicago? Are they happy? Auditioning? Working? Terrified? What neighborhoods did they like? They all - and I mean ALL - had one nugget of advice in common: “The first year in L.A. is the hardest”.
I didn’t fully understand what that meant. And I think it means something different for each actor that moves out here. Mind you, moving out here BECAUSE one has already secured work is an entirely unique experience. For the vast majority of us, however, we leave our smaller pond with a body of work we are proud of, and we hope that translates into auditions and work in this new pond.
L to the O to the L.
So I’m gonna share my experiences, wins, losses, and cautionary tales. They’re only mine. And if you’re considering moving here, they may very well not be yours. This one’s mine. Digest it how you wish. I so hope it helps you in some way, as the “first year tales” from other Chicago expats helped me.
I’m gonna roll out the bad shit first, cool? Let’s get it out of the way. I promise we have a nice bow to wrap up the pile of poo; just ride the paragraphs out. We’ll get there.
When I arrived in L.A., my first order of business was to get myself a manager and an agent. The manager bit wasn’t so hard, but I chose pooooorly. The first manager I hired was a perfectly nice person, but he was a spaghetti-slinger. This is a manager who does not manage. He submits you via Breakdown services, without thought. There is no pitching, there is no care, there is no interest or guidance or drive or smidge of investment in your career. It’s throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Being brand new, I didn’t really understand, but soon enough I did. I needed to hire someone else, so I did. And that someone else did, indeed, do the work. I was wowed. He got me meetings with agents. He pitched me for projects. He got me a self-tape for GLOW, and came to my apartment to get that done. He recommended a headshot photographer that was just right for me and what I do. He invested time. And because of this, I had ignored my initial gut-feeling that he was not… quite… right. Scary. “Off”. I fired him. I was scared to do it. I’m so glad I did. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
I decided to take time away from the manager search until I did more research and felt ready again. Looking back, I see the mistake I had made - I’d arrived in town, felt vulnerable about not being 25 nor a Tisch grad, and said yes to the first people who would “have me”. Yikes. Learn from my mistake - don’t do it. Take. Your. Time. You deserve time and research and investment!
When it came to choosing an agent, I had received offers from four. This, from what I’ve been told, is rather miraculous, since many actors try for years to get L.A. agent representation without any bites - and there I was with four bites. However, I had my heart set on just one. INNOVATIVE (swoon). Innovative is one of theeeee top agencies out here, and two of my friends are repped by them. I had worked with these friends on Chicago Justice, so they did me a solid and recommended me to their agent. He agreed to meet with me. Researching how to properly “do” agent meetings led me to create a promotional packet (“Agent Kit”) about myself, which is probably the grossest thing I’ve ever done. How can I describe the grossness. Ah - Basically, assemble every single vomit-worthy humblebraggy actor facebook post you’ve ever seen in your #blessed #actorlife and then ascribe them to yourself and then print it out and put it in a folder with your headshot.
This here is gonna read as humblebraggy, but for the sake of explaining the body of work I had hoped would impress a fancy agent into representing me, I share it with you. In the packet I included information about how I tested for a network sitcom, booked a recurring role on a network TV show, won a Jeff Award for Actress in a Principal Role, did a national equity tour with Second City, was a Time Out nominee for Actress in a Supporting Role, and I tucked in my best review pull-quotes. I also included an article written about me (“Dr. Fletcher - Chicago Justice’s Secret Weapon!”) from one of the Dick Wolf universe fan sites, an interview so generously written by the lovely Brittany Frederick. Then you also include in the “Agent Kit” a list of casting directors with whom you already have a relationship, the TV shows you’re targeting, and a one-sentence summary of your “brand”. Mine was something about if Maya Rudolph and Anne Hathaway had a baby.
I’m a theatre kid. This whole packaging and selling myself thing is now necessary yet foreign as fuck.
