City life for performers: phenomenal cosmic rent, itty-bitty living space

For performers in New York, there’s an art to living lean. It has become a kind of a subculture born out of necessity, instead of enthusiasm. It’s a familiar idea; the starving artist in the big, bad city. So what are some of the things that you must prepare for before you pack up your things and leave your childhood Nebraska/Florida/Ohio home in search of fame?

The first thing you should know, is that it’s kind of inevitable…

This is the often-cruel paradox of the life of an aspiring artist: if you want to carve a life out for yourself in this world, you have to do so in some of the most expensive cities. And I get it. You can only sustain a respectable theater or studio in places where people have enough money to throw around to have it stick to some of us.

Even with the globalization of the internet, you are still going to find the majority of screen actors milling about Los Angeles; waiting outside Burbank studio gates with headshots taped inside of pizza boxes. If you want to be on the stage, chances are your show is cast in New York City, no matter where in the country the show ends up touring.

Short story long, if you want to be discovered, you have to find your way straight to the people who can make it happen for you, and make sure that they don’t forget about you. Sometimes auditions can take pace within a moment’s notice, and you have to be onhand. This is kind of hard to do if you’re based in Americus, Georgia, and have to make flight arrangements.

So, putting that question to bed…

How do people make it work?

There are several kinds of ways that young (and, let’s be honest, many old) artists build themselves a life here…the tricky thing is in the protocol. It can be hard to understand if you have never made the trek, or haven’t experienced the culture here.

I’m looking at you, meticulous planners.

Your journey is going to happen, but you might need to make moves faster (read: on much shorter notice) than you might be accustomed. This goes doubly for those of you aren’t students; who can count on dorms or any of the resources you might be able to take advantage of through a university or conservatory atmosphere. If you are a lone wolf, then your best bet is to check room-sharing and apartment availability a week or two prior to making the jump. Yikes!

Why? you might ask. It has to do with a couple of terms from high school economics you will have to dust-off. Scarcity and Cost of Living.

Scarcity is just the principle that there is a finite amount of something. There aren’t enough rooms in the big city for everyone that would like to live here.

Cost of Living is the amount of capital “fungible” assets (that’s your money, sweet crypto, gold coins, rabbit’s feet) it costs in order to maintain a lifestyle in a given place. This especially important for the artist class, because it is the singular thing that keeps all of us awake at night; until our inevitable big breaks.

Since scarcity often drives cost of living in an area, to move into a place, at a price we can stomach, means you have to take what you can get. “Affordable” housing in these places is extremely scarce, so people tend not to give up their living situation until they absolutely know they have another option locked down.

All of this brings us to the modus operandi of the weary, impoverished wanderer. The dreaded internet apartment search.

Where to start…

Like anywhere in the world, birds of a feather tend to flock together. there are many community postings available to accommodate artists lodging, the most prevalent being community-driven, dedicated Facebook groups.

Some notable options are sites like Gypsy Housing, as seen here:

A popular, New York-based housing/room-sharing site; used by performers. “Ghostlight” referencing the light that they leave on in the theatre when no shows or rehearsals are in session. It appeases or wards off any mischievous spirits who might haunt the theater.

Another iteration of the same idea (this one based out of Brooklyn):

It’s named for a woman who’s actual given name was Gypsy, but every now and again someone jumps on and says they should change the name because of the racial implications. That sometimes causes your wall to blow up with notifications.

Social media is obviously a solid way to reach out to people you might not know for help, but be weary, there are always the occasional scammers and prowlers. The good thing is, in the performing arts community, people are pretty good about looking out for one another and posting about the experiences that they have had.

It also merits saying that many of the options that you will find on these sites, while not uncommon, aren’t strictly legal situations. Unauthorized subtennants, in New York City especially, probably outnumber subway rats. #beenthere come at me.

Another servicable way to find people is on the old trusty listing/forum cites such as craigslist, airbnb, et al. Since these postings are generally anonymous, it’s important to really be more careful when you are dealing with them. And also if the listing says extreme East Williamsburg, it is probably in Bushwick. Were it not the case East Williamsburg would probably encompass most of Brooklyn…but I digress.

The good thing about a craiglist posting, much like the social media groups, is that you can find rooms/non-traditional lease situations that you might not find on more traditional brokerage websites.

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

Of course, there is always that trusty go to in a pinch, tapping your friends (this is especially valuable for short-term stays).

Photo by Helena Lopes ig: @helena_wlt

It may seem silly, but seriously, networking is a must if you are going to make it in this business. Often, personal and professional networking can bleed into one another; as your friends successes can bleed into your opportunities and vice-versa. You cannot be afraid to call people up. Today’s couch hopping, cheeto-eating moocher could be tomorrow’s reference or costar! Just ask Wes Anderson and Owen Williams.

Yes, it is going to feel hectic the first time.

There isn’t any way around it. But I promise you, this is something that, if you don’t quite get used to, at least you will come to expect and master.

Good luck, happy trails, and keep swimming toward your dreams!

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