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To Move Or Not To Move? That Is The Question

July 21, 2008

One of the most common things for San Francisco-based actors to do if they've had a modicum of success on local stages and don't have any strong ties to The Bay Area, is to decamp for Los Angeles or New York. I've seen this happen time and time again in recent years.

Sometimes, an actor's decision to up sticks makes sense. One actor acquaintance of mine, whom I shall call D, recently left for LA. He decided to make the move after ten years of working as an actor in San Francisco. D had a string of successes to his name. This really strong track record as a theatre performer enabled him to build up over the years a devoted following among audiences as well as links to several great local theatre companies, one of which he will always be able to call his artistic home.

D left because he wanted a change and wanted to explore the world of film acting for a while. Although D's decision to launch a film career in Hollywood wasn't auspiciously timed owing to all the Union issues going on right now, D had a good foundation to start from. Not only does he have several apparently significant contacts in the movie industry down there, but he also has family in the LA area. With the promise of free accommodation and access to a car, the move to LA seemed a lot less daunting to D than it might have done to another Hollywood hopeful.
In addition, D had also managed to line up a couple of roles in theatre productions in San Francisco and Berkeley for 2009. This meant that he would continue to keep his ties to the Bay Area performing arts scene.

Whether D lands his dream movie roles in Hollywood or not is neither here nor there at the end of the day. He went to LA in the spirit of adventure, and from the recent email I received from him, it sounds like he's having a good time and making contacts, even though business is slow for the time being.

I sense that the desire to move seemed to come from a deep place within D and he had taken all the right steps before he left to make the transition as smooth and stress-free as possible.

D's case is unusual though. Not everyone, after all, is lucky enough to have family and friends in the industry and free apartments and cars to avail themselves of in New York or LA. More often than not, Bay Area theatre people move to New York or LA in under altogether more precarious circumstances. Another actor actor I know, F, decamped to New York after the success of one solo show. The show had transferred from a small to mid-sized venue and had earned rave reviews.

F decided that New York would receive him with open arms and he jumped ship for the East Coast while people were still talking about him on the West. Unhappily, things didn't go the way he'd planned after the move. And beyond the one hit solo show, he didn't have any other strong ties to the Bay Area arts scene and didn't have any contacts or gigs lined up in New York. Judging by conversations I had with the actor, who returned to The Bay Area after a year of trying to make inroads in New York, his move had been motivated mostly by egotism. Riding high on the success of his solo show in The Bay Area, he thought people on the other side of the country would treat him like he was a celebrity.

There's something refreshing about F's impulsivity; I admire him for giving New York a go. But the entire experience completely embittered him. By the time F returned to the Bay Area, he was completely jaded. Since his return a few years ago, he hasn't to my knowledge produced any new work, though he did do a short reprise run of his hit solo show from the mid-1990s in a small theatre a couple of years ago.

The trend of actors moving away from San Francisco doesn't especially worry me. There are enough fantastic performers who decide not to move to relegate the issue to the minor leagues. Besides, I'm of the belief that change is a good thing if it truly comes from the gut as opposed to the head. But it strikes me that people considering a move to one of the bigger metropolises on either coast should get in touch with what they're feeling and carefully analyze their motives before making the leap.

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