Our cute patio, where I would sip wine and read, any time of year.

Our cute patio

I never wanted to move to California in the first place.   My husband had been accepted– tuition free– to the MFA program at Cal State Long Beach.  In New York, my career was humming along, and I was surrounded by friends.  California, with its endless sunshine and cheery, beautiful people, seemed surreal.

“You’re going to love it,” people warned, people who had lived there, people who had moved kicking and screaming, just as I was about to do.  I doubted them all.  We loaded up Andre’s mother’s (ancient) car and drove cross-country.  Andre gamely tried to make the experience as much fun as he could, and I played along.  We’d always wanted to drive across the country!  But after days in the car, the fun began to wear thin.  A sense of dislocation set in, intensified by our failure to find a suitable place to live.

The Spanish Colonial Library down the street.

The Spanish Colonial Library down the street.

But finally we found it:  a two bedroom for $1300 a month, unheard of in New York City.  We didn’t even need the second bedroom, not yet.  It had a teeny tiny outdoor patio and laundry on-site.  It was three blocks from the ocean, two blocks from Bixby Park and its weekly farmer’s market, and one block from the library, where I spent a lot of time.  Nearby Fourth Street was lined with coffee shops, thrifts stores, wine bars, and our favorite art theatre.  I made a project out of decorating the apartment with flea market finds and Target sale bin steals.

Friends who came to see us!

Friends who came to see us!

My friends came to me.  Broadway touring companies play both LA and Costa Mesa, and we were comfortably situated between the two.  Everyone who came through stopped by to see us.  And I didn’t realize how many friends Andre and I had that already lived in LA.  But still I missed New York.

When I booked the Billy Elliot tour, I was relieved.  Grad school kept Andre very busy, so I was home alone a lot.  I had finished decorating and my unemployment was running out.  I began to fear that I would have to work in a restaurant, which represents the absolute pits for me, the antithesis of where I want my life to head.  So I jumped at the chance to leave.

I began to miss Long Beach almost right away.  On hiatus from tour, I returned to New York and was surprised to find that I hated it:  the noise, the crowds, the crazy people.  What had once seemed sophisticated and exciting now seemed pretentious and neurotic.  Tour ended and I came back (pregnant) to Long Beach, and I fell even more in love with California.

After she was born and after Andre finished school, we felt a little unmoored.  We worked steadily through the summer, but went through a dry spell in August that left us shaken, unsure of whether to stay or go.  Out of the blue and without auditioning, Andre got the offer to do the Grinch back in New York.  The same day I found out I had booked Big Fish at Musical Theatre West.  We decided I would do the show, and then we would move back.

While I loved the ocean and the farmer’s market, not to mention the Vietnamese food and the Olympic lap pool, I didn’t expect to love the theatre community so much.  I didn’t expect such a warm embrace.  I didn’t expect so much support from our friends in Long Beach.  Puddin’ had a million terrific sitters.  I started teaching ballet and private voice lessons at studios within walking distance from where I lived.  I began working with a theatrical agent I adored, and a commercial agent who worked tirelessly to get me auditions.  Things were picking up for me!  But we were already scheduled to leave.

We’ve been back in New York for a little over three months, and I am finally admitting that I hate it here.  I do!  What a relief!  I hate it!  I’ve started begging Andre to move back.  I have no commercial agent, and my NY representation has barely lifted a finger.   My LA agent has been wonderful, but it’s clear they want me to move back.  Instead of teaching voice and ballet, I’m working at that dreaded restaurant.  I hate it with a passion I had forgotten I had.  Every day I feel like I am slipping down a wall into depression.  I try not to think about California, but it’s impossible.  Every time I go into the grocery store and see what passes for produce, every time I go to the Equity building and see a million actors lining up for some $300-a-week job in the middle of nowhere, every time Puddin’ wakes us up in the middle of the night in the one bedroom we now share, I am reminded of how good we had it.  And I miss it so much.

 

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I didn’t realize how much I’d grown to like Long Beach until I booked the national tour of Billy Elliot.  The knowledge that I would be leaving and would have to endure hotel after hotel with an entirely new group of people made me appreciate the cozy lemon of an apartment my husband and I shared on the corner of 3rd and Hermosa.

“Life out here doesn’t suck,” I said to friends with more than a touch of surprise.  Living blocks from the ocean is every bit as cool as I’d imagined.  Even though I have yet to take the plunge into the somewhat frigid waters of the Pacific, I have driven, jogged and biked beside it under the hot-but-not-too-blazing sun for weeks now.  I love the water.  I love the Olympic-sized pool where I swim laps under the flags of other countries.  I love the thrift stores and restaurants.  I am even growing to love our quirky apartment, where one window is still painted open and the lesbian couple below us engage in violent domestic disputes.

The discovery that I love my life came at the end of a long day of traveling.  I had flown back from New York for the second time that month.  The first had been for an audition for the Broadway company of Matilda.  I am pretty sure I blew that audition, not because of my performance in the room, but because I have a strongly held superstition that the more people I tell about an audition, the lower my chances of booking it.  And due to circumstance I had had to tell everybody what the hell I was doing in New York:  my sister, her husband, her college roommate, my soon-to-be-married friends Eve and Charley, my recent homeowner friends the Boags, the book club, and almost the entire cast of Mary Poppins.  The second time I was much more discreet.