Anyway, I felt like my resumé was fairly impressive for a new-to-LA-person, and was particularly glad to have “tested for a network sitcom” on there. (Hey look, Fancy Agent - I am a sellable commodity, see? Choose me!) Innovative did not choose me. Two weeks after the meeting, I received a truly lovely and kind rejection email. I simply don’t have enough credits, “check back with us when you build up some credits”. And it’s true. He was right. IS right. My IMdB page is very naked. A Jeff Award is a useless feather in one’s cap out here. No one has ever heard of them. Sure, I had tested for a network sitcom, but I didn’t book it. Yes, I had recurred on a network show… that was cancelled. No one is gonna bang down that door. And that’s just how it goes. A Chicago-fancy resumé has a tough time being translated here, particularly if your on-camera credits are slim.
So, under the advisement of Scary Manager, I signed with a low-level agency that seemed enthusiastic about representing me. AGAIN, there I went, not trusting my gut. (Even my Chicago reps had nothing positive to say about the agency). I wasted nine months with that agent (I convinced myself that she just needed time and that I needed to be patient), and went out for exactly zero auditions. Yes, you read that correctly. Not a one. And what’s worse? That agent is straight-up untrustworthy and shady as hellllll. Like, shockingly so. And I eventually met other folks who were represented by them - they, too, had never auditioned - not once. I have no idea how that agency keeps the lights on.
I want to be clear about one thing, though. It is not the sole job of the agent to get you in rooms out here, and you’ll read that in action further down in this post. Actors have to build relationships and lay groundwork on their own. Period, end of story. If you roll up to L.A. and get representation and think you can sit back and wait for the auditions to flood your inbox, you should leave. This is not the town for you. You must put the work in on your own time and manage the Business Of You. Now, if you’re new in town and have only a few credits but are repped by a very fancy agency, then maybe - MAYBE - a casting director will call you in to read without knowing anything about you. The numbers, though, they work against you. For example, let’s say there’s a three-line costar role on GLOW. That casting director will receive thousands - yes, thouuuusannnds - of submissions from agents. Our little headshots pop up on the casting director’s computer as thumbnails. The casting director calls in MAYBE 40 actors for the tiny three-line role. Forty. Out of thousands of actors submitted. And then, from that 40, maybe 10 receive a callback. Then three are put on avail. Then one books the job. There is no reason for me to be plucked from the barrage of thumbnails - not at this point in my career. SO, that being said, it’s MY JOB to stay sharp, trained, ready - and to consistently meet people and form connections. An agent can only do so much, especially when you’re new and have a resumé stacked with theatre credits. Now, with THAT being said, the agent still has to work - they have to know your product, who you are, what you do, how to pitch you, and when to pitch you. Garbage Agent did none of those things, coupled with gross dishonesty and negligence. Unless both the agent and actor are doing the work and are invested in the work, it ain’t happening. So. Nothing happened, for me.
However, I do owe a debt of gratitude to Scary Manager for getting me a meeting with KMR for commercial representation. (And to my friend Tiffany Cox, who sent them a recommendation email!) The moment I walked into Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin (KMR), I was like OH HELL YES THIS IS WHERE I WANNA BE. Friendly receptionist. Fridge of LaCroix (“help yourself!”). Rice Krispy Treats in the waiting area. Busy people tapping away at their computers. A pillow with Ruth Bader Ginsberg on it. The ringing of laughter from a conference room. Sweeping views from big windows. AND A TEAM OF WOMEN. The whole commercial department at KMR is female, and they are the baddest bitches and I would follow them into battle aaaaany old day. I loved our meeting. It felt so so right. I had met with close to a dozen commercial agents at that point, and they all seemed fine. KMR was a resounding yes from my toes to my bra. And I am so grateful. They’re honest, funny, hardworking, diligent, and no-bullshit. They expect the best of their actors because they are discerning and there to make MONEY. And while we are all in the commercial world to get that bread, those bad bitches at KMR do it with humanity and integrity. It is my pleasure to give them their 10%. I just re-signed my contract with them for another three years, and I feel incredibly fortunate.
