Don't Lose Your Self In Hollywood

Too many young actors and actresses who move to Hollywood, think it’s all a big party scene. They think their life will mirror TV shows like: The OC, Laguna Beach, Gossip Girl, or The Hills. It won't. Life in LA is so much more difficult, expensive, urban, dirty, poverty-stricken, stressful, and oftentimes, just plain boring, than you can ever imagine. What we see every week on TV is nothing like the reality of the hard slog of being a professional actor. If this is a surprise to you, then maybe you'd better rethink your move to LA!

Because it's so hard to live and work in LA, many acting professionals can get easily lured into a crazy kind of lifestyle, and many get quickly burnt out. How can you come to LA and be prepared for all the stress? My feeling is that you need to really know what makes you happy BEFORE you arrive in Los Angeles, aside from acting.

Coming to LA is about being the best that you can be. It's also about knowing exactly who YOU are BEFORE you arrive, all hopeful and naive. It's important to give yourself some time for real, deep, honest reflexion BEFORE you arrive. Things to think about are: What did your family teach you was important in life? What motivates you to get out of bed? What makes you feel good inside. What skills do you have that you're proud of? What makes you unique? What gives you joy? Think about the BIG PICTURE of your life, not just, "Oh, I love to make friends laugh doing improv! Yeah! That's what I LOVE!" Think about your heart. For example, I always found I was most happy when I made other people feel good about themselves. I kept this in mind at all times while I was acting in LA -- even when directing, or teaching. That way, even if I didn't book a job, I'd always know I'd made someone happy during my audition, or on my drive there, or during my classes that night. I found a PURPOSE aside from the posy, more shallow world of Hollywood. I also realized I loved ART -- any kind of creative act. So I always surrounded myself with creative people -- not just actors. I got to know writers and painters, dancers and photographers, directors and make-up artists. This enriched my otherwise often broke, or difficult life, full of rejection (as an actor), and made it a very interesting and fulfilling life indeed.

Oftentimes, kids and young actors from all over the world, come to LA with unrealistic ideas. They often think, incorrectly, that they're leaving some old life or self behind, and they suddenly create a whole new persona. They will change their names, lose weight, dye their hair, change their style or tastes, etc... It's ridiculous! Also, for the first year or so, all they think about is acting, acting, acting and working hard at being "part of the scene". None of this is lasting. It won't leave you happy. It will just leave you broke and hung over. Possibly really lost. Possibly physically hurt too. You really need to keep your head on straight, and remember who you are and what you love about life. Keep THAT as your constant focus.

My advice to you is simple. You'll transition into your new life in LA much better if you keep your focus on what makes you happy where you are now: how can you translate your old joys into your new LA life? If you like to sing along to "High School Musical", or enjoy playing the piano, then join a local choir or find a practice room to pound out those ivories. Or start a band with friends! The point is, don't think you have to reinvent yourself, or change who you are, or adopt a new style, or put your past in a box, just because you're going to LA and you want to be taken seriously as an actor. In fact, as I've said in the past, it's better to be yourself, and let your "self" shine through, then to act like someone else. Remember, your other skills and interests that make you an interesting person now, will also make you an interesting actor. So if you sing, keep singing, because some day, you may need to sing for a part. If you play the piano, keep it up, don't lose it, because you may have to be a pianist in a Film. I can't tell you the number of times I had to play piano in plays -- maybe in four different roles!

Another thing to keep in mind. There's still a whole big world out there, outside of LA. Don't arrive here and let this huge city and crazy industry consume you. Try to remind yourself of that fact by taking vacations to other places and cities when you can. Trust me. It will give you a true perspective of what LA really is, from the outside in. Hey, I'm proud to be a Kansas girl, even if people like to call me "Dorothy" all the time. It makes me who I am.

Don't let yourself forget who you are. I know it sounds cliche, but it's so true.

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