Having auditioned for Billy a million times I was fortunate to have to simply audition privately for the dance and the music supervisors.  The director, apparently, already wanted me.  I had flown to New York so they could cover all their bases, or at least that’s how my agent made it sound.  I tried to work up audition nerves, but two months in SoCal had worked their magic, and all I could work up was a Zen-like tranquility.

When I got back to California, I walked into our comfortable house filled with flea-market furniture, and I didn’t want to leave.  I found myself hoping the call wouldn’t come.

It did the next day.  I was comforted by the tour schedule, which had a whole slew of gaps in it according to the Billy website.  I would be able to come home every couple of weeks to see Andre.  He and I agreed that it was the ideal situation:  grad school kept him so busy that it was a matter of time before I would begin to feel neglected, and I could earn money and insurance weeks doing a show I’d always wanted to do.  That illusion was shattered the following week, when I got the actual tour schedule, which filled in the weeks not posted yet on the internet.  We’re going to some cool cities:  Austin, Vancouver, Montreal, and some clunkers:  Fayetteville, Peoria, Greenville, SC.  But from January to March I’d be hard pressed to see Andre.  This depressed us.  We headed out to the mountain town of Idyllwild, California to celebrate our anniversary, determined not to talk about it.

But in the car I pondered.  Is this how Jay-Z and Beyonce feel when one of them has to go on tour?  It is the nature of our business to be apart, and we knew this when we got married.  One of us needs to be working– subsisting on unemployment and student loans has been stressing us both out.  And I was glad to get the job.  But after the vibrance of California, life on the road seems to be a dismal proposition.

I woke up at 6:00 AM with Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind already looping through my head.  The enormity of leaving New York hadn’t hit me until that moment.  Andre and I had been too overwhelmed with planning and packing to ponder much else.  Boxes and suitcases lay piled on the floor to be crammed into the car later that morning.  We had already shipped nine boxes to my friend Shelby in North Hollywood for the “not-as-bad-as-we-thought” price of $298.  We were ready to go.

But as I unrolled my yoga mat that morning, wanting to get at least 20 minutes in before they day’s long drive, it dawned on me that my life was about to change forever.  “We’ll be back.  After all, we still own our place here,” we told people as we said our goodbyes.  “And I’ll be back to audition for Broadway shows,” I said, suppressing a sense of hopelessness every time I said it.  But even if my inner doubts prove to be completely unfounded, Andre and I were still driving off that day to set up life somewhere else.  Our lives were about to change, for better or worse.

But as I launched into my sun salutations, I was surprised to discover how ready I felt for change.  Would I honestly miss New York?  Oh sure, I would miss aspects of my life.  I would miss my sister, for one, who lives (relatively) close by in Harlem.  I would miss both of my book clubs.  Free dance class at the studios where I’ve worked.  Fresh mangoes on the street.  Free mani/pedis.  My friends, obviously.

I spent the entire drive to Ohio that day scouring my brain for more things, but came up a little short.  I certainly wouldn’t miss my agent.  I tried and failed to work up  a sense of nostalgia for the MTA, which I love in theory but hate in practice.  I love living next to Fort Greene Park, but it can’t quite compare to living next to the Pacific Ocean.   Our favorite restaurants would soon be replaced by other restaurants, and while I love our neighborhood wine and cheese shops, the thought of throwing my Trader Joe’s into the trunk of my car made me ecstatic.

But what about the theatre community?  Hmm… I fear I will painfully miss the individuals who comprise the community every day for a long time, but I certainly won’t miss the industry itself.  Most of the work I’ve booked has not actually been in New York.  One day hopefully that will change!  But meanwhile I associate being in the City with the hellish rigors of auditioning.  I began to fantasize a little bit.  How great would it be to audition and work in the same place?  How great would it be to do what I love during the day, and sleep in my own bed at night?  Rather than working day jobs and auditioning during the day, and sleeping in my own bed at night.  Or conversely, doing what I love during the day, and sleeping in a different bed at night, either at a hotel on the road or in artist housing that quickly loses its charm.

I am ready for a change:  a change of pace and a change of scene.  I’m hoping that in a smaller theatrical community I will easily find work in theaters somewhat close to where I live.  Like in the same state.  And if I choose to go to an EPA, on the West Coast I can call and make a sensible appointment a week ahead of time, instead of getting up at 6:00 AM to get a slot before 2:00.  And if I’m fortunate enough to find a new agent, and that agent can get me film and TV auditions, hallelujah!  In film and TV they don’t normally ask you to learn an entire song in 24 hours, but if they do, I remain optimistic that they will actually let me sing it.  And yes, it will suck to be stuck in traffic in LA on my way to said auditions, but at least I won’t have my thoughts interrupted by groups of semi-talented teenagers doing tired pole tricks alongside a half-ass pop and lock.

It will be a while before I truly understand the ramifications of our move out West.  But until then I can dream of life in a city that doesn’t crush my dreams quite so readily as New York has done for the last ten years.   And I can take the knowledge gleaned from the battering I’ve received and start over again, fresh, but seasoned.  I am old enough to know that life doesn’t give you that chance very often.