What Acting Classes are Like

Attending acting school and getting some acting training are considered by many to be an important step toward getting serious on your career journey. But what is that like?

This fun series of chapters from the novel non-Hollywood follows a young actress as she embarks on the acting journey in LA. Listen as author Neal A. Yeager reads from the novel and answers the questions of what acting classes are like.

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Acting Classes, Oh Acting Classes

Chapter 8: Acting Classes, Oh Acting Classes

Sarah slouched.

She put her hands over her eyes. God, this acting class was going to be a tough one to get through. She was in exactly the wrong head-space for an acting class. She hadn’t slept much for running the whole Mitchell-breaking-up-with-her thing through her head repeatedly. Then, speak of the devil, Mitchell — the agent, the sexy Australian agent — had been right there. Mitchell had planned to come pack his things while Sarah was at the acting class, but since she was running late — something that she absolutely never did unless her heart and self-esteem had been mashed under army boots — she ran into him in the hall.

And gee, that had been really swell. He had looked good — confident with a happy little bounce in his step, while she felt like she had just been run over by a truck. No, actually not run over by a truck, it was more like run over by a bicycle, one of those with the skinny little tires but ridden by a gigantic fat guy who chose to run over her again and again and again and again and…

Now on top of all of that, her acting teacher Coach Bobbie had announced to the class, “Team exercise! Each one of you is a piece of a machine — a machine that manufactures…. condoms!” And it was that jubilant announcement that had caused Sarah to put her hands over her eyes.

She covered her eyes and thought of today’s phone call wherein her mother had entreated her for about the thousandth time to give up on L.A. and come “home.” There was a spot waiting for her at the family’s insurance agency. All Sarah had to do was come home.

But with eyes covered Sarah could still hear the room of the acting class around her, and what she heard was her classmates cheering and giggling at the oh-so-endearing idea of the team exercise. To be fair, she understood the reason for this type of exercise. Even though it was the sort of thing that an outsider would take as being extremely ridiculous, there was a point to this sort of thing. Especially now in the age of CG when it was entirely possible that an actor might have to do a scene or maybe even an entire movie in front of a green screen wrestling with an imaginary alien. But at the moment she was just not in the mood.

And at the moment she couldn’t help but wonder how many times she would be up for a movie role as a component of a prophylactic-making machine? Was that a Scorsese film that she had missed?

Sarah pulled her hands from her eyes and saw her classmates shuffling toward the open space of the floor.

Coach Bobbie called to Sarah in a voice so chipper it could shatter ice cubes, “Come on sweetheart! It’ll be fuuuuun!”

Sarah counted at least five “u”s in Bobbie’s pronouncement of “fuuuuun,” and this was definitely not a dose of something that Sarah needed right now. Right now what she needed was to lie in bed with a pillow over her face while she listened to some depressing music by some singer who had had the good sense to commit suicide young.

Oh, but wait — Mitchell was where her bed and her pillow and her suicidal music collection were. So scratch that. Still, what she didn’t need was this uber-optimism from Coach Bobbie. Coach Bobbie, who not only insisted on being called ‘coach’ because he was ‘an acting coach, not an acting teacher,’ but also insisted on spelling ‘Bobbie’ like a woman even though he was a man. And although Sarah thought Coach Bobbie was great — she loved coming to his class — right at the moment his enthusiasm was something she was not in the mood for.

As Sarah shuffled her way toward the group, one of the peppy souls came bouncing up to her and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hey Sarah!”

Sarah turned and saw that face from the Sunset Boulevard billboard: Tracey. The model. The one who had the role in the movie at the beach with the Big Movie Star. And again: billboard on Sunset Boulevard.

“Hey Tracey,” said Sarah.

“So,” said Tracey, “which part of the machine are you gonna be?”

“I… I don’t know,” Sarah replied, “Which parts are there? I’ve never actually seen a condom-making machine before.”

Tracey beamed, “Me neither! Isn’t it great?”

“Um, yeah. It’s… it’s great,” said Sarah. “Oh, hey, how did your thing go the other day? Must’ve been great working with such a great star on a big-budget movie.”

