Alright so I’ve been in New York almost three years now, and if you’ve read any of my blogs since I’ve moved here then you know that it’s been a roller coaster ride for me; I’ve had my ups and… Bitch, I has had my downs. But I’m finally grasping what it takes to survive here in all facets: financially, emotionally, mentally. So I thought I would comprise some tips for anyone who is struggling HARD in New York. Or think of it as a comprehensive guide for anyone moving to New York. I think of these things as the basics for survival. (As a precursor: I am in no way perfect, and I still struggle. But these things help me get through.)
Also, I’m catering this specifically towards actors but it can ABSOLUTELY be applied to any frield. Whoa. That was supposed to say “field”. But it’s such an amazing typo that I’m leaving it…. “Frield”….hahahahahaha.
Ready Set Go-Hoe
1) Eliminate Money as a Stressor: I know this probably seems impossible, especially for actors, but it’s very possible. And there are many things you can do. If you want to live in NYC as an actor or any sort of freelance artist and you want to make the most money while having the most flexible schedule waiting tables is really the way to go. I’m sure there are other possibilities but I’ve discovered that waiting tables offers good pay and a flexible schedule. Yes, it is grueling emotional labor, but just shake it off! Honestly, catering is the most flexible but the work is extremely varied, and it’s not always constant. For example, catering is very busy in the summer months for weddings and at the end of the year for Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s/Office Holiday Party events. But it’s a little difficult to make a budget. You can also save money by sharing your room, like me! I share my room, and I wait tables. I rarely worry about money. I’m not rolling around in bathtubs full of cash, but I’m comfortable. Now, if you don’t want to share your room and you don’t want to wait tables, then you can just choose to live off of less money. You can choose not to go out to eat and to pack a lunch. You can choose to brew your own coffee instead of getting Starbucks. You can decide to pregame before you go out to the bars. It’s all about choosing which luxury you want. I try to incorporate all three of these rules; yes, I make good money at my restaurant and my rent is cheap, but I still try to live off of less. The secret to wealth is to keep living like you did when you had less money even when you’re making more. I save my money for the luxuries that I value: dance class, voice lessons, eating yummy food with friends, plane tickets to go home and….clothes… 🙂
2) Be the Motherfucking Boss of Your Life: Know which sacrifices are worth making and set boundaries. Don’t let your survival job run your life. YOU run your life; nobody else. If you want to audition during the day, tell your job that you are only available to work nights and weekends. Also, don’t work yourself to death because you feel like “your job really needs you”. Your job is a business; it does not need you. Your boss does not need you. The business survived before you, and they will survive after you. To put it harshly, you are simply a cog in a machine. Yes, you are expendable to their business but DON’T FORGET that they, too, are dispensable to you. You can find a job ANYWHERE in NYC. Now I’m not saying that you should have no qualms about burning bridges left-and-right, but I am saying that keeping your job isn’t a matter of life-or-death. You can find something else. Maintaining good connections is EXTREMELY valuable, but you need to set boundaries. If you don’t need to work 40 hours-a-week to survive, then don’t. I’ve started asking off for arbitrary days at my job, because they’ve been scheduling me too much. They don’t need to know why I’m asking off, but I need to set boundaries. I am the boss of my life, and I am not working 40+ hours every week when I don’t need all that money. And if you’re laughing at me for saying “I don’t need money”, just remember there is a difference between desire and necessity.
