How to Start Your Career in L.A.
Domenique Fragale is a graduate of Arts Educational Schools, and holds both U.S. and U.K. citizenship. Working as an actress in both L.A. and London, Domenique offers her top advice for getting started in L.A.
‘If you can imagine yourself doing anything other than acting, do that instead.’ This was the best piece of advice I was ever given and recall every time I find working in our great acting industry challenging. There is no other job I would rather be doing, so when the opportunity to go to Los Angeles arose, I would have been mad not to take it if it meant furthering my career.
I was born with dual U.S. and U.K. Citizenship; therefore before graduating this September from the Arts Educational Schools, I was approached by principal Jane Harrison to perform in the Drama UK L.A. Showcase. From the L.A. Showcase, I signed with Media Artists Group and moved over stateside less than a month later. I share my time now between the two cities attending castings and auditions, where I can in person, or through the power of self-tape.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning the move:
Get a visa
If you do not hold American citizenship, don’t panic! There are ways in which you will be able to get your talented self over there! Do not make the mistake of thinking that it will be a quick and simple process. If you are also not planning to head to L.A. anytime soon, be organised regardless and start applying for a working O1 Visa (A Legal Alien of Extraordinary Ability) or Green Card as soon as possible. The last thing you want is for an opportunity to arise overseas where you are needed at short notice, only to inform the casting directors you do not have the correct paper work. This will not only tarnish your name but perhaps cause them to remember you in a very bad light.
Where to Live and Getting Around
I recommend Craigslist, Zillow or Westsiderentals. If, like me, you got used to the stable public transport of London I am afraid you may be in with a shock when you come to L.A. Here, public transport is pretty non-existent and for my first couple of months out in the city, I did not want to fork out any money on a car without getting my bearings first. I came to love Uber and Lyft pretty quickly. Another basic essential is getting your hands on an American phone SIM card – giving you access to an American number. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of having a U.S. number. Anyone in the industry out in the States will immediately be put off contacting you if all they have is a British number. They automatically might believe you are in the UK and could not possibly be able to attend an audition or simply do not want to deal with the hefty abroad call fare.
How to Meet People
One of the most daunting aspects I found about moving to L.A. was that I only knew a handful of people. I made good friends with my fellow actors performing in the showcase but many returned back to their home states. One of the biggest pieces of advice I could give is to engage. Do not waste anytime in joining communities and groups that spark your interest. Find acting classes; join your local yoga/swimming/running group; find friends within your secondary employment; go to the theatre and speak to other people you come across, they may be like minded actors themselves and can introduce you to acting troupes they may be a part of and if not, you have made a connection, which never hurts to have! Being a part of a society gives you a support system and makes you feel less alone in what can be a very intimidating city. L.A. after all, will not wait for you – you have to move towards it.
It’s who you know
This is probably the most heard and used phrase I have come across since venturing to Los Angeles. Before coming over it is essential to be prepared – seek from your already present networks who they know in the States and could connect you with. Some of your most useful connections could be right under your nose. Through a friend in London, I recently made a connection to his close friend, Abbie Dunn – a successful actress and producer. I would have never met her if it were not for me being my own self-promoter. Networking can be a scary thing and took me a while to do without thinking twice about it but it is essential. I take every chance I can now to start talking with anyone I meet; Uber drivers, fellow waiters for an elevator, food servers (you get the idea) but with a simple conversation can come a contact that could prove extremely useful to you. You need to leave the comfort of your current environment and push yourself or else you will just blend in. It is no surprise when I say that acting work is based on how you look, but when meeting with casting director Carol Lefko she emphasised the importance of ensuring that you dress the part in your daily outside life too as regularly as possible, even down to what colours you wear. Avoid blacks, browns, dark greens and navy – basically anything that will not catch someone’s eye.
Polish your profile
One of the key things you want to ensure you carry with you at all times are business cards, which should include your stage name, your contact details (or your agent) and your headshot. Handing out your card can be a little difficult at first but gradually it becomes second nature and everyone in L.A. has them (though bear in mind a lot of casting directors in the UK don’t use them). Ensure your Spotlight profile or resumé is up to date, along with your showreel. The work turn over in L.A. is ridiculously fast and any minute you could get a call requesting your credentials to be sent over within the next half hour. My most recent audition at Linda Lowy Casting required me to learn sides within fifteen hours. Usually not a problem, however I found out about it just as I was walking out the door to assist at the Producers Guild of America for the late evening. Like anything that means something to you though, you get it done and you do it to the best of your ability.
Join an improv group
Before I went to L.A. I tried to prepare in London as much as possible first. I recommend joining Actors Access where you can apply for auditions with or without an agent. In L.A. improvisational classes are a must for every actor. Within my first week of moving I auditioned for Groundlings, where alumni have notably gone on to Saturday Night Live and MadTV. I was accepted and from the day of acceptance you are permitted to start the initial level of training at anytime within a year. They hold free auditions 2 – 3 times a week and let you know within 48 hours.
I also attended an intensive Improv 101 training week at Upright Citizens Brigade, where after training you perform in a public showcase, graduate from the first level and can choose to carry on through the levels. Since moving I have become a regular audience member at UCB’s improv shows, where I guarantee you will be in stiches from laughter! I also highly recommend acting classes at the Theatre of Arts, where the director of the Drama UK L.A. showcase and accomplished actor Amir Korangy, holds workshops and seminars. Co-director and actor Alex Feldman also gives unique classes on industry preparation. Whilst in L.A. you should definitely take the opportunity to join Alex at For Actors By Actors, where he and a community of other actors in L.A. offer programmes, workshops, private coaching and more to succeed in the industry.
Moving to a big city for the first time, let alone another country, is a scary thing. If you think you’re alone, you’re not. Invest in your new surroundings as a local, not a tourist, but make sure you do not get distracted. Always ensure you can de-stress but ensure that down time is well deserved – you have made the big decision on a new, expensive chapter of your life and you want to make sure that no opportunity is missed. Be patient, yet persistent.
This article was first published on Spotlight in January 2016.
Header photo credit: © 2016 SAE Institute Group