Coach Bobbie happened to hear this question and before Tracey could answer, he said, “Oh my God! That’s right. I completely forgot. Hey, everybody, before we do this exercise Tracey has some really good news!”

Everyone turned their attention to Tracey, who began, “Well… okay, I had this part in a movie. And you’re not gonna believe this, but the star was…” at this point, Sarah coughed loudly in the hopes that she, and perhaps a few other people wouldn’t have to hear the Big Movie Star’s name.

Tracey continued barreling forward, “It’s a romantic comedy. And he plays this guy who, you know, has lots of girlfriends until he finally falls in love. And I’m one of the girls that he goes out with. So, it was just, like, a date scene. And I think that it’s, like, a montage. So I didn’t have any lines, I just walked on the beach with him. And… unfortunately I didn’t get to kiss him. But, oh My God, is he ever cute in real life.”

Sarah looked around at her classmates who all beamed at Tracey. As Sarah looked, she couldn’t help wishing that she were standing next to one of the posts. That way she would have a convenient object against which to smash her own head.

Tracey continued, “and you know, I think he was, like, flirting with me… a little bit.”

Aaaaaaaaaaand a round of applause.

So Tracey was definitely the star of the evening, which meant that in the team exercise she had the privilege of being an arm-thingy that rolled the finished condom over a penis-shaped metal-thingy to test its integrity before packaging.

Sarah was a nonspecific gear.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sarah.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 11 ]

When taking acting classes...

One of the biggest expenses of an acting career is acting classes. While some well-known actors have gotten ahead in The Business without acting lessons, most who are looking to get into acting will end up wanting some sort of training. But what is that training like? What can you expect when going for in for acting classes?

Although a lot, of course, depends upon the particular acting coach and that acting coach's particular style, there are also several different types of acting courses that someone might try.

In the case of the class which Sarah takes with Coach Bobbie, it has been structured mostly as a scene study class. Most beginners don't just jump right into a scene study class, instead a beginning actor would seek out a course specifically focused on the beginner.

And what about the acting exercises?

Again, different actors and different acting teachers have different opinions about the value of acting exercises (or even if they should be done at all). But it seems that most of the time, those studying acting will be exposed to a few of these exercises at one time or another. The specific exercise demonstrated in Sarah's class is a common theme of actors personifying inanimate objects.

As Sarah notes, there can be some value in bringing this sort of an exercise into the acting lessons. As she notes, in the current environment of acting in front of green screens, the ability to bring life into a lifeless situation can be a real attribute. And since it can also feel a bit silly to do, then getting some practice in getting over those feelings of an acting situation feeling 'silly' can be a real help.

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Look Like Your Headshot

Chapter 11: Look Like Your Headshot

Sarah breathed.

Standing before the casting agent and the director, the actress was ready to launch into the audition piece. Though this was her 38th audition since coming to L.A., it was the first audition she’d had in almost six weeks. She was relieved to find that the audition piece was a dramatic scene and was, in fact, somewhat depressing. Considering recent events with her now ex-boyfriend the agent she really didn’t feel that she could take on a bubbly comedy piece, not without large amounts of some sort of pharmaceutical happiness. Large amounts.

But a depressing piece, this was something she felt confident that she could nail on this, audition number 38. Just as she was about to begin, the director suddenly barked out, “You don’t really look like your headshot!”

Which brought Sarah to a slightly grinding halt. “Yeah,” she said, “I’ve been told that. And I’m working on getting some new ones.”

Which was half truth and half lie. Her ex, Mitchell the newly minted talent agent, had said to her many times that casting directors want to see what you look like. He claimed that for good or bad your headshot needs to look like what you really look like or these guys get pissed off. He had told Sarah time and again that she needed to reshoot her headshots to look more like her rather than some glamorized version of her.

But she had debated this point for quite some time. She was already severely self-conscious about the fact that she didn’t look like the model that she was apparently supposed to look like. So she wasn’t eager to have photos wherein she looked less good. But finally, on Mitchell’s somewhat expert advice — he was a talent agent after all — Sarah had gone through the whole ordeal again: the search for the right photographer, the headshot photoshoot, the proofs, the expensive printing the things up again and posting them to all the right websites again.

