The second you decide to be an actor, two questions pop into your head.
New York? Or LA?
For years, these have been the only two options for people who seriously wanted to make it in this business (apologies to Chicago).
But is there another option? Should artists stay in Charleston and work to create a vibrant local scene, or go to the big cities and test their mettle against everyone else?
The answer to both of these questions is — absolutely.
My wife Mandy and I fantasize about moving back to Charleston all the time. We would be acting, rehearsing, having babies, living above the Crosstown, Sunday brunch at Moe's. (In four years in Charleston, I have been to Moe's maybe four times. In my Charleston fantasy life, I'm there every single day.)
I would be doing stand-up all the time, traveling, and eating shrimp and grits. That would be our life.
As an actor, there are huge advantages to staying in a smaller market and just working
Number one: You get to work.
Fewer people around allows you to stand out, get noticed more quickly. And even if smaller scenes might seem a little incestuous at times, that's true at every level of the game. People work with whom they know and like; it's just the way things are. And as an actor, the way to get better is to act. If you're too busy worrying about paying your $2,000-dollar-a-month rent in Manhattan, you can't take off and do a play that will pay nothing but give you the chance to be an artist.
There are also plenty of advantages in going to the big city.
Competition, the chance to work with people outside of your circle, life experiences are all important in one's development. And for some unknown reason, people give you instant credibility if you say you live in New York. They don't know most of the shows are done in small basements with bathrooms so filthy they would make the patrons at Big John's blush. The fact that you think you are good enough to make it in New York carries weight with people wherever you go.
So then the perfect solution would be to go to New York for a couple of years, take what we've learned and come back to Charleston, right?
Here's the dirty little secret: Most actors and comedians think they have to make it in New York or LA in order to be successful. So they head there, by the busloads. And some make it.
What about those who don't? What happens to them?
They wind up deep in the restaurant business, or in real estate, or as lawyers, all fine, noble professions.
But what if some of those people would have stayed home and acted there — what might have become of them? What roles might they have tackled?
It doesn't mean they weren't exceptionally talented. Maybe they didn't mesh well with New York. Maybe they aren't good at auditioning. Maybe they could have thrived in a place where people are familiar enough with their work to cast them and build shows around them?
Just because New York didn't happen for you, doesn't mean you couldn't be a vital member of another artistic community maybe doing better work than you can even imagine.
Leaving New York carries with it emotional baggage like no other town in the world. As you pack your bags you hear "New York, New York" playing in a constant loop.
"If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere!"
And you say to yourself, "I'm leaving, so I must not have made it.
I talk to artists over a wide spectrum of disciplines. They all have the same feeling. Most of us don't even like New York. I mean, we learn to like it, because you can drink as much as you want and not have to drive home. But if pressed, most of us want to go home.
But no. We're trapped in the city by Frank Sinatra's voice.
Charleston's very fortunate. There are some exceptionally talented people who have decided to set up shop in the Holy City. Greg Tavares and Brandy Sullivan at Theatre 99. Jamie Smithson. PURE Theatre. Robert Ivey. Evan Parry and Joy Vandervort-Cobb. Musicians too countless to name.
And then there's Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto, the Charleston Comedy Festival — all of these events give us chances to come back and work.
And we should keep doing that. Keep building connections between New York and Charleston. That will entice more young artists to make Charleston the place they come to develop.
Then when we get so big and successful that Sinatra's voice finally shuts up, we'll tell everyone in the business if they need us, we'll be at Moe's.