Joining a theatre company offers multiple benefits. You make friends, which is of no small value when you've recently arrived and don't know a lot of people. Your fellow members—professional performers, like you—will know more about the L.A. acting scene and can fill you in. You get to keep your chops up by working on plays. And if it's a respected company, you'll start having opportunities to be seen by casting people. What's more, being accepted to a theatre company is a form of approval, letting you know that you haven't made a terrible mistake by moving here.
In addition to the obvious benefits of training, acting classes are great places to get to know fellow actors. Meeting at a party is one thing, but when actors study together, they bond in a deeper and more substantial way. What's more, if you're agent-hunting, a fellow actor is far more likely to recommend you if he or she has seen your work in class. (See our related article, "How to Choose a Teacher.")
Our actors' unions offer wonderful programs, workshops, and seminars, which are well worth attending for their own merits. But an added advantage is that these events facilitate gatherings of actors, and they do so in an atmosphere of learning and solidarity. The SAG Foundation (www.sagfoundation.org) offers Conversations, "a national speaker series inviting high-profile industry professionals to share their experiences in the industry with an audience of actors," and LifeRaft, "a professional development program that provides insight into the business of acting, giving SAG members practical industry skills and knowledge to help guide their careers and make informed decisions." AFTRA also offers a series of classes and seminars for members, listed at www.aftra.com/locals/losangeles/membereducation.html, as does Actors' Equity Association. Information about Equity's Education and Outreach program can be found at www.actorsequity.org/Education Outreach/edoutreachhome.asp. Union educational events are nearly always offered without charge. (See our related article, "How to Join the Unions.")
For better or worse, performing arts unions have had their share of strikes lately. On the upside, there's no better place than a picket line to literally rub elbows with your peers. And there's plenty of time to chat about the business—or lack thereof—as you tote your sign back and forth. Membership meetings are also good places to enhance your circle while staying actively involved with your unions.
When I moved from New York, I had a pretty snobby attitude about theme parks. That was before I learned that lots of performers with major Broadway and regional theatre credits work at places like Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood. I did too, for years, and they were some of the best support jobs I ever had. I made a living performing, and I made friends and contacts—lots of them, many of whom I'm still in touch with. And the schedule is such that you have substantial breaks between shows. It's a great time for hanging out and getting to know your new cohorts.
Many actors stay in touch via websites like MySpace and Facebook, where you can join groups, communicate with peers, ask for advice, promote shows you're in, organize gatherings, read reviews, and get information on classes, teachers, theatre companies, and just about any other actor-related topic you can think of.
Some actors choose to commune away from their professional settings. Here are a few of those places.
If you're spiritually inclined, why not choose a house of worship where you can attend alongside fellow thesps? Agape, described on its website, www.agapelive.com, as a "transdenominational spiritual community," seems to be a popular actors' church, frequented even by those who don't consider themselves religious. The Synagogue for the Performing Arts, www.sftpa.com, speaks for itself, and Valley Beth Shalom, www.vbs.org, attracts industry types as well. There's also InterMission Hollywood, www.inter-mission.net, an interdenominational organization for Christians in the entertainment industry. Several Christian churches cater to the industry as well, such as Ecclesia Hollywood (www.ecclesiahollywood.org) and Mosaic (www.mosaic.org).
You really want to meet actors? Go to a 12-step program. That's not a joke, a recommendation, or a judgment. We're just saying that if you choose to go, you'll find comrades there. And because of the nature of these groups, 12-steppers also tend to be more supportive than competitive, and willing to help you get acclimated.
You know what they say: If you want something, give something—or something like that. Volunteering is good for the soul, good for the world, and a good way to connect. And since here, two out of every three people seem to be actors, you're bound to meet some along the way.
When not working on their careers, actors are often found at the gym, at the coffee house, or engaged in what is apparently our favorite pastime: eating and talking. The short stretch of shops and restaurants on Franklin Avenue, between Tamarind and Bronson, is an actors' mecca, as is the 101 Coffee Shop a few blocks west. The hike at Runyon Canyon seems designed for reunions, as you'll rarely get to the top without stopping to swap war stories with a contemporary. Some gravitate toward the Farmers Market on Fairfax, some gather at the Aroma Café in Studio City. The point is, you'll meet more of your fellow artistes if you leave your house.
So welcome to L.A. It's a strange place. But by connecting early on with your new showbiz comrades, you'll find it a lot easier to navigate.