And yes, she had ended up with a headshot that looked more like her. But guess what else? She sent these photos out and never got called for a single audition using them.

Not one single audition.

And how the hell was she supposed to get anywhere if she couldn’t even get an audition?

So in the end she felt that if the “inaccurate” photos could get her in the door then at least that was something. So that was the headshot she used.

Besides, having a photo wherein she looked really pretty helped to boost her confidence.

The director shook his head, then held up Sarah’s photo and said, “This is your headshot?”

“Yes. Yes it is,” Sarah replied.

The director again shook his head. Then he shrugged and said flatly, “Oh well. I guess you might as well go ahead.”

And with that vote of confidence to boost her ego, Sarah closed her eyes and took another deep breath. Then, figuring “what the hell,” she launched into the audition piece.


The place was quiet. Sarah had finished the audition piece. Both the director and the casting agent simply stared at her. The director’s mouth, in fact, hung slightly open. As Sarah wiped a trace of a tear from her eye the director finally spoke, “Well… um… Wow… That was actually…. Wow.” And the casting agent chimed in with, “That was a good read. Thank you.”

Sarah had been to enough auditions to know that “thank you” was the cue for the actor to exit the room. As she headed for the door the director called to her, “If you’ve got a few minutes could you wait out in the hall for a bit?”

“Sure,” she replied, then Sarah left the room and sat down again amongst the other hopefuls who were waiting in the hall for their turn to read.

Sarah closed her eyes and tried to will her heart to beat at less than its current 5,000 beats per minute. It was obvious that she had impressed the director. The look on his face had been priceless, like he’d just heard his cat recite the Gettysburg Address or something. But she had to remind herself that in the cutthroat business of Hollywood this meant exactly nothing.

Still though, he had asked her to wait.

She opened her eyes and for the first time noticed that in the chairs facing her were five girls who looked so much alike that they surely must have sprung from the same Petri dish. And most startling, was the realization that they all looked like Sarah’s photo.

As she mulled that one over — had the printer decided to go into the cloning business and used her headshot as his template? — the casting agent called her back into the room.

The director said, “Okay, good news and bad news here. Or actually why don’t we do it the other way around? The bad news is you’re not what we had in mind for this role. The good news is that we’ve got this other role that we haven’t started casting yet. It’s a much, much smaller role, but it’s a part that’s very important to the plot — crucial to the plot — and I would like to offer it to you. If you want it, it’s yours.”

Now it was Sarah’s turn to have slack-jaw. After all this time, after all the auditions — after thirty eight damned auditions — she was being offered a role? A real role? A role in a film that actually had a budget and would actually pay her to act? And after only one reading? True, it was a small independent film. True, it was non-union so not really much of a career step. But it was a role. Finally, someone had noticed that she had talent and had offered her something. Finally!

Would she take it?

Hell yes!

Sarah nodded and with a smile said, “Yes. I’ll take it.”

The casting agent gathered together a few pages for her and said, “Forgive me, I’m a little unprepared here. I wasn’t expecting to do this yet, so I don’t have a contract or forms for you. But here’s my card and if you stop by my office tomorrow morning between eight and ten I’ll get you set up. Meanwhile, here’s a copy of the script and a copy of the sides so you know which character you’re going to play.”

Sarah didn’t even look at what was handed to her. She was in too much of a daze. She merely shook hands with the two and then walked out into the hall — floated out into the hall.

Sarah was in such a state of dazed euphoria that she walked out of the building and across the street without looking. She was a very lucky girl indeed to encounter an actual empty street in L.A., thus avoiding being quite surely splattered by a vehicle.

Her first real acting role. She’d been at this grind for more than a year and a half now. The classes, the auditions, the endless hustle and hassle of it. Not to mention the frequent calls from her mother urging Sarah to give up acting and come back home to the family’s insurance agency.

Now there was a role. A real acting role. Now it was finally paying off.