When I left Garbage Agency, I asked my commercial rep at KMR if she thought the theatrical department would take me on. (Chicago folks, “theatrical” out here doesn’t mean theatre. It means tv/film. Takes a hot second to get used to). She promptly responded and said she’d be happy to recommend me, but that I shouldn’t get my hopes up - the theatrical department is very particular (and once again, I just don’t have a resumé of on-camera credits). She was right; I was (kindly) rejected.
Let’s go back a little bit. In early January of 2018, I received an offer to come back to Chicago and do a play. Not just any play, and not just any offer. THE offer with THE role. It was the kind of offer I had worked a decade in Chicago in the hopes of earning. Had I been living in Chicago when this offer came in, that night of receiving the offer would have been celebratory, and maybe some happy tears. But I am all the way out here, and receiving the offer wasn’t like that at all. It was agonizing. I had just arrived to this new city and was trying to get my bearings. Pilot season was a breath away. Do I really pack up and leave for 3 and a half months?! But holy fuck, this PLAY, this ROLE. A dream of a job. I should go! I should go where the work is! I can come back to L.A. when it’s over! (Right?) Not really. It just wasn’t that simple. I consulted friends and my reps about the decision. Ultimately it was decided that I no longer live in Chicago. I needed to commit to my decision to move, to build relationships here, to work on getting comfortable, and more importantly, be here for my first L.A. pilot season and give my agent the opportunity to get me in rooms. I was on a hike with a dear friend when I made the phone call to turn down the play. It made me nauseous to do it. And yep, there were some tears.
And, as revealed earlier in this novel, I did not audition during pilot season. It was agony, watching the stellar reviews roll in for the play I turned down, as I sat here thousands of miles away with zero opportunities. (No, I won’t say what the play was; that’s a dick move. I respect and like the actor who was ultimately offered the role, and she doesn’t need to know it wasn’t hers from the jump. By all accounts, she absolutely nailed it and did gorgeous work.)
But I will say this; during those dark months I stayed active. SAG-AFTRA offers a TON of workshops and classes. I took them. I enrolled in classes outside of SAG. I met people. Offered myself up as a reader for auditions. I wrote a pilot (that I will keep on a shelf; it was an exercise in catharsis and just feels too personal to share) I worked regularly with LiveReadLA, a monthly script-reading series done in front of a live audience, with a whole slew of Chicago actors involved. I eventually left Shady Agent and began the process of submitting (not a single one responded). I received a commercial job via my Chicago reps (and Marisa Ross, thanks!) and got to go back home for a few days, which was lovely. I lost thirty pounds and looked/felt great (physically, to be sure. Emotionally, I was living in a constant state of questioning my choice to move here and sinking into deep moments of depression). By summer, I was auditioning regularly for commercial work, and I had also hired a new manager. She is super cool and I feel like I’m in good hands. She’s got my back, and has gotten me general meetings with network casting execs. I’m forever grateful for those.
By summer of 2018, I began booking commercially. In total, I booked 4 commercial jobs - two of them nationals. They’re not running yet, so I am not counting those chickens before they hatch. But, from what I understand, that rate of booking within the first year in L.A. is excellent. I hold onto that information and store it in the recesses of my mind with the hope that I’ll double the booking rate in 2019.
I had also finally gotten in a room, with some success. A writer who had seen my work via LiveReadLA emailed me and expressed how much she enjoyed watching my reads (thanks, Michelle!). She had questions; was I auditioning, was I getting work, etcetera. I told her the truth, and she was like OH HELL NO. She took me to brunch with her casting director friend. This resulted in me getting an in-room audition (thank you, Kate!) for a new Netflix series starring Toni Collette. That audition resulted in a check avail. Yay! I was released. Boo! A month later, I was put back on avail when the actor who had booked the job had questionable availability. YAY!!! Released again. Booooooo. And ouch. But still - I had finally gotten in a room and put on avail for it. That doesn’t feel terrible.
