or actors, who must constantly be concerned with wellness of mind and body, happiness can be largely contingent upon their living environments. In a profession that involves so much rejection, with occasional long periods of downtime, finding a place one can call home is of utmost importance.
But in an area spanning more than 490 square miles—encompassing mountains, desert, and beach—the options can seem overwhelming. From the hipster 'hood of Silverlake to the glitz and glam of Beverly Hills, not only is there a plethora of options but there also are extreme differences from neighborhood to neighborhood.
The best way to begin to narrow down the options is to decide how much money you can put toward that ugly little thing called rent. A widely accepted piece of financial advice is to allot one-third of your income toward it. This may eliminate some areas from your search. Generally, for example, Beverly Hills (where monthly rents start at about $1,400) and areas along the beach, such as Venice and Santa Monica (where rents can start at $1,700), are not the most economically friendly. However, other areas are exactly that, for good reason.
The San Fernando Valley (yes, called the Valley), while it has definite pros, can be a pain if you find yourself having to make a 30-mile two-hour commute to your casting internship in Beverly Hills. For any actor considering proximity, the Valley may be the worst choice. Sure, MapQuest says Northridge is a mere 20-something miles from Beverly Hills with an estimated travel time of a half-hour or so, but don't be fooled: The monster of a thing called the 405 freeway can be a place where you brake and coast but never put your foot on the accelerator. As you seethe, what was supposed to be a 30-minute drive can turn into a two-and-a-half-hour road trip.
For actor Joe Hartzler, this was a good-enough reason to move out of the Valley. "We were so far away from anything," says Hartzler, pointing out that it's also 10 to 15 degrees hotter in summer and at least that much colder in winter. However, the Valley is home to a vast array of theatres and entertainment-industry professionals. If you don't mind the travel time and temperature "extremes" (it is still Southern California) in exchange for lower rent—starting at about $800 per month for a studio or one-bedroom—you should look at apartments or homes in the area. North Hollywood, Burbank, and Studio City are central areas. Keep in mind that the farther west you go, the farther from the hub of the entertainment industry you are.
There are other less-expensive areas worth looking at as well, such as Mid-Wilshire (starting around $800) and Echo Park (starting around $900). Hartzler, after living in the Valley, moved to an area near Mid-Wilshire and is happy there. He cites low rent and a culturally diverse neighborhood as his favorite aspects of living in the area. He finds it to be a relatively convenient location and has come to appreciate many of his neighbors. Hartzler says it's not a bad drive to and from many of the places he needs to go, including the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood, where he performs with his improv team, Flap Jackson. Still, he adds, "My favorite aspect of living where I live is certainly the culture that I've been allowed to witness and be placed in, because it's really broadened my perspective, and I've become really good friends with my neighbors." One of the downsides to his neighborhood: It is not among the safest in the city, which is a definite consideration for many.
Actor Lauren Parrent appreciates the sense of safety she feels in and around her apartment in Santa Monica. Before moving to L.A., her roommate researched safe areas, which helped them choose their current neighborhood. "I feel extremely safe. It's a really nice area, and we have great neighbors who definitely keep an eye out for us," says Parrent. She also raves about the array of quiet places available where she can work on characters and break down scripts. And, as she points out, the beach is within walking distance, so she can use it as her personal gym as often as she likes. However, whereas Hartzler is able to afford his own room, Parrent shares her one-bedroom apartment with two roommates. Although not in the center of the city, Parrent feels the location is relatively convenient, as she can take Interstate 10 with often little traffic. "I do probably commute more than, say, someone who lives right by a studio or farther inland," she says. "However, it's worth it to me to spend a long day in the concrete jungle and get to come home to this."
Hillary Ciccarelli, an actor who lives in Hollywood, loves the ease with which she can make her way about. She is able to take side streets into West Hollywood and Beverly Hills and appreciates not having to "go over the hill" or use the freeways. Another aspect of her neighborhood she enjoys is the large population of young people. "It's a small unit, so you feel like you have a lot of roommates. There's always someone around to hang out with, because everyone's young," she says.
