10 Pieces of Advice for Theatre People Moving to NYC

Anthony J. Piccione

I’ve been living in New York City for about a year and a half now, as of this article. Since moving here soon after college, I’ve had the chance to have my own plays produced in various festivals, as well as the chance to go see plenty of shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and loads of indie productions throughout the city. Yet it hasn’t always felt easy, and when you get here, you realize that it’s not always as glamorous of a life, as it might sound.

 May-Elise Martinsen in "59 Days"

May-Elise Martinsen in "59 Days"

I imagine that if you took the time to begin reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’re doing so for one of two reasons: Either you are planning on moving to the city in the near future, or you have been dreaming and/or thinking about doing so. For those of you, there might be some things you already know to expect, but there are also some other things which might come as a bit of a surprise to you, once you get here. If you’re anything like me, you might end up wishing you had at least a bit of a heads-up in advance.

That’s exactly why I wrote this list. For those of you out there who may just be preparing for this exciting new chapter in your life and your career, perhaps this can help, not just with your journey to be successful in a business truly like no other, but with surviving in one of the biggest and toughest cities in the world.

So without further ado, here are just 10 basic pieces of advice for you to know now before you make your big move to the Big Apple.

1. Chances are, you’re not going to be on Broadway, overnight.

Let’s just get this one out of the way, as I imagine that this is a big reason why you’d want to move here, at least for some of you.

Of course, I would never want to tell any of you flat-out that you’ll never make it to Broadway. After all, I could be completely wrong about at least one of you, if I said that.  Having said that, unless you’re coming to New York as someone who’s already had a string of major successes in your career, it’s very, very challenging to even get a small ensemble role or bit production gig on Broadway. Even if you get one, it probably won’t be right away.

That’s not to discourage you from moving here. As competitive as this industry is – from the biggest commercial productions to the scrappiest independent shows – that’s no reason to just give up and go home. If theatre is truly your passion, then you should absolutely pursue it and consider moving here, including for many reasons which I’ll get to later.

However, I do say this now because if your goal in life is to become a star or a celebrity or to live a life of glamour and comfort, then you’re involved in theatre – not just in New York, but in general – for all the wrong reasons. Even if it does happen, it certainly isn’t going to be something that will happen right away, in all likelihood. Yet if that doesn’t discourage you, then let’s get on to the next piece of advice…

2. Keep in mind that it’s not exactly the most affordable city in the world

Unless you are lucky enough to have a good-paying job or to have a fairly well-off family that can help, you’re probably not going to be living in the most luxurious space or neighborhood in the city, right away. There’s a joke I once heard, which is probably as true as it gets, about a girl who describes her boyfriend’s apartment as “HUGE”, but what she’s actually referring to is a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom space…which, yes, can be expensive for those living on a budget.

Soo…with all that in mind, in case you somehow haven’t heard, just know that finding affordable housing isn’t always easy, and while there are options for affordable housing that are quite decent, it can take some searching. There are plenty of websites out there that can help with you search, as well as plenty of Facebook groups, such as Ghostlight Housing, which can also be of assistance.

Regardless of where in the city you end up, it’s always worth keeping in mind one thing: The fact that you’re in New York –where some of the most exciting art in the world is being created every day – is, in itself, something to be thankful. Having said that…

3. Remember that not all of your life will be about theatre

You’ve probably heard this bit before, in some form or another. You’ve probably heard the story of artists who get a day job in the city, while they’re pursuing their dreams and their passions, in order to support themselves. For most of you, especially early-on, this will probably be you, too.

Now, that’s not to say that this will be your life FOREVER. Perhaps one day, whether you make it “big” in the industry or not, you may very well be lucky enough to end up with a job or long-term gig in the industry, and as a result, theatre may truly be what your life’s work is truly all about. Yet don’t even begin to think that just because you’ve made it to NYC, you’re above getting a job that has nothing to do with the arts. If that’s what needs to be done to pay rent, so be it.

What really matters, at the end of the day, is where you end up in your life and career, not what you did while you were working to get there. So if it’s any comfort to you, know that today, you might have to be a waiter or barista or in a boring office at some place you don’t really care for. Tomorrow, however, your dreams could truly end up becoming your LIFE’s work, all because of what you did to sustain yourself while on your path to get there.

4. Never let any failures or shortcomings defeat you

It goes without saying, but theatre in New York is as competitive for artists as it is expensive for theatergoers, to put it softly. In terms of sheer numbers, yes, there are lots of opportunities here that you won’t find anywhere else, but there are even more who want those opportunities.

 "Committed" at the  NYWinterfest

"Committed" at the  NYWinterfest

Case in point: Earlier this year, I produced a short play at the NY Winterfest at the Hudson Guild Theatre, and for that production alone, I interviewed roughly a dozen directors for my latest play, and that was way less than half of all the people who applied. On the casting end of things, nearly 300 actors applied to audition. Of those actors, less than one-third received an audition slot, and only six of them were ultimately cast. The point being is that the process is very, very competitive, even if it’s just for a low-budget, indie theatre production.

