New York City or Los Angeles…
Both cities attract aspiring actors for different reasons. LA, after all, is the country’s center of film and TV. New York, however, might be more attractive if you’re looking to get into the theater.
Yet regardless of your career goals, I’m going to tell you that there’s only one right answer: LA. In this post, I’ll dive into the many benefits of moving to LA over NYC and why it’s a decision that will only benefit your career in the long run.
If you want to have a successful career and the freedom to call the shots, LA is undoubtedly the better place to start your career. There are many more job opportunities here than in New York thanks, not to mention LA is generally cheaper than NYC. It also doesn’t matter if you’ve graduated from acting school or you’re just getting started on your education; if you have the goods, with some luck, your big break could be reached in 2-3 years in LA.
Make Your Passion For Acting Worth It
Every actor has a limited amount of years of passion for acting. It does not last. Most people’s passion lasts anywhere from three to five and, at most, 10 years.
So if you have what it takes, the chance of booking a TV guest star, co-star, or even series regular role in 3 years is easier in LA. The chance of getting in a production on or off Broadway could take up to 10 years, even for supporting roles.
Also, the pay compared to the two is ridiculous. The weekly SAG minimum for television is $3,575, while the Actor’s Equity Association (the Broadway equivalent of SAG) weekly minimum is around $2,034. Passion only survives if we nurture it. Think of it as a bonfire; if you don’t feed it, it will go out. In our business, booking jobs feeds the flame. That’s the only way your passion will survive for as long as you need it and there’s more booking happening in LA than NYC.
Don’t forget that passions and priorities change over time. Things like starting a family will change your priorities. Once you choose that different path, your passion for acting will no longer be the priority, so keep that in mind.
The bottom line is there is a time limit to your acting passion. Better to take full advantage of it in the beginning than later and LA will help nurture it more than NYC could.
The theater is the only scenario where I would say to start in NYC. But I will say that it is hard to break into the theater world with no name and little experience. It may take you up to 15 years to make a name for yourself after being in a couple of Broadway plays or musicals.
But ask yourself, if you know that the acting business is a young person’s business, do you really want to potentially lose your youth in NYC? New York is very expensive to live in—many folks don’t even live in the city to work there. The constant financial stress will take its toll on you.
Many TV/ film stars in LA go on to do plays and musicals and because of their popularity, they get to sign casual one-year contracts just so they can be qualified for a TONY award. Once they win or lose, they leave and once they leave, an NYC Broadway star takes over. This shows how easy it is to get to Broadway once you’ve built yourself in LA through film and TV and also how Broadway stars are less “in demand” than Hollywood stars are.
If you’re more interested in theater, it might take you five years to create a name for yourself in LA and, once you do, it’s easier to get into Broadway.
I have clients who are now on the rise and I wouldn’t have let them do theater until things are settled for them in Hollywood. In about two years, they can then decide if they want to make the move and pursue Broadway. There’s a lot of money to be made there for the right people: folks will spend thousands to see big-name actors in live plays.
All the top talent agencies like APA and Gersh have satellite locations outside of LA. However, their nucleus is still LA and most of their operations take place here. It’s a whole different ball game here compared to NYC.
In fact, it’s not unheard of that a client signed with these agencies and based out of NYC can come out to LA and, if they don’t book a job within 3 months, get dropped from that agency. The competition is fiercer here. There are so many people trying to make it in LA that you have to operate more aggressively. In a way, if you make it here, at least in this industry, you can make it in NYC.
With all of this said, if you’re more interested in theater, go to NYC. If you have no interest in TV and film, then NYC is the place to be.
What About My Time In Acting School?
Most acting schools lean towards teaching theater techniques. Most acting teachers have experience performing in the theater so they have a tendency to push that in their curriculums. It goes back to what we always talk about; “you can only teach what you know.”
Because of this, most people graduate from their schools with thoughts of NYC as the next move. As a manager, when I attend school showcases, the one thing I learn very quickly is that the students have not figured out their destination in time. If there’s an actor I’m interested in at these events, the first question I ask is, “Where are you planning to go? NYC or LA?” The second they don’t say LA, it’s a pass for me.
There are so many actors out here and it’s so difficult to succeed in this business. Agents and managers don’t have the luxury of spending time trying to make decisions like that for anyone. Remember, no matter who you are, when you just graduate, you are nothing more to an agent or manager than potential. What you do with that potential is the answer to success or failure. Many actors think they choose their managers, but the truth is the manager chooses them and the decision is not rocket science.
As you contemplate your acting journey, trust my advice: head to LA.
Attend an acting school or program first and then no matter what they say, go to LA.
LA and NYC are two different atmospheres. I know a lot of successful actors that built their success in LA initially but love living in NYC. It’s two different lifestyles for different types of people. Ever since California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Film and Television Tax Credit for Hollywood, so much more of the industry went back to LA from NYC and ATL after years leaving for more cost-effective states. LA became more competitive after being on the decline for years.
And if you feel like your school doesn’t care to teach anything about film or tv acting, insist that they do. And definitely insist that they teach about the business side of this industry. The question “LA or NYC?” is a BUSINESS related question and the more you know about the business, the better chance you’ll have of making it.