• Byron Hagan

In Response to a NY Times Article (Originally Published Jan 25, 2019)

For the past week or so, an article from the New York Times has been circulating among my colleagues about a young woman who moved to New York City, recently, to pursue a career in acting and voice-over. The response from almost everyone I know, has been largely outrage.

The article itself follows the young woman, Melissa Miller, on her apartment hunt throughout Manhattan (and Hoboken, NJ briefly), including places like Murray Hill, Tribeca and the Theater District, before deciding on a studio apartment in the Upper West Side for $2500 a month. Throughout her search, she filters her decisions through her father, who brings up objections for each place ("If you can buy pizza for a dollar you're not in the right neighborhood").  She also wants to live alone, citing bad roommate experiences as the reason. Additionally, she wants easy access to the theater district for her classes and auditions she attends. At one point, the landlord for an apartment around West 80th street denies her application in favor of a different tenant that the reporter suspects has "a regular jobs and regular hours", someone else is quoted as saying they are looking for a tenant that won't be around so much, which, to me, is a little confusing. Ms. Miller works as a waitress in NY, which indeed, does have irregular hours, however, the implication I get from this article, is that her parents are helping her pay for rent. If a tenant doesn't have the income to pay to rent, any application would ask for a guarantor, in order to make sure they get payed full rent on time. Additionally, why should any landlord really care how often any one tenant is in any one apartment?

It seemed to me that the main source of outrage at this article, was that another young, privileged, white girl is coming to NY, trying to make it as an actress, and her parents are helping her pay rent. In other words, her experience in securing an apartment, wasn't the experience of the vast majority of my friends and peers, or even mine. 

I was fortunate enough to get out of college with $0 in debt because of the college fund my parents put me on when I was 5 years old (a fund which doesn't exist anymore because the state of Texas was losing money on the program). I was accepted to graduate school immediately, and I too flew to New York to pursue my dream. Now, my mom helped me with my rent for a long time, rent that began at about $600 and grew to about $800 a month by the time I moved out. I didn't have a real estate agent to connect with, because that means fees once they find you the apartment you say yes to. I lived in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn during that time, a 15 minute walk from the subway, which could become a pretty brutal walk in either a heat wave or a blizzard. I was a relief for me when I finally was able to stop taking money from my mom and pay my own way. I would've loved to have been able to live in a place like the Upper West Side. I also had roommates, roommates who I almost didn't really even meet until we moved into the apartment. Granted, I had been in contact with them that summer because all of us were attending the same acting program in Manhattan and we were all trying to bunk up to save money. Over the course of my time in that apartment, I moved around to all 3 bedrooms as roommates came and went over the years, maybe about 5 or 6 different roommates. Now, I had a roommate steal my credit number once in college and had to file a police report on him, but I still wanted roommates because even though I liked living alone, I knew I needed to split rent, because we could only afford so much. My first female roommate, Mel, often carried pepper spray with her as she found herself often cat-called on the walk to and from our apartment. My point is, we all picked the best we could get, but we still loved each other and that apartment. When my wife and I decided to move in together, we picked the East Village, and I still remember that last car ride out of Brooklyn into Manhattan with the last of my stuff.

Now, one argument I do agree with, is that Ms. Miller's experience shouldn't be discounted just because her parents are helping her pay, or she lives in a nice neighborhood. If she wants to make a go of being an actor, she should, and I wish her the best of luck with it. However, my major issue does come in with the realization that, indeed, the article is not representative of the majority of our experiences; those that move here to try and make it. My fear is that the article will give the wrong impression to younger people that move here to also try and make it, which is irresponsible, and potentially dangerous. I realize that the article is really only about her apartment hunt and only skims over anything else about her life. I do give her points for mentioning a fall back plan of child psychology. However, and now I'm speaking from experience, you really don't get the sense of truly how competitive this industry is, how much of a grind it can be, until you jump in. Ms. Miller mentions going to the theater district for auditions, though I have to imagine (assuming Miller is a non-union actor) that unless she has booked an appointment for an audition for something, the vast majority of auditions she will attempting are EPA's (Equity Principal Auditions), which, frankly, if you are a non-union actor, are very close to a waste of time. Depending on the project, you could be facing hundreds of people at the same audition, competing for the same roles, and according to Equity rules, anyone who is Equity or even an Equity candidate, will be seen before you, even if you woke up and 4am to get in line at the earliest possible time. Just getting seen, and even then, actually booking something, takes a lot of patience, planning, hustle, and a not insignificant amount of luck. At some point, we find out that a lot of the work we're able to do comes from knowing certain people and being in the right place at the right time, just as much as our talent.

It doesn't matter what your background or life experience is, because I've always believed anyone and everyone has it in them to make great art. Everyone wants to do the best work they can, which often comes with a lot of disappointment. You will feel (probably more often than not) like you are watching your colleagues around you find success and you are stuck in one place, wondering what's wrong with you, why you aren't good enough. We're all good enough to have the kind of life and career we want, we just can't ever give up, if it's what we really want.

I know not everyone wants to think about the little day to day details of an acting career, but for all of you guys out there thinking about it, realize that Ms. Miller's experience isn't your experience, which is entirely the point. Take pride in your background and what you bring to the table as an artist. If this is what you want to do with your life, I have one piece of advice for you: BE RELENTLESS. Never become complacent and wait for something to come to you, because it won't. Read plays, watch films, go to shows, read books, FORM YOUR OWN OPINIONS, I can't emphasis enough how important it is to have any kind of opinion about anything that's happening in theater, film, art, even the politics and economics of the world at large. All of that only comes from observing the world around you and talking to a lot of people with different backgrounds than you. Fall in love, too, that's quite the experience.

What was I talking about? Oh right. So, Ms. Miller has her own background with a family that, I'm sure, loves and supports her, and that's great. Nobody's background disqualifies them from making great art. Katherine Hepburn came from a very affluent family and she was a master of her craft. My suggestion to you would be to not compare yourself to the experiences and successes of someone else, because that's an entirely self defeating and toxic spiral.

The entire point that I want to make is that, I want to hear other people's stories, in addition to people like her. Frankly, the whole article reads as some kind of satire, which I think is a disservice to what I assume was supposed to be a very genuine story about a young woman making the big move to New York City to pursue acting. I want to hear the stories about the people that had to move deep into Brooklyn, or the Bronx. I want to hear about the people that LIVE THERE, maybe they're a kid trying to write their first screenplay, or trying to start a theater company with just a group of friends in a basement. What are their hopes, their successes, their frustrations, their setbacks? I don't know about you, but hearing more stories like that would certainly help me feel less alone in my own frustrations. We are all so caught up in presenting our best and most palatable selves to the world, especially on social media, that we forget the value of being vulnerable with each other. I hope for more stories that reflect the experiences of many of us that struggle to carve out a name for ourselves, even the people that have no desire for fame, just for an honest, sustained living as an artist. By the way, making a living at this, never means just doing one thing, it means acting, writing, dancing, maybe playing an instrument, teaching. Find not just one thing, but multiple things in this industry that you love and are good at.

I'm blessed to have a family and a wife that believes in my abilities and what I'm trying to do, and continues to do so after we both became parents 6 months ago. It's hard not to feel the creeping feeling that time is running out, even though I'm not quite 30 yet (babe get ready for that meltdown, lol). However, for any moment I feel like I'm not working hard enough, I use that as a motivator, and you should too. For every setback, don't let it defeat you. Don't wait. The time is now.

Link to the original NY Times article:


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