3) Establish a Supportive Community: I cannot even begin to stress how important this is. This is one that I struggled with a LOT when I first moved here. When you move to a new city, it’s very easy to feel lonely. And when you live in a city like New York where almost everyone is specifically driven by their career goals, it’s VERY easy to feel lonely. Also it’s important to not have only actor friends, because it’s not always easy to be supportive of each other. Sometimes they lash out their own insecurities on you. Sometimes their insecurities start to seep their way into your own mind. And sometimes they just brag a lot and you want to choke them. So it’s important to find friends who don’t do theater. OR find theater friends who can go five minutes without mentioning: an upcoming audition, a past show they have been in, various casting directors, getting an agent, their favorite Elphaba riffs, etc. I am extremely lucky because two of my best friends from high school (soon to be three!!!) live in NYC. I realize how rare that is, and I am thankful every damn day. Neither of them do theater, and it’s amazing. Now if you aren’t as fortunate, there are still many possibilities! Go to church, volunteer, join a book club, join a sports team, join a meet-up. One of the great things about NYC is that so many people here are transplants from other cities; everyone is looking for a community. Starting up a conversation with a stranger is terrifying but as long as you’re not a creepy bitch, I’m pretty positive they’ll talk back to you! (Hint: don’t stare at their titties/pee-pee.) I also have a very supportive home community here. My roommates are amazing. We are all each others’ cheerleaders. I feel very loved and comfortable in my home. Also, I’ve made an effort to see friends on a weekly basis. My friend Jian Li and I try to hang out once a week in whatever way possible: coffee, dinner, whatever. And now my friend Stephanie and I just made plans a few weeks in advance to see a couple shows together. Sometimes having fun in NYC takes a bit of planning, but it’s be worth it! (Another typo that I find too funny to delete.)
4) Make a Home: Find an apartment you like and stay there. It will not be perfect, but you can still make it your home. Hang up some cool lighting in your room. Get pictures of the people you love, and tape them to the wall. Cook yourself your favorite meal. Get comfy shit for your bed. Get roommates that you like coming home to. Live somewhere you don’t hate, or learn to love where you live. For example, the window in my room opens into a courtyard where I regularly see my neighbor stick his dick out the window and pee. I don’t get much sunlight, and I see the same crusty dick every day. BUT my room stays cool in the summer, because I don’t have the sun shining through my window. And it’s easier to sleep in. Just make your home a place that you like to be. Make it your safe haven on the days when you want to light bitches on fire.
5) Be More than an Actor: This is very important. My roommate Caity the other day was telling me that she read this thing about how freelance artists always pressure each other to be extremely busy, and they brag that they spent their day-off doing laundry. But that’s disgusting! For some reason, we as a society admire those people who go-go-go and never take a break. They seem invincible. But that’s not sustainable. Where’s the self-care?? Like Caity said: there are many other parts of you besides being an actor, and all these parts are equally as important and deserve to be nurtured, acknowledged and valued. My mom told me that it’s ok to take a break from auditioning sometimes. It’s hard for actors to accept this, because so many of us are thinking ‘WHERE’S MY NEXT JOB?!?!?!?’ But it’s okay to take a day off from auditioning and taking class and looking for the next audition. It’s okay to take a day to sit outside and read a book. Or to take a day to write a blog. Or to have a dinner party. Or to take a ceramics class. Or go hiking. Or go dancing in a club with your eyes closed. Or go on a date with someone who prematurely asks if they can fist you and then pee inside you (true story). Be a well-rounded human. Don’t be a theater bot; because you may be the life of the party for theater kids but you will be intolerable to everyone else.
6) Know When to Leave: I was in therapy last year, and my therapist helped me identify the signs of being burnt out (which I feel like I am slowly approaching once again). For me, I know I’m burnt out when I’m crabby all the time, when I want to decapitate slow-walking strangers on the sidewalk, when I’m crying all the time, when I’m depressed, when I feel like a zombie just moving through the actions of my life, when I have no desire to do anything, when I have regular desires to not be here. It’s healthy to take a break from NYC (permanent or temporary). And while going home would be ideal, it’s not always financially feasible. It’s much more affordable to take a Megabus to Boston for a weekend. Or to take a train to D.C. and explore! Or to rent a car and drive to Upstate New York or the Jersey Shore. It’s super cheap to take a day off and ride the subway to a beach. Or go to Fire Island! Oh my god, these are amazing ideas, and now I’m super excited to go on a mini-vacation. There are little getaways all over. Escaping the concrete jungle is not impossible! Don’t become one of those people who start rotting from the inside out; go away and recharge your batteries every now and then.