However, as someone who has been on both sides of that process before – and thus is sympathetic to how it feels to be turned down – let me tell you this: If you didn’t get the role or the gig you wanted, it’s often not because you’re not talented. Many of the people I saw – both as actors and as directors – were very impressive. More often than not, it’s simply because there are only so many people who you can say “yes” to, and also, there often needs to be consideration over who is right for each particular production, as opposed to in general. Sometimes, that involves hard choices, which I imagine are even harder for Broadway casting directors.

Yet that doesn’t mean you should give up. Whatever failures you may have today, there will still be a chance at success tomorrow. Even that director or producer who didn’t give you the gig you wanted last time might very well want you in a future production if they remember that you impressed them.

However, while we’re on the subject of why certain people MIGHT not be getting a part, I should also note that…

5. Professionalism matters

Just in case this wasn’t already clear.

On those occasions I mentioned where people didn’t get cast in my productions, yes, sometimes it’s clearly because they need further acting training, or simply because they weren’t the best fit for that particular show. However, a lot of the time, it’s simply due to being straight-up rude and disrespectful. From not showing up for your initial audition slot without excuse to being an egotistical diva to your peers, there are several things that can immediately turn someone off and thus cost you a chance at getting a part in a production, at any level of theater, and any of the directors I’ve worked with before will tell you the exact same thing.

Believe me when I say that the way you present yourself, as a person, can make or break your auditions, and by extension, perhaps your entire career. This point should be obvious to everyone who has reached this point in their careers in theatre by now, but for whatever reason, it’s not something that has gotten through to everyone.

So keep that in mind. Be polite. Be prepared. Bring your resume and headshot. Nail that audition. Then, if you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll get to move on to the point where you can start to take this piece of advice.

6. If you do get lucky enough to be part of a production, don’t be shy about it!

Early on in my theatre career, well before I was producing my own plays in New York, I learned how promoting your own work can make or break a production, if not an entire theatre company. During my community theatre days in Connecticut, one of my earliest theatre experiences was with a company called Hartford Children’s Theatre, where the Artistic Director – at the time – was a former Broadway press agent. It was at that time, when I was still an inexperienced teenage actor, when I saw up-close just how much of a difference intensely promoting your show can make when done correctly. It was a lesson that I took with me to NYC, and I’ve done all I could to make sure I took every advantage that I could to make my shows known to the public.

Yet nonetheless, I notice that this is a rookie mistake that too many others make when they get cast in a show, even here in New York, and it can make all the difference, in terms of box office success. Especially when it’s a smaller, independent production, word of mouth and social media are often the best means of getting people to come to your show.

So if you are in any show at all – whether it’s a play you wrote, a play you directed, a play you are acting in (even if it’s just a few lines), or are working backstage on – then make sure that your first, second, and third priority on social media is to promote the crap out of your show. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or *insert name of social media platform that I’m less familiar with, but is cool with Gen Z these days*, if you’re not taking full advantage of all these platforms by sharing the news about what you’re doing, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. Also, it doesn’t hurt to be more old-fashioned, and send out flyers, postcards, and e-blasts to lots of people you know, especially if it’s a big show or a show you’re especially proud of.

7. Remember that everyone you meet is a possible connection

Of course, making it in New York is about more than just getting cast in shows or getting a gig or getting your own play up on stage. It’s about making connections and getting to know people on a personal level.

This is more or less true to varying degrees at various theaters, but there’s a certain level of truth to this statement, wherever you go: The more likely you are to know someone involved in any one given production or company, the more likely you are to have a chance at getting involved there yourself. We can have a discussion about that topic all day. I myself have written about how theaters should always be looking for new and different actors and directors, for example. However, that’s just a reality of the industry.

Furthermore, the people you know might know other people – or of other opportunities – that might help you line up what’s next, after the project you’re working on now. Back when I was doing my first NYC play at Manhattan Rep, for instance, it was the director of that project who first told me about the NYWinterfest, where I produced my next play, and the director of that project first told me at the (now sadly gone) Midtown International Theatre Festival, and the play I worked on there was where I met quite a few people whom I still know today, and two of whom I am currently working with on a very exciting project that’s currently being planned for the future.

My point here is that you should be friendly to EVERY single person you meet, because you never know who might prove to be a particularly helpful friend to you, and what doors you might be opening for yourself, simply by talking and associating yourself with them. You might not get along with everyone. Not everyone will end up being your best friend, and that’s okay. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, because especially in this industry, the more friends you have, the better.

