21st Century Gypsy

In my first year out of college, I’ve lived in three states, three time zones, and five apartments.  This is my first foray into what some people refer to as “the real world,” and yet it feels pretty unreal to me.

Let me begin by introducing myself.  My name is Lora, and I’m an actor.  I’ve been waffling back and forth as to whether or not to start a blog.  I’m mean, it’s such a typical Millennial thing to do – to share my experiences with the anonymous masses in a sort of solipsistic catharsis.  But thus far, it’s been a weird life.  Why not share?   Clichés be damned.

So this is how I ended up in three states, three time zones, and five apartments in just 366 days (it’s a leap year, you know).

Apartment 1. Missouri. Central Time.

Upon graduation, I moved back in with my parents in St. Louis.  I had a trip to Toronto planned in the middle of the summer to learn how to fake fight convincingly (also known as stage combat).  So I took the time between school and fight school to save money.  However, the money I actually made in that time was pretty paltry.  I’m a swim instructor, and I got paid minimum wage to do a job I’ve been doing for 6 years.  Not to mention I worked split shifts, so my entire day was set aside for this job and yet I only worked 3-6 hours a day.  For the most part I spent my mid-day gap working out to train for fight school.  Aside from the Toronto trip, this summer was fairly uneventful.  However, unbeknownst to me, I was setting myself up for future endeavors.

Apartment 2. California. Pacific Time.

In September I packed my life into my car and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.  I drove by myself: 1,800 miles, 30 hours of driving, spread over 3 days.  (Sidebar: I actually had a gig in Chicago a couple days before I left, so I drove the entirety of Route 66 in one week, alone.)  I entertained myself by blasting my favorite music, driving with the windows down, screaming into the desert, jumping into holes in the ground (specifically The Blue Hole in Santa Rosa), and listening to The Fellowship of the Ring on audiobook.  The quote “Not all those who wander are lost” takes on a new sort of gravity when you’re winding through the Rocky Mountains, off to seek your destiny.

I didn’t know anyone in Los Angeles well enough to crash on their couch indefinitely, so I booked myself a room through Airbnb for the first month while I job/apartment hunted.  I stayed with a delightful older couple in East Los Angeles, who I affectionately referred to as Host Mom and Host Dad.  On my first day there, Host Dad looked me in the eyes and said, “You are brave for moving to a new place on your own. It can be hard.  But I want you to know that this is your home.”  That sort of hospitality meant the world to me.

For that month, I moved through time as if in a dream.  Nothing felt quite real.  I got a job my first week in LA, thanks to the experience of my crappy summer job.  I got cast in a play after my very first audition.  The weather was always beautiful and the people seemed friendly.  I felt so lucky, and I was.  But luck doesn’t last.

Apartment 3. California. Pacific Time.

I then moved in with two friends from college into an apartment at the bustling heart of Hollywood.  The place was obscenely swanky: a pool, a gym, outdoor fireplaces, an office room equipped with computers and a printer.  There were stars on my sidewalk.

And then everything started to unravel.  The day I moved to Hollywood I saw an actor in an Olaf from Frozen costume, character head under his arm, smoking a cigarette in an alley.  It was a perfect omen of the disillusionment to come.  Later the same day I scratched a really nice red car, left a note like the good little Midwestern girl I am, and got burned with a bill equal to one month’s rent from a racist sexist asshat.  I was sharing a one bedroom apartment with two other people, so we were constantly on top of each other.  I couldn’t afford to pay rent (parking alone was $100/month) so I watched my savings dwindle away.  That play I was cast in turned out to be a scam of a theatre company, and the payment I was promised never came.  The guys I dated kept disappearing.  I got into an accident on the highway and was without a car for a solid two months.  I was constantly beating my head against a wall looking for more part-time jobs, an agent, anything to prove to myself that things would get better, and kept coming home empty-handed.

As I lay on my empty mattress on the floor, staring at the ceiling, feeling homesick for the first time in my life, I realized I needed to leave and find a more affordable place to live.  So the search began again.

Apartment 4. California. Pacific Time.

Up next was a modest apartment in North Hollywood (the working-class residential part, not the hip artsy part).  I moved in on New Year’s Eve with an acquaintance from high school, who turned out to be cool as hell.  My new neighborhood had its quirks.  The ally in the back is filled with flowers and trash.  There’s a “food truck” that trolls the neighborhood – and I say “food truck” in quotation marks because it’s not a regular food truck but an unmarked white U-Haul that sells food out of the back – with a horn that plays La Cucaracha.  There are animatronic mannequins that advertise for the car wash on the corner.  It was weird, but it finally felt like home.

Acting jobs started trickling away, so I busied myself by training to be a lifeguard for the City of Los Angeles (which is a long, rigorous training process that takes several months).  Eventually it started wearing on me that I was doing nothing but background work and lifeguarding – I felt like I should be more successful and established than I was.  But soon enough my luck began to change.

I was noticed by a talent agent at, of all places, the pool where I was lifeguarding.  After a meeting in a tiny office in a loft above a bicycle shop, I finally had an agent who wanted to sign me.  Around the same time I attended an audition for a new stunt show about the Three Musketeers.  Thanks to my training from fight school last summer, I was actually quite well-prepared.  Less than a week later, I had a job offer to perform in Virginia for three months.  So I packed my bags and embarked on my next adventure.

Apartment 5. Virginia. Eastern Time.

Relocating to the east coast for the summer was an unexpected but welcome change of pace.  I was able to immerse myself in just one project for the first time; I didn’t have to worry about juggling multiple jobs.  I didn’t have to do background work.  I didn’t have to spend hours each day self-submitting for sexist roles in crappy short films paying less than minimum wage.  I could just focus on the show at hand, and live in the present instead of worrying about the future.

The people I met were just as interesting as the show itself.  The cast was from all over the country, from all different backgrounds.  There were film actors and theatre actors and dancers, fencers and martial arts instructors, parkour experts and seasoned stunt performers.  I made not only professional connections, but friendships that I know will last.

I would joke and say that I was on vacation, but I think a more accurate analogy would be summer camp.  I got to spend my days getting paid to do something I love, and spend my nights playing board games and drinking and talking until the sun began to rise.  I didn’t want it to end, but like all summer camps, in September I had to pack my bags and head back to the hustle of everyday life.

The Takeaway.

This year I have become much more comfortable with the unknown.  I’ve become more independent.  I’ve realized that making friends is pretty easy, but maintaining friendships takes much more effort.  Some people are worth that effort.  I’ve gotten into really good shape (training for fight school and then lifeguard academy and then a stunt show).  And, most importantly for me, I’ve affirmed that this is the life I want.  Bouncing around the country and not knowing where/when my next gig will be isn’t exactly “normal,” and certainly isn’t easy, but it’s been more rewarding than any of my years before.