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"Why not New York or LA?"

"Does this mean you're giving up acting?"

Odds are if you are an actor just graduated out of school and did not choose to stay in the two main acting cities in the United States, you were probably asked this question not once, not twice, but so many times that you want to curl up into a ball and say "Yes! I didn't go! I'm a failure!"

Well that was before I graduated college. There was never the need for that much drama.

You see, I had just lived in New York City the spring semester of my senior year of college. Luckily my theatre program at Abilene Christian University provided an opportunity to study in NYC with Syracuse University's Tepper Program alongside students from SU, James Madison, Boston Conservatory and more fantastic theatre programs. It was by far the best choice I could have possibly made for myself as a student to live in such a wonderful, open and artistic place. The professors were true professionals in the industry that actors would murder to get in the room with. I was able to embrace and grow in the art form I love.  The program gave me a glimpse of how life would be in New York, but with the safety net of school.  I love New York. I love the art, the people, the craziness, and I even love the subway. I have dear friends there that strengthened me and gave me joy when I was feeling low. But all in all I felt there was something holding me back from being overly joyful. Keep that in mind for the end of this post.

So you're probably wondering why I chose to leave.

Well for starters I didn't get an agent with my school's showcase. Not a big deal at all it just didn't happen and sure, it did suck for a while. But as a wise professor at Tepper told me and my friends, outcomes of showcases do not define success. Period. End of story. The only issue with that is I also don't have an equity card. Not even EMC points. For those of you who have no clue what I am talking about go to this website.  Basically I was in the worst position to even get seen for auditions. I would be last in line. An agent would have negotiated appointments without EMC points and Equity status would have gotten me an audition appointment without an agent. That is also not the end all be all, and I still could have been seen at smaller auditions for other companies, but personally, I wanted a better shot at the bigger shows if I was going to uproot my life and live there.

So I made the decision it was not the right time for me and the Big Apple. It wasn't a good bye but more of a "This was amazing. Let's do this again." kind of thing. So I picked Dallas, TX. Wait what?

I get it. It's more known for big hair and cowboy boots than it is for theatre, but this theatre community is underestimated and a secret power house, providing actors work and a lifestyle that is fun and affordable. Yeah you can have both here.

See I live in a comfy, spacious apartment, by myself, with a pool, gym and country club and pay just a bit more than friends in NYC who live with four people. I have an awesome job with benefits and a retirement fund. And I'm in a show in the first month of me being here. The best thing about Dallas is the green and open sky. Love New York skyscrapers, but trees win. When I came back to Texas, my heart filled with joy as if that wall that was blocking me from pure happiness was lifted, just by seeing sky and vegetation. No wonder humans need fresh air and green space.

More importantly Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, and D.C are all places you can absolutely pursue theatre. So why is there this snobbery about going to LA or New York? Dallas Theatre Center just won a Tony and you can always get an appointment to audition for them, Equity or Non-Equity. In NYC you have to wait four hours on the wait list to get an appointment if you're in my position. Broadway and LA are also being increasingly tied to what the mainstream will buy (especially in LA) and less about what is amazing art. These other cities have experimental theatre, film, TV, and opportunities to do something different. It is very exciting to see what these cities are producing. If you're there from the beginning making those connections in the industry before they explode (like Chicago has) then you have the upper hand. Art can be performed anywhere. Plain and simple.  

Students, just know New York and LA are so expensive you can go a week hoping you're meals are enough caloric intake for you to survive. At one point I only had $4.50 in both my savings and my checking and didn't have enough for a subway ticket to get home. It's hard. While the city is amazing, I knew if I went right after college, I would get burnt out and end up hating my profession. I don't want to do that. I want to be fed artistically no matter how small the show. I want to gain experience and be better prepared for my life in New York City in the future. Maybe even get my equity card here in Dallas (plenty of opportunities to do that here too).

I know this is a lot for sure, but just know that I have nothing against those who have moved to New York. I am jealous that they are living in a city I adore and someday want to go back to. They are brave and amazingly strong people. But know that you have options and do not let anyone tell you that you are giving up. This is a marathon. Not a sprint. Be an artist your whole life, not just while you are in your 20s and 30s. Be proud of every little milestone. Every little show that makes one connection.
 And if New York can come later, I promise it will still be there.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Bratcher


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