8. Take advantage of every deal, discount, etc. that you can!

Did I ever mention that living in New York can be expensive? Yes? Well, let me say it again: It’s very, VERY expensive. Even for a small room in a building, you’ll be lucky to find one that’s just under $1000 a month. Then, even after thinking about rent, you still need to eat, right? And what about making sure you have enough money left over for your favorite pastime: seeing as much theatre as you can?

With all that in mind, it’s worth taking advantage of anything that’s free or discounted that’s out there, so you can make the most of what you can, and get the most bang for your buck. There are plenty of good resources out there. Facebook pages such as “Free Events in New York City” or “Free Food in New York City” or “Awesome Events – NYC” often have tips on this sort of thing, as does Time Out New York, so be sure to check those out. Oh, and did I ever mention websites and apps like TodayTix?

The point being, if you see anything that might help you save money, remember it. You might not exactly be living as luxuriously as, say, Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2, but if you learn to take advantage of any deals that are out there, you’ll still be having a good time while you’re here.

9. While not doing theatre, use any free-time to explore and try new things

So you don’t have work. You don’t have an audition or a rehearsal or a show. What are you going to do, on a day like this?

While I’m not opposed to taking a day to just chill at home and watch Netflix and order pizza (I myself am guilty of that, on quite a few occasions, during my days off), it’s also worth remembering…you’re living in New York City, for God’s sake!

restaurant-row-history-untapped-cities.jpg

If you’re living in a rural or suburban town where it doesn’t feel like there’s much to do, then I’d more than understand the desire to just stay home on days like that, but not while you’re living in one of the most (if not THE most) exciting places on Earth, where there’s always something to do! Like anywhere else, it’s healthy to have a nice life where you can relax, socialize, and explore other interests you may have, all outside of the theatre world. In my own specific case, as a playwright, I would actually argue that it’s a necessity, for the sake of not just finding inspiration, but also my own sanity.

So with that all in mind, be sure to go out, explore and enjoy! Like I said above, there are plenty of good deals out there that can help people on a budget make the most of their lives in the city, and that includes affordable and even free events that can be fun! Take advantage of those. Go out, explore, and meet new people!

One suggestion: If you’re not on Meetup (www.meetup.com), consider registering there and looking at some of the groups and events on that website. It’s a great way to discover things to do, and also to go out and meet new people in the city who may share similar interests as you!

10. Enjoy yourself, as much as you can!

As I’ve hinted above, the reality of life in New York isn’t always as glamorous as it’s made out to be. Sometimes, it can feel lonely, especially on the days where you think back to your old life at home, with your family or your old friends. It can also feel frustrating, especially on the days when you’re especially tight on money, or the subway isn’t running or is delayed. And yeah, while you certainly will have some exciting opportunities available to you, believe me when I say that not every day will be a success story. There will be some very good days, but there will also be some bad days. More often, though, at least based on my experience, just days that aren’t really good or bad.

However, there’s a reason why so many of us – especially those of us who love theatre – wanted to move to New York, in the first place, and why so many of us don’t plan on leaving: There really is nowhere else like it, in the world, especially for those of us who love this art form.

For actors, there are always several theatre and film productions – big and small – that are just one Backstage.com application away from auditioning for. If you’re a director, especially one who loves to work on new scripts and shows, there are always companies and producers looking for people like you to collaborate with. If you’re a playwright, you can take my word for it that there is nowhere else in America where you’ll have as many opportunities to see your work produced on stage. Finally, for people who just love watching theatre, some of the Broadway shows that people have been raving about are round around the corner, as well as many Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions. (If you need suggestions, you can start by reading the Reviews section of this blog, including those written by yours truly.)

Oh, and that’s just describing THEATRE in New York. We’re also the home of – among other things – a wide variety of bars and restaurants, including some of the best American pizzerias; large and beautiful parks and museums to explore; world-famous sports teams; incredible art shows and exhibits; quite a few independent film theaters and festivals; and a long, rich history of being the birthplace of some of the greatest social, political, cultural and artistic movements ever in the history of the United States, if not the world.

Bottom line: By moving to New York City, you really are about to be living in the center of the world. The place where there’s no shortage of exciting things to do, adventures to have, and if you’re lucky, dreams that can come true. Embrace this chapter of your life, and enjoy it all, as much as you can!

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Anthony J. Piccione is an award-winning playwright, producer, screenwriter, critic, essayist, poet and occasional actor based in New York City. His eclectic canon of plays have previously been presented in NYC at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the Hudson Guild Theatre, and Manhattan Repertory Theatre, as well as at regional venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theatre, the Windsor Art Center, and Windham Theatre Guild. His short drama “What I Left Behind” was named the NYWinterfest’s Best Short Play of 2018, while his avant-garde one-act “4 $tages” is set to premiere this summer at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. His work as a playwright has been published at Heuer Publishing, and his columns and reviews are frequently published at On Stage Blog. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. Visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com to learn more.