Finding an Apartment
A matchbox of your own—to paraphrase that "Little Shop of Horrors" lyric—is necessary if you're serious about your career. Yet in this most hapless of housing markets, it's a Herculean task.
The economics alone are daunting: Be prepared to spend up to 50% of your income on rent. If that's onerous, expand your horizons. You needn't live in Manhattan to be a successful performer. Indeed, many Broadway babies live in other trendy boroughs—from Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Ft. Greene, and Park Slope in Brooklyn to Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Jackson Heights in Queens to welcoming swaths of the Bronx, Staten Island, and beyond. If Manhattan living is non-negotiable, however, prepare to cohabitate—and always thoroughly interview all prospective roommates.
Next, learn some terms. Under the law, "rent-controlled" apartments—a categorization applicable to apartment buildings built before 1947 in which you or a family member has lived since 1971—can no longer be rented. "Rent-stabilized" apartments, however, abound, with hundreds of thousands in New York. Because they rarely turn over, it can take time to find one, but it's worth it: Yearly rent increases almost never top 10% and often rise only 2-4%.
You also needn't spend thousands on broker fees to find a place to hang your hat. Indeed, with brokers charging up to 20% of a year's rent as commission, surfing Web-based broker alternatives makes sense.
To be sure, some Internet-based apartment-renting services charge fees to access listings of no-fee apartments, yet even here dollars still make sense: Those fees are well below that of brokers. And it's a URL smorgasbord: www.rent-direct.com, www.apartmentsource.com, www.apartment-store.com, www.dailyapartments.com, www.mlx.com, www.ardorny.com, www.nyaptstore.com, www.newyork.craigslist.com, www.220home.com, www.nyrealty.com, www.rent.net, www.nycaptsinc.com. And if you're going the roommate route, visit www.1800roommates.com, www.easyroommate.com, and www.rooming.virtualave.net.
You can also amble around the neighborhood(s) you want to live in. In the lobbies of most buildings, you'll find contact information for the management company in charge, and if you call them, you may discover that some also prefer to cut out the broker as middleman and deal with renting to people directly.
Finally, scan newspaper ads. By most accounts, The Village Voice, which publishes Wednesdays, has the best ads, but The New York Times, especially Sundays, has great leads. Speed is always paramount: If you're not ready to plunk down your deposit then and there, you'll likely lose that dream flat to someone with a quicker pen. You might want to try the Voice's email service for fresh listings—just $28 for four weeks.
Organizing Your Space
Be prepared to optimize your life by organizing a part of your apartment into an office: Once you've found a place to live in New York, you'll want to handle your career in a professional and competitive manner. Setting up your bedroom (or any spare room you can find) as an office will help you keep focused on the task of turning yourself into a working and successful actor.
A clean, well-organized area dedicated to your career will help you cast off all those distractions that the rest of your life, relationships, and a day job bring. It's in this self-created space that you'll be able to control the whirlwind of your life, becoming your own agent, manager, and publicist.
Every day you must dedicate time to closing yourself off from the rest of the world, sitting down peacefully in your "personal office," and deciding on what needs to be done to get your career off the ground (and keep it sailing).
In your office you'll prepare your resumes, headshots, cover letters, and reels for submission; you'll carefully decide what casting notices to reply to in Back Stage and what agencies and productions you should contact in Ross Reports; you'll file the press clippings and reviews of shows you've appeared in, as well as returning phone calls and emails from potential employers.
The idea is to create a physical Zen-place where you're not just a struggling artist, but instead a motivated and focused individual who can treat his or her art as a career. Before you can convince others to take your career choice seriously, you have to take it seriously yourself. Devoting time and space to the business end of your career is the first step in turning your acting ambition into a professional vocation.
And beyond the psychological benefits of creating an office for yourself, you might also qualify for a major tax break. Once you've started making money as an actor—even if it's not your primary source of income—you'll become eligible to file your taxes as a self-employed individual. And being self-employed means that your home office is now a tax-deductible business expense. Home-office deductions allow you to deduct a percentage of your home expenses. For instance, if you own a two-room apartment, and you use one of those rooms exclusively as a home office, then you could be eligible for a deduction of up to 50% of your rent, electricity, etc.
Acting isn't just an art; it's a business. When you're on the stage or screen, you can focus on the art—but in your home office, you'll focus on the business. And that business is you.
—Luke Thomas Crowe