7) Make Your Own Art: You don’t need to be cast in a show to be creating art. Don’t wait for a casting director to grant you the right to create. DO IT NOW, DAMNIT. Get a guitar and learn to play it and sing songs and then go play at an open mic or in the subway terminal. Find a scene you want to do with a friend, and DO IT. You don’t need an audience! You’re making art even if you’re not getting paid for it, and if that fulfills you that’s how you know you’re an artist. But whatever you do, USE your art. Don’t let your creativity go to waste. Your creativity is an energy, and it cannot be destroyed. If you don’t use your gifts, they don’t just leave you. They sit inside you, begging to be expressed. And if you ignore these creative urges, they’ll eat away at you. You’ll start hating your friends for using their gifts. You’ll start tearing down the people around you to make yourself feel better about squandering your talents. Then you’ll start to think that you suck since you haven’t been practicing your craft. It’s an awful downward spiral. So just express your creativity. Grant yourself permission to create. It’s never too late.
8) Do Something: New York has boundless possibilities for you. And yet sometimes it’s easy to feel immobilized by the countless opportunities. For me, I feel like there are a million things I could do. I could pursue stand-up comedy, I could try drag, I could pursue musical theater, straight plays or film, I could pursue modeling, I could pursue writing, I could pursue something philanthropic. There are so many possibilities that sometimes I don’t even know where to start! And so I do nothing. But here’s what I should do instead: pick something I like and give it a shot. Pick one thing and go violently in that direction. Give it your all, and see what happens! If it doesn’t turn out, then pick the next thing on the list. There are a billion available back-up plans in NYC! So it’s okay to “fail” at shit. That’s fine! Just think of the amazing stories you’ll be able to tell when you’re an old whore! Just pick something and go. Just move in a direction. Any direction is forward.
9) Compare Yourself to No One but You: This is essential. If I spent my time comparing myself to my friends, I would never get out of bed. My friends are amazingly talented humans, and they have some really awesome things happening for their careers. But their success does not negate mine. I am not any less talented just because my friends are talented. It’s useless comparing my journey to theirs. They have totally different life experiences than I do. They have different skills and different goals. So why would I compare? It’s like comparing a fork and a spoon. They’re both awesome, but one is meant for frightening bar patrons while the other is for binge-eating Frosted Flakes. I want to only compare myself to me. Have I made progress since I first moved here? Have I honed my craft since moving here? Am I better equipped to survive in NYC than I was two-and-a-half years ago? YES, YES, YES A MILLION TIMES YES! (That was an orgasm. Thank you.)
10) Believe in Something: I know this is hard. I know this is very, very hard. But this is what keeps me going. I am imbued with these gifts for a reason. When I feel like everything is against me and I think, ‘Should I give up? Should I just try something else? Are these signs that I’m going the wrong way?’, I just remind myself: ‘No. I wasn’t given these gifts for nothing. I am navigating a difficult path, but I will have retribution. And it will be sweet as fuck.’ Know that not everything happens for a reason, but every event has significance. I don’t think there is a reason that my grandmother died. But I do know that it was like having a bucket of ice cold water thrown in my face. I was reminded that I don’t have all the time in the world. I was shown what sacrifices I’m willing to make. I don’t think that it happened in order to teach me these lessons, but this is what I’ve learned because of it. I believe that I have a specific purpose on this earth. I believe that I am here for a reason. I don’t think that my desires and skills are an accident. I believe I’m supposed to do something with them. This fuels my fire on the days when I feel like everyone is taking a diarrhea-dump on my fucking face.
New York City is an adventure. I don’t know if it’s the city or if it’s the age that I’m at, but I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning what’s important to me. I’m learning what I’m willing to let go of. I’m learning what battles are worth bleeding for. I’m learning who I really love and the types of people I need to be around. I’m learning about the capacity of my heart. I’m learning what success means to me. I’m learning my breaking points. I’m learning where I want to go.
These are my guidelines for a basic New York City survival guide.
And remember: it’s okay to be a little bit selfish at this point in your life…
Just don’t be a fucking douchebag.
Don’t give up,
(Look at these awesome pictures!!!!)