When you move to a new city, where do you start?
Due to circumstances regarding our current housing situation, my family will be relocating to Denver this August. Now, I am fully aware of the amazing theatrical presence there and I know there will be no shortage of opportunities, but I am nervous about starting over in a new city at this point in my career. I was hoping you might have some advice regarding starting over in a new city where you are not an established actor.
Rocky Mountain Hives
Mama is going to assume that, although you are not an established actor in Denver, you are an established actor in general, meaning that you are thoroughly trained and have a level of professional experience that puts you in the same ballpark as the actors who work in the market you are about to call home. Mama is also going to assume that you have the requisite professional accoutrements, such as up-to-date, accurately representative headshots, appropriate audition clothes, a correctly formatted resume, the skill and tech required to self-tape an audition, etc.
As you are doubtless aware from your pursuit of an acting career thus far, beyond a certain (early) point, there are two ways to do work that gets seen: to book it as the result of auditioning or to create it yourself, and both methods succeed or fail in large part on the strength of your connections. If one truth endures across all markets, it is this: this business is all about whom you know.
So Mama is confident that you have already done the obvious: you have reached out across your social media network, your alumni comrades, your secondary and yes, even elementary school peers, and your family tree from root to blossom, and sniffed out every individual who has lived in, near, or frequently driven past the greater Denver metropolitan area. Mama is secure in the knowledge that you have individually contacted each of these people—regardless of their age or occupation—and determined if they have a friend, relative, colleague, halal butcher, sorority sister, prison pen pal, or seatmate they bonded with during a turbulent flight who either is or knows someone who works in theatre or film in Denver. Mama is further certain that you have exploited these contacts to the tune of a confirmed lunch or coffee date with as many of these showbiz types as your considerable charm could persuade, within a month of your hustling little hinder’s arrival in the Mile-High City. (It goes without saying that you have budgeted funds to pick up the tabs for these meetings. Mama raised you right.)
Additionally, you have also done exhaustive internet mining, searching out and joining the social media groups for Denver-area actors, contacting Denver’s AEA and SAG/AFTRA offices (even if you are not a member) and viewing the websites to see what kinds of services and publications are on offer for area actors, reading arts sections of the local media online, and checking the “About Us” pages of every website of every area theatre to see if there are people you know or have connections to. You’ve Googled “Denver Theatre” and “Denver Film” and “Resources Actors Denver” and read links three to five pages deep in the search. In other words, you’ve done all the obvious homework, and thoroughly. If, after all this, Mama were to find that she still had zero connections in the Denver area and no concrete place to start (which is unlikely: Mama is very good at befriending strangers on planes, as she always has Altoids in her handbag, and peppermint is good for nausea) Mama would have to get creative. She might:
1. Get in class. Presumably you have already checked with those teachers from your training with whom you are on good terms regarding whom they might know in Denver. Assuming they were unhelpful, use the Denver acting community Facebook pages to research a good acting class. (Mama would want to find a studio or class run by someone whose credentials she recognized and respected. If you don’t have a recommendation, check the online bios of company members at theatres that employ local actors—not the houses that bring the majority of their casts in from New York— and see if there is a consistent theme to where these people train(ed) locally. Avoid classes without an audition requirement, and favor classes that allow an audit period before committing. Then, when you get a break at that first audited class, chat. Find out if the people in the class work, and if so, where. Ask for advice. Tell them you’re new to the area. If they are like most actors, they will inundate you with useful information. (In this, the most competitive of industries, actors cannot stop themselves from helping one another. It is a necessity of the art that bleeds into the business. Bless our hearts.) If you find that you are auditing a class where no one is actually working, find another class. You want to go where the working actors in Denver keep up their skills. But be sure that you extricate yourself from the former class with great delicacy (that’s why you should audit first unless you have an ironclad recommendation). Claim a conflict with your new job, or an unexpected financial strain. During these first several months of reconnaissance, it will behoove you to be highly discreet. You don’t want word getting around that you thought you were too good for Studio X. Think about how small the NYC acting world is. You’re in Denver now. Tread lightly.
