Welcome to the Desert

Published by Drew on

Whether you are a new arrival or have been here for a number of years, I want to welcome you to LA. As a director and teacher it has been my experience that many actors, whether seasoned veterans or enthusiastic newcomers, can make life in LA more difficult for themselves than it need be. Too often actors can get lost when approaching their work, and grow immobilized when striving to remain active and focused. In this first article, I want to offer a personal insight as to why LA makes it so easy to lose your way and become immobilized.

I believe that the city and beat of Los Angeles itself deals a potentially immobilizing force. I know from talking with many actors how a sense of isolation can pervade their life in LA. I believe it is important to consciously recognize that LA is metaphorically and literally a desert. You have to understand the reality about this city – if you don’t come to terms with the distinctiveness of this metropolis, it will be very hard not to be bogged down in the all too common feelings of isolation and overwhelm.

Anyone who has walked the streets of New York, Chicago, Paris, London or San Francisco can immediately relate to the consistent pulse and energy of each city’s core. Those cities give you energy and focus. You are surrounded by stimulation and a collective life force. The sense of LA is that of no true center. Too often, the very geography and topography leads to just an endless sprawl built on sand and scrub. While I do not intend to over-indulge the endless opportunities for metaphors, it is obvious on so many fronts how LA can offer a series of mirages. How typical of any desert, yes? We migrate to LA with the hope and mirage of instant success. We transplant ourselves with the dream of fantastic recognition. What seems real is so often unreal. It becomes difficult to find or maintain your bearings.

I offer these ideas only because too often I have seen actors struggle to deny this prevalent truth. If you don’t recognize the desert nature of LA, it is so easy to internalize the sense of isolation and begin to believe it is your fault that generating a significant life here feels so difficult. I find that the subjectivity and interpersonal nature of the acting craft suffer under these conditions. Your soul and craft need to be fed by the environment around you. The important step is to realize that, more than most other cities, LA itself is responsible for that pattern of isolation.

But all is not doom and gloom! There are positive aspects to living in this desert. The theme of the “walk in the desert” is indeed a powerful one, because in it you are brought fiercely face to face with yourself. One of the most important qualities you need as an actor is a profound self-knowledge. LA can help you to see yourself more clearly. I try to encourage people to face and embrace the isolation. Take the “walk in the desert.” You are completely thrown back onto your own intellectual, psychological and emotional survival skills. In truth, LA can forge you into a stronger self both as a person and an actor.

Once you realize you are in a desert, you must do one other thing: you must create your own oases. In LA, your home is an oasis. It is a place you must nurture. The same is true of a theatre company you might belong to. Your friendship network must be cultivated assiduously. An acting class can be a haven where you can explore yourself more deeply. In your profession, where vulnerability is essential for your art, understand that your environment is harsh and unforgiving; learn to create different oases that give you solace.

In subsequent articles, I’ll explore in detail other ways in which you can aid your own growth as an actor. But for now, I simply want you to recognize how our arid environment can make it quite hard to maintain a healthy perspective. If you can remember this, you will have a much better chance of keeping yourself proactive, grounded and healthy.

This article was written by Richard Seyd for
his monthly online column with LACasting.com (July 2005).