I also booked a TV show - Sneaky Pete. As I said in the post before this one, I only got that job due to meeting and presenting my work to Gayle Pillsbury in a class. You know how people say it takes just one person cheering for you in your corner to get the ball rolling? Gayle is that person for me. She immediately took a vested interest in my career and was appalled that I had not been auditioning theatrically. Shortly after meeting her, she called me in to audition for a small role on Sneaky Pete, which I booked. While small, the role gave me an opportunity to do my funny. The writer of the episode, Michael, came up to me on set with some very kind words about my work, and questions about my career. I told him I am new to town, a Chicago theatre gal, and that SP was my first TV job in L.A.
Michael immediately and generously offered to recommend me to his very fancy casting director friend. “He should know who you are”. I thanked him and did not hold my breath - surely he’d forget me as soon as we wrapped, right?
Nope. Michael followed THROUGH. And he had nothing to gain from it, but certainly something to lose if I auditioned on behalf of his recommendation and bombed. That’s just faith right there. He sent an email to Fancy Casting Director, because a month later I received an audition request via my new theatrical agent (so far so good with the new agent!), for a series reg role on a network sitcom pilot. Well holy fuck. I went to the audition. When I walked in the room, Fancy Casting Director said, “Michael sent a glowing email about you, which is why you’re here”. And that is 100% real - there is a 0% chance I would have EVER gotten in that fancy room without Michael’s generosity.
And I thought i SUUUUUCKED. I really did. I thought I blew it.
I didn’t blow it.
Because I was called back. And now I’m pinned. (Chicago folks, “pinned” is “avail” out here.)
No matter what happens, I am thrilled about the pin. It’s the plot twist of 2018 I had hoped for. If I don’t get this job, I’ll take 24 hours to mourn it, and then sit comfortably in the accomplishment. In this year, I have learned that I have everything I need to be working, and now I just need the chances to put the work on its feet in front of the gatekeepers.
I don’t know what would have happened if I had accepted the offer for the job in Chicago, or if I had never hired/fired Scary Manager, or if I had trusted my gut and not chosen Garbage Agent, or if I had landed with a commercial rep that isn’t KMR, or if I hadn’t taken the class with Gayle, or if Michael hadn’t been on set that day, or or or or…
I don’t know. But I’m closing out my first full year in L.A., and it feels like it all happened as it was supposed to. I don’t feel the constant pressing thoughts of wanting to run back to Chicago. Oh the thoughts are there, mind you. Often. I see the facebook posts about new plays and weirdos on the red line and drinking glögg at Simon’s and I just want to get on a plane and be back in my old apartment with the dogs and my friends.
But then I look at the bigger picture, and can see that a year has made something that resembles a new life out here. I live in Los Feliz, which is just a dream of a neighborhood. Griffith Park is directly behind me. I have had the opportunity to rescue and foster some cats. I have sought out the animal rights community here a bit, though it feels too strange. I miss my Chicago AR squad. It’s different here. I have created new friendships, some with people who have stood by me during my darkest hours - and probably when I was at my least loveable (thank you, Sachié). I have formed new friendships with Chicago people who I didn’t really know well when we were in the midwest - Behzad, Amy, Lanisa, Tiffany, and more. Honestly, Chicago people - if you move out here, lean on your Chicago comrades. They get it. I have spent time with Pearlman cousins, who I did not know very well. They have been so amazing about inviting me to all family gatherings! I am constantly surrounded by sunshine, flowers, fresh produce, and hummingbirds. I have a season pass to The Gentle Barn, which is a sanctuary for rescued cows, pigs, goats, chickens, turkeys, horses, and more. It’s 45 minutes away, and my place to just go and breathe and kiss animals and be fully present with them.
So, I’m not scared of 2019. I actually feel excited and prepared.
Let’s go, shall we? Let’s accept ourselves when we aren’t churning out the art we want to, when we’re not getting in the rooms, when we question our choices, when we despair. Let’s celebrate the wins when they come, no matter how big or small. Let’s be gentle with ourselves when our family does not understand this business, when they worry, when people ask why you’re not famous. You know what this is. You know how this works. You know you got the goods. Stay the course. You got this.