2. Go to shows. Check the arts section of the local paper for the past year and see which shows at smaller theatres got excellent reviews. (Obviously you want to work at the Denver Center. You can eventually find out how locals manage that from Denver actors. It is probably not going to be easy.) When first presented with your question, Mama immediately found herself wondering, “Does Denver have its own local theatre awards, like most regional markets?” Of course it does. They are called The Henry Awards, and you can find lists of the past years’ winners (and a wealth of other information, including auditions) here, at the Colorado Theatre Guild website.
Look for the names of theatres, actors and directors who have gotten great reviews or received awards over the past few years, especially smaller theatres. Go see any current shows featuring these people or at these venues. If there is a gala or a fundraiser and you can afford it, go, and mingle.
3. Hit the town. Once you have seen several shows, find out where actors go to drink after. This is as simple as putting a post in the Denver Actors Facebook group(s) you’ve joined: “Best Bar for Post-Show Drinks: Go.” Then, on Friday and Saturday night, head out. Hit the bars near the theatres where you’ve seen shows. Don’t drink much. Bring a friend or significant other, or you will seem weird. (When Mama, in her salad days, needed to schmooze but felt shy, she brought her charming, extroverted friend Yvonne with her to clambakes and ice cream socials and key parties and similar diversions that were popular in her day. Yvonne was the ideal companion because she loved the theatre, but was not an actor, and therefore not competition. Mama recalls Yvonne fondly, but she digresses.)
When you inevitably see an actor you recognize from a show, introduce yourself. Compliment his or her performance, sincerely. Share that you’re new in town. Ask for recommendations of a good scene study class. If you’re invited to sit down, buy a round of drinks and let the advice flow. If not, back off. Repeat that you enjoyed the show and leave. Then you can friend or follow him on social media in a few days and start building your network. (Note: once you have done this successfully twice or three times, stop. You don’t want to be the weird barfly from out of town. What you want is solid recommendations and tips from people in a position to know, and you want to start making connections.)
4. Volunteer…maybe. This one is tricky. Do not usher, do not work in the box office, do not take a day job at a theatre where you want to work. If you have genuine directing or playwriting credentials or training, you could consider checking the local theatres for upcoming productions or directors or playwrights that interest you and reaching out to the Artistic Director about assistant directing or acting as a dramaturg. This could potentially be an excellent way to meet people, if you can truly commit the time, excel at the job, and let it be known that you’re an actor, as well. But don’t volunteer to do anything that takes you too far from the artistic process. Once you’re doing publicity or front-of-house, it’s very hard to make the switch to the rehearsal hall, especially if you’re good at it. Another idea: find out if your target theatres have a reading series for new plays, and email the Literary Directory to say you’re new to the area and would love to participate in a reading series. Offer to read the stage directions. It’s worth it to make contacts.
5. See if the most respected local actors coach. Even if there’s not an ongoing master class, it is likely that the most revered actors in town—the ones who play the prestige roles that don’t go to the NYC actors—coach. Even if they don’t advertise it, they might do it if asked, especially if you have a background or a teacher in common. Get their contact information legitimately, and politely ask if they will coach you for an audition, or, if there’s nothing on the horizon, ask for monologue coaching. He or she may or may not be a great coach (not all good actors can teach, and vice versa), but you will likely get some good technique hacks, and you will almost definitely get a wealth of useful information if you ask graciously and listen. A tip from Mama: teachers and coaches tend to develop a proprietary interest about their students, especially if the student is talented and appreciative. It’s a good idea to make a favorable impression on someone whom everyone knows and respects. Just don’t be late or miss an appointment, and make sure you are scheduled for a set number of sessions, so that it’s not difficult to extricate yourself from the arrangement if the work itself isn’t helpful.
There are at least a half-dozen further suggestions Mama could make (such as checking if the local university has a film school), but the truth is that you could easily waste your time following up on ideas that are sensible in theory and a waste of time in practice. Every New York actor has a story of a rookie mistake he made when he first moved to the city that cost him time, money, or self-respect. It is the theatre community you build in Denver who will ultimately guide you to success. Budget funds, and mentally prepare for schmoozing—you’re in for an exhausting year: do your research and plan your attack, and you will find your energy sustains you longer and your efforts bear greater fruit.
Current or former Denver-area actors with tips, suggestions, and warnings for Rocky, please join the conversation on Facebook!