She stopped beside her car — her old, rusting car — and thought of how she wanted to tell everyone in the world. She wanted to run and scream up and down the street. But the person she found herself most wanting to tell was Mitchell. She paused for a moment and thought that one over. Then decided that if it was just career talk, not ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend talk, she could talk to him. He was a Hollywood talent agent, after all. And she’d love for him to know that just as his career was taking off so too was hers.

Sarah pulled out her phone, dialed Mitchell’s number and was unsurprised to get his voicemail. She began, “Hey. It’s me. I just wanted… Well I got some news and I thought that I’d share it with you. That audition that I went to today, I got the part. Well not the part I read for, but they did give me a part… The whole thing was pretty flattering. They said they weren’t going to read anyone else for that part. Just gave it to me. I haven’t read the script yet but the director said that the role was crucial to the plot. Which, I guess means that my little part won’t get cut. Maybe when I read it through I’ll e-mail it to you…. I don’t know what the character’s name is… um, hang on, they wrote it on the sides…”

Excited, she looked down at the paper the casting agent had given her. What was her part? What could it be? There at the top of the page, handwritten in purple ink was the heading:



*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sarah.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 15 ]

What makes for "good headshots" and does anyone really care?

Ah, the actor's headshot.

Along with the cost of acting lessons, getting professional headshots done is probably the second-biggest expense of an acting career. Even now, when internet casting has reduced the need for getting lots of printed copies of an actor's headshot, the process of engaging a professional and getting the right shots is still a big expense.

But does it have to be? Could an actor not just have a friend shoot a couple of photos on their phone and call it a day? Well, technically they could, but it is probably not a great idea. And it's not just the fact that a photographer who specializes in actors' headshots will have much better lighting equipment and cameras than what most people have on their phones, it is also that a professional will know what casting agents and modeling agencies are looking for in a photo.

And though modern headshots allow for more creativity than the standard black and white variety that was used in Hollywood for years, there are still acceptable and not acceptable variants on the theme.

Now, what about Sarah's situation? Does that really happen? Do casting directors and filmmakers really get upset if an actor's headshot doesn't look like the actor?

In a word: yes.

Although it may not seem fair, this is one pretty much universal rule of getting your headshots done: an actor's headshot needs to look like the actor looks in real life, not a stylized version of what the actor looks like. After all, if the filmmaker wants to stylize, then they can do that in their production.

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Actress = Waitress???

Chapter 15: Actress = Waitress?

Sarah stared.

The image staring back at her from the mirror didn’t seem to offer any real consolation. She had thought that the activity of work would silence the refrain in her head — the one that was a chorus of sweet little cartoon birdies singing, “Ugly Girl. Ugly Girl. Ugly, Ugly, Ugly Girl.” This unpleasant tune had been a recurring theme in her head ever since she had “won” the film role as a character who apparently had no name and was known simply as Ugly Girl.

She looked at her reflection and said, “You’re not ugly… Okay?”

The reflection noticeably did not reply.

So it was back to work.

She was dreading heading back to Table 12. Two guys, both large, both laughing too much to be completely sober and one of whom was very, very loud. The two men also couldn’t have appeared more redneck if they had driven up on a tractor.

The loud guy had already gotten into this running monologue, which he apparently thought was extremely funny, about the effeminate look of the restaurant’s interior design. Basically his line of so-called humor boiled down to the theory that the place must have been decorated by a gay man as it was not only too effeminate for a straight guy but also even too effeminate for a woman.

Sarah tried to tell herself that at least this jerk took her mind off of the other thing. Of course as soon as she thought that thought the birdies piped up with another chorus of “Ugly Girl.”

Sarah brought the order out to Table 12. As she set the plates down the loud guy said, “Hey Hon, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

The loud guy sported a look of exaggerated solemnity on his face as he asked her, “Are you an actress?”

Sarah replied, “Yes, I am.”

And the two guys burst out laughing.

Loud obnoxious laughter that made several of the other customers turn toward Table 12.

“God damn,” the loud guy shouted. “I knew it. I damned