Although some of the actors Back Stage spoke with said their neighborhoods were conveniently located for the business, others said that because the city is so spread out, it doesn't matter so much. Parrent says location is key, but actor Jared Day, who lives in Brentwood, says it depends on your point of view. "To me it's not that big of a deal, because I don't mind driving a little bit. If you go out a lot, it's a pain of the business," he says. "Traffic sucks anywhere you go." When asked if he feels as though his location is convenient, he says, "In L.A. you've got to plan to be out all day anyway. Go and bring some snacks."
If you want a place both secure and centrally located, Brandi Satterfield recommends West Hollywood. Rents there tend to be on the high side, starting around $1,300 for a one-bedroom. With its surface-street access to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Satterfield appreciates the ease with which she can get from place to place, and she is able to walk around at night without feeling unsafe. Hartzler advises anyone concerned with safety to check out the Los Angeles Police Department's online crime maps (www.lapdcrimemaps.org), where you can find the various kinds of crimes recently reported in a specific neighborhood.
After you've made the important decisions regarding safety, convenience, and rent, the next obvious step is to find places available that fit what you're looking for. Many of the actors we spoke with used Craigslist (www.craigslist.com) and Westside Rentals (www.westsiderentals.com) with some success; however, arguably the best way to find a place is to take a few afternoon walks around the neighborhoods you're interested in. Bring a pen, a pad of paper, and your cell phone, and as you walk take detailed notes and call the numbers listed on "For Rent" signs. This way you can be sure you like the neighborhood, as photos or listings on websites can be misleading. A place that looks quaint and lovely online may turn out to be graffiti-covered and roach-infested, with a vagrant sleeping in front of the door. Okay, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but do-it-yourself scouting can save you plenty of time driving from one place to another, viewing apartments that looked nice online but are barely livable.
When looking at an apartment, be sure to inquire about parking and the amenities rent may or may not include. Although Satterfield finds her apartment in West Hollywood to be in a great location, parking in the area is permit-only. Residents must buy permits, and parking for guests may be in short supply. And although Ciccarelli says parking is fairly easy in her Hollywood neighborhood, there are frequent car break-ins—making on-site, gated parking more valuable. Many landlords include various utilities such as water and even power in the rent, which can cut tenant costs significantly. Keep in mind that a reasonably priced apartment in a decent neighborhood will most likely not be available for long, so it is imperative you act fast to secure a place you like.
Once you've moved in, or even decided on the locale, start exploring the neighborhood, finding the nearby theatre companies and studios so you can dive right into your career. There are theatres in most areas of the city, although some neighborhoods have many more than others. Hollywood and North Hollywood, for instance, are home to L.A.'s informal "theatre rows." Once you've settled in, check out Back Stage's annual Southland Theatre Guide (last published Jan. 3, also available online at BackStage.com).
When it comes to getting out of the apartment and escaping the demands of the industry grind, the actors we spoke with had suggestions for places to go for fun in their neighborhoods. When needing a quiet spot to relax, Parrent heads to the Novel Café on Pier Avenue in Santa Monica. Hartzler loves an El Salvadorian restaurant on Pico Boulevard called El Baron. Ciccarelli is within easy walking distance to the popular Doughboys café, on Highland and Lexington, as well as many nightclubs. Satterfield likes to frequent El Carmen, a Mexican restaurant and bar in West Hollywood. A great method for finding places in your new neighborhood is Metromix, www.metromix.com, which allows you to pick neighborhoods to browse for restaurants, bars and clubs, events, music, movies, and shopping.
There is an endless stream of activity in the city, regardless of where you are. You may have to drive to get to some of it, but that is inevitable. You will also probably be paying more in rent than you'd like, but that is inevitable as well. What matters most in the end is the happiness and peace of mind your home affords you.