Presence in the Pursuit (Or the Art of Letting Go): One Pre-Enlightened Actress’s Guide to Living The Dream

# 32: You can’t compare Apples to Oranges (or The Best City on Earth vs. The Circus Maze)

Michal Sinnott NY City Sunset

I just got back from a crazy month in The Big Apple, which I have long professed to be The Best City on Earth. That said, it is certainly the most exhausting city I’ve ever encountered as well. And this past month was no exception.

Joseph and I are newly crowned Angelinos (10 months in) after being NYers for 5 years (that’s ten years in actuality, but you have to be there 5 years before you’re even allowed to say you’re a NYer, that’s how tough that dear city is). I guess, technically, we’re now New Angelino’s since we live in both locations — but most of the time these days we’re in LA.

So, the big question out of everyone’s mouth when we went back was: “What do you like better, NY or LA?”

To which I repeatedly told our friends, colleagues, and anyone else who asked: “Oh, I couldn’t possibly compare them. They’re completely different. LA is a different planet entirely.”

This is all true. But if you are going to compare them, i.e. you’re looking for some guidance on WHERE to make your way in this crazy industry, for in America there’s really only NY or LA (and of course, the Windy City, but I don’t know anything about that so you’ll have to seek the advice of another girl on that one), here are a few pointers:

NY is relentless. Its the lover you just can’t shake. Every bitter winter you will be at your breaking point and ready to call it quits. But then the Holidays will come and there’s Rockefeller Center and ice skating and Central Park in Snowfall and by the time you recover from THAT its peaking into spring time and your Nasty Lover has started to win you back with flowers in the West Village and long strolls down 7th Avenue and rooftop cafes that beckon at twilight. And then you’re hooked again and you’ve forgotten for the 8th year in a row how tired and worn out and ready to run you were, because everything is suddenly love, love, love.

LA is the Circus Maze. Every day you’ll see the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life and the next day, like “Groundhog’s Day,” it will be there again with something equally different and outstandingly peculiar and possibly tragically sad, if it weren’t so common and beyond saving. For example, yesterday, while waiting for my tacos at a truck because I was too tired to cook after my relentless month in NY, I encountered a Colt 45 imbibing monkey girl who invaded my space and squeaked out her demands for food maybe or money or attention I don’t know. She danced around me creepily and tucked her shirt around her boobs to reveal a large belly (maybe pregnant I don’t know) and a shiny crack pipe that fell from her tiny underwear like shorts. If she’d been at all able to communicate with me on any level outside of a squeak and tantrum and a lugubrious sexual flaunt I’m sure I would have bought her dinner, but I just couldn’t even see an inch of her humanity, she’d been so soul sucked by the drugs and the lifestyle that now owned her. LA is NOT relentless, but it IS easy to lose yourself. Its just easy enough to live in for just about anyone. So when you start to slip, you can just coast on into an even slippery-er path. This strange, sad, girl in point. The weather will support you year round. When you’re hungry, the food grows free on trees. And somewhere, some sad sucker will buy you a taco when you dance and chirp for them at a taco truck stand. Just not this still hard heart-ed NY-er, apparently.

There is no breathing space in NY. After a 16 hour day of shooting you will come home to find that your renters have been feeding the local feral cat population on your porch and the mama cat twice knocked up in three months time will have graced your yard with 7 flea infested kittens that will proceed to buggify your yard, your shed, your cottage, your house. You will be forced to take a Trap Neuter and Return (TNR) class on your Saturday off in order to please your bleeding heart renters and fulfill your duty as landlord. But you will also smile and think that the things you have to do to stay afloat in this industry have much more to do with TNR then T&A, and you will be thankful and know that you are blessed.

LA has breathing space in droves, if you can just make it past the concrete.  The thing that struck Joseph and I the most about LA, the biggest surprise, was our overwhelming access to nature, which, strangely enough, no one seemed to tell us about before we moved to the Circus Maze. Of course, there’s the beach, which is huge for me, having grown up in the Norfolk / Virginia Beach area of the East Coast. But there’s also a ton of hikes, and not just Runyon. Its incredibly easy, 15 minute drive easy, to be lost in nature. There’s Beaudry Loop, Wildwood Canyon, Brand Park, Fryman, and Griffith Park in any direction from our place. For me, a hike is the only time I turn off my cell phone (outside of sleep, sex, or mediation) and let the whole world melt away, while I’m confronted by my tiny place in this vast universe. Breathing space and time for contemplation about your insignificant self is key to presence and so for me this one is a big selling point in choosing to live in LA.

There is a structure and an order to NY. There are the haves and the have nots. If you’re a have not, you may have to serve a have. If you’re doing well, you’ll know it. Hard work pays off. You will run into people on the street who you know on a regular basis. People don’t bullshit you, they don’t have time. The entertainment business is only one of many esteemed industries, so it comes with a certain degree of novelty.  Training is respected.  There’s no room for dilettantes. Everything is expensive, so choose wisely and be on the look out for deals, they can be found in Chinatown and other alluring places. Everyone who comes here was the star of their school play. Booking a Law & Order, or better yet, Broadway, will legitimize your profession.  People act in plays for the love of it.  If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.  Off-Off Broadway credits will look great in all other cities, though not necessarily in yours.  You will never fully know this city, its like a very complicated person that you’re always learning about. You will be busy. You will work until 5 am and have 9 am auditions. Ice cream or a Magnolia Bakery cupcake can take away the sting or the anxiety of a bad or just so-so audition. Casting directors will remember you and call you in continuously if they believe in you, even if you haven’t booked. People will almost always tell you what they really think and sometimes that will make you cry. Its not easy to get lost but it is hard to stay afloat.  So make sure you have a good work ethic or you’ll sink fast.  The city pulses. Every block is a wonder, every time. There is a buzz. You will be inspired.  It will feed your creative heart.  Everything is electric. You will feel ALIVE.

There is no structure or order to LA. There is only the famous and the nobodies. And what can you do for me. No one will ever tell you no. But they’re not necessarily telling you ‘yes’ either. Because who knows who you might be tomorrow. A lot of the time, its impossible to know how you’re doing. So proceed always with confidence. If you believe it, they will too. Everyone, I mean everyone, including your mailman, is in the industry, or wants to be.  People will promise you things that will never happen. Lots of people will try and sleep with you. If you are lucky, you will have a husband whom you love and you will not have to sleep with anyone but him. This will help to preserve your innocence in a land that needs innocence to sell tickets. Everyone who comes here was once told that they could be the star of a play.  Booking a co-star on a prime-time show might get you an appointment with a mid level agency, but they won’t necessarily send you out just because they agreed to work with you.  People don’t really act in plays here.  If they do, its usually as a showcase to get an agent.  But good luck getting an agent to come to your silly play.  One day you’re on the bottom. The next day, you book a job and you’re on top.  And the day after that, you’re a has been. Anyone over 30 is ancient. Anyone under 30 hasn’t lived long enough to know what they’re talking about. It is easy to get lost and easy to stay afloat. Forever. So know yourself before you come. Or you will get lost. And because you CAN stay afloat, you will stay, forever, and you will get jaded. Which is the death of a good actor. If you can maintain not getting lost and knowing yourself and you actually have talent and beauty and truth, someone will find you and make you a star. But don’t count on it. Stay engaged and breath and contemplate the wonders of nature in the midst of your insignificant self. After all, its show biz, not brain surgery, and our job is to make people laugh and cry, not live or die. I.e., have a sense of humor and humbleness about your crazy, wondrous life.

As a SAG-AFTRA and Equity member, Michal has appeared in dozens of plays and over fifty principal / starring roles for radio, television, and film. She is the voice, likeness, & performance capture artist for Tracey De Santa, one of 7 main characters out of a cast of a 1000, in the billion dollar phenomena Grand Theft Auto V. Her starring role in the LA Premiere of ‘White Hot’ at Hollywood Fringe earned her a Best Actress Award & her Ovation nominated theatre company, The Vagrancy, a Best Ensemble Award with knock-out reviews in ‘LA Weekly’ & ‘The Examiner.’ Film highlights: roles in Spike Lee’s Inside Man & Quid Pro Quo with Vera Farmiga. Born That Way, which she co-wrote with Mary M. Parr and Rob Travalino, was a Sundance Screenwriting Lab second rounder and one of 5 Finalists for Big Vision Empty Wallet’s Screenwriting Career Lab. She is the official Host of The Women’s Independent Film Festival and heads The Field Trips Department of Film Fatales where she’s a member in NYC and Los Angeles.