As an acting coach not residing in Los Angeles or New York, I get asked this questions a lot. First, it’s important to define what “working actor” means to you. For me, it is an actor who doesn’t have to have one, two, three, or more other jobs in order to survive. Below are some considerations to hopefully help you decide.
Assuming you don’t want to have any other job outside of being an actor, it’s also important to be clear about the kind of actor you want to be. I’ve known many actors throughout the years who only wanted to do theater. And, I’ve also known some who are happy doing only commercials and industrials. If you want to be a working actor doing only theater, I would suggest you look to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, , Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati as a place to reside. If you are not in one of these cities, it will be difficult to make a living as an actor doing only theater.
Cities With A Storng Film Industry
Typically, the cities doing the majority of film and tv work also do a good amount of commercial work. Currently, some of the cities seeing the most film production and commercial work include New York, LA, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Albuquerque, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Portland, San Francisco and Toronto. This list changes… a lot. A city will have a strong film industry depending on a variety of factors. Not only is it important to have the infrastructure and crew to do so, (grips, gaffers, camera operators, makeup, hair, wardrobe, caterers, casting directors, location scouts, animal handlers, art directors, set designers, etc.), cities and states become more or less attractive to producers and film financiers depending on the tax and other incentives available to them. This is why some cities are economically advantageous one year and not the next. If you live in one of these cities, you are in luck! You will have more opportunity to be a working actor. Of course it takes a lot of hard work, talent, discipline and a bit of luck to turn this dream into reality but it can happen. Many actors get their start in smaller markets.
If you do not live in a city with a strong film industry, there is still good news. Technology has made it possible for an actor to live just about anywhere and submit an audition via video. However, it is important to understand that producers will often only receive tax incentives, etc. providing the people they employ actually live in the city where they are shooting. In addition, producers sometimes will not want to pay for an actor’s transportation, food and lodging and will often settle for someone who is a local hire in order to save money. Thus, you may be the most talented, most qualified actor who auditioned for a role, but may not book it due to these considerations. Just as likely, a filmmaker who really wants to hire the best actor for the role will cast an actor who resides elsewhere assuming they have the ways and means to make that happen.
The seemingly obvious solution is to live where the most jobs are. On the surface, this seems like a logical answer. However, there are a couple of reasons why this isn’t the fix it might seem to be. Number one, while there might be ten times the number of roles being cast on any given day in LA than there are in a smaller market, there are easily twenty times the available actors ready to audition for them. I auditioned for a role in LA years ago and was told by the producer that the casting director could have called in 5,000 similar women to audition for the part. They agreed to see 250 actors and after three call-backs, I finally booked the role.
The other consideration is the cost of living. I’ve seen too many actors make the move to LA or NY and spend so much time working a couple of regular jobs just to pay their rent that they had little or no time to audition or be in class. In addition, acting classes in NY and LA are substantially more expensive and substantially much larger than a smaller market and thus, actors pay a lot more for a lot less attention.
Another consideration actors must look at when deciding where to go make it as an actor is whether or not they are belong to one of the actors’ unions. The union for film and television actors is SAG/AFTRA. The union for theater actors is Actors Equity. It can be a disadvantage for an actor to belong to one of the unions if they live in a Right to Work state. Unfortunately, many of the states doing the most film production are Right to Work states. To be in one of the unions or not is a very big concern and all actors are encouraged to do their research on this.
In closing, people make choices based on what they value. Know what is important to you and decide where you should be based on that. Everything has a cost and it’s vital to know what you are willing to pay for what you may or may not gain.
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