Can You Live Outside LA, Raise Kids, and Still be a Working Actress?

I recently got an email from an actress named Candace. She has allowed me to post part of her email here, so that I can reply to her publicly. I always enjoy doing this since so many people who come to this site have the same questions.

They usually all boil down to: “Help, I want to be a professional actor, what do I do?” - or - “I’m taking acting, and thinking of moving to Los Angeles to really go for it. Am I making the right choice?” While many of the posts on this site try and answer these questions, I found that Candace had some other concerns, mainly, trying to act while being a mom and a wife, and wanting the best for her family too.

Here is the bulk of Candace’s lovely, honest email:

I've been acting with an acting group here in VA for about 9 months. We work on acting for the camera, and it's been so helpful and challenging. I did theater in high school. My end goal is Hollywood and my husband and I are moving to Redding, Ca, next month (9 hours north of LA). We're moving because we have found a church in that town that we love and we think God wants us back in CA (I grew up in the Bay Area). Anyway, in one month we will be in CA and I'm going to try to hit the ground running with acting classes in the Bay Area.

Now...the really tricky part. I do have the $ saved up if I wanted to move to LA and get started. I have some inheritance money. HOWEVER...I am married with a 19-month year old and a baby on the way. Obviously, I'll just be taking classes during pregnancy and not trying to land any roles, but once I have the baby in October, I plan to jump in where I can. Do you have any suggestions with this particular situation? I'm really praying about God's direction for us with this as a family. My husband is very supportive of my acting. But there are the practicalities of him probably needing to work to support us (if I'm off auditioning) and then we would need a babysitter. This is all assuming we move to LA after the baby. I know God wants to help me see His vision for us and that's why I'm praying and asking you. I believe He wants me to keep moving forward with acting, but I guess I'm just not sure the right path to take. Would it be crazy to sign up with a casting agency and then drive down for auditions or extra work? or fly down? I would love your thoughts (anything!!) and any stories if you know others that have attempted this with a family.”

The subjects of this email can be broken down into several parts, and I also encourage anyone else reading this who might be able to offer advice to please do so if you can.

  1. Can you live in the Bay Area, or any other area north or south of LA, and still get an agent in LA, and travel to audition, or is this a waste of time?

  2. Is it possible to raise kids, have a family, have a happy husband or wife, and still pursue your dreams?

  3. What way would a person have to set up their life to be able to pursue a professional acting career if they have small children?

  4. Is it really worth moving to LA to pursue your dream of being a professional actor or actress in films and television, if you aren’t sure the effort will pay off?

  5. Is it too big a risk for the rest of your family, i.e.: your husband, wife, and/or children, to uproot everyone and make them come with you to Los Angeles (or any big city for that matter) in support of your dreams of acting professionally?

I can answer all of these in two simple ways, but I may not be able to answer all of them exactly, because remember, I’m just a person like you, trying to think how to help!

Firstly, I must say, you really do have to live your life One Day at a Time, and trust in your higher power, or your more traditional religious faith, if you are going to become a working actor. And secondly, YES! By yes I mean that anything is possible, if you have the support and financing of your family. Yes, I always believe that you must and have to and should GO FOR IT if you have a dream. Because without dreams, we are nothing. And without courage and effort, we get nowhere. And without difficulty, we probably would all just be sitting around on our behinds watching another million hours of reality tv wondering where our life went and why we feel so unhappy.

My mother always told me (and I probably have written this many times in past posts): “You only regret the things you DON’T do.” All to say that if you have a dream, and support for that dream, then you must pursue it. Dreams come from a higher place, from God, in my opinion. If God has put this dream and the talent to pursue that dream, in your heart and in your gut, then you would not be fulfilling your life calling to try and pursue it. It is NEVER crazy to pursue your dream. In fact, it’s crazy NOT to. Always remember that when friends or family get down on you for trying to do what may, to them, seem impossible. Just remember, YOU are the master of your destiny (with a bit of help from on high) – not your Aunt Susie, or Cousin Joe.

What you don’t know is that every single choice we make may have a bigger purpose. I write about this in other posts, but it’s so true. You may be “called” to be a professional actor, and that may take you to Los Angeles, or the Bay Area – it may uproot your life, force your husband, wife, and children to change careers and schools, and on and on, in a huge list of occurrences that may happen as a result of one single choice (yours – to act!). And from that one choice, a thousand other things will happen. Your life is a chain reaction. Maybe you’re drawn to act which makes you move which ultimately leads you toward something else which you could never have predicted.

For example: in my own life, I was drawn to act because I had also acted in High School, and in college, and usually had all the leads in every play, and so I went on to a graduate program in theater in Los Angeles. What I didn’t know is that this ultimately led me to meet producers and directors there, who ended up hiring me to produce their films. And that eventually led me (ten years later) to shoot and direct my own documentary (ZENITH) for which I won some lovely awards. I am now considered more of a filmmaker than an actress. And yet, it all started with acting, and I continue to work in that field, and write blogs, and teach, and it’s who I am.

Yes, I will always be an actress at heart – and yet, it’s true too that I’ve learned now (in my early 40s) that I prefer directing, and teaching acting, and writing to just acting. I would have never had this life path if I hadn’t pursued professional acting in Los Angeles in the first place. I would have maybe moved back to Kansas City and who knows what I would have done with my college degree in Anthropology.

As I always say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!” The big question I always get from beginning actors, or those who are finally committed to really GOING FOR IT with their careers, (say, late starters like Candace), is that there is no easy answer. No one person can tell you what to do, or that it will work. No expert or book or teacher or friend or husband or loving parent or blogger can really do it for you, or make it easier.

This is a journey that you, and you alone, Candace, will make – even if you bring your family tribe along for the ride.

Their support and presence and life alongside you will really help, true, but if you yourself aren’t sure, then it doesn’t really matter. Because in the end, it is YOU that will be getting the jobs, and YOU that will be acting in those jobs (if you get them!) and I truly hope you do.

A note here to women who are acting later in life with families or husbands or partners: although I am a Christian filmmaker and artist who likes to live by my faith, I am also a fairly liberally minded person who was raised by a strong mother to believe in myself as a woman, and in the cause of feminism (in its truest sense). As a strong, educated woman who grew up in the 60s and 70s, and came of age in the 80s, I think there is no better way to raise our children, especially our daughters, than to show them that we, their mothers, as women, we too have our own life, passions, longings, dreams, and talents. We are more than mothers. We are artists and actors and writers and directors and photographers and dancers and singers and musicians, and businesswomen, and marketing gurus, and we are STRONG, and we work HARD! And that we, as women, are willing to do what it takes, no matter how difficult and stressful it might be, to pursue those dreams. What a GREAT role model, Candace, you will be for your children. And how lovely that your husband also believe in you enough to help you do all this. That’s such a head start!

I was raised by a fairly progressive mother, but she came from the generation when women could only be wives, teachers, or nurses. As such, I always wanted to show her that I wouldn’t settle. I wouldn’t give in when it got hard, or give up when I ran out of money or support. I had to keenly believe in myself even when others did not. And that was very hard. Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband who’s believed in me and wanted me to act and direct and write. I also had so much support from my family. Without their support, both financially, and emotionally, I would have given up. Because of them, I learned to believe in myself. But I will tell you, even with their support, I found it almost impossible to support myself by my acting. That’s the reality. It doesn’t make my passion go away, it’s just the truth of MY acting career. Now that I’m living in Chicago, I may start to act again, who knows? I’m thinking about it and may even post some more in the future about my OWN fears – which are many (too fat, too old, too out of practice, too sick of the stress, too poor, too smart to try again)…. And on and on. We artists and actors can really find reasons to NOT do what we want so much to do. Join the club! Ha!

As far as acting in LA while living up north is concerned, why not? If you really do have the money to fly down to LA, then go for it. But I will tell you that it is very hard to do so. Most agents will call you the night before an auditions, and many will call you on the day of the audition – especially for commercial auditions – which tend to be what most beginning actors start out doing to meet casting directors and to get into SAG and AFTRA.

I would think in your case Candace, get yourself moved to the Bay Area first and foremost, and don’t worry about anything else for a few months (just your baby and your family). Give yourself a year to take classes there, get moved in, have your baby, and tend to your private life. Once you’re there, you will learn how to negotiate the whole acting world in LA.

You don’t have to figure out everything in advance, even though you may want to. It’s really not necessary, or even good for your health, to try and control every single aspect of this new life you’re trying to lead. You may find plenty of San Francisco based agents who want to rep you there. Or you may find that once you’re there for about a year, you really do want to move south.

If your husband has a day job, you WILL have to find someone to look after your kids while you audition. That can be a big problem. My husband, was acting full time a couple of years ago when we still lived in LA, and he couldn’t take any full time jobs – and he just couldn’t do any other work, because he was auditioning about three times a day! That was thrilling, but he sometimes didn’t get booked for anything for 4 months at a time. During that time, I was teaching acting and filmmaking, and trying to support us, and I really couldn’t do that very well, as it was so expensive to live there.

So keep in mind how much it REALLY will cost to live in LA before you move there. If your inheritance was quite large, you will probably be fine for a while. If it was only a few thousand dollars, that will help you move there, but you’ll need much more to really get settled.

Well, I hope this helps. Again, my best advice to you is to go for your dreams, and if your family really supports you, you will be okay. You may learn that you love LA, or hate LA, you may find it easy or hard, you may book a job the first week you’re there, or none for three years. Everyone’s experiences are different. All you can do is listen to your heart, pray for advice, love your life and your family, and treat acting one day at a time, knowing that no matter what you do, you are not in control. Do your best, study, keep in shape, and know who you are, and that you only get one life to live, so live it to the fullest.

Thanks for your interest, your commitment to the craft, and your kind email Candace. I hope your courage and bold choices may inspire others to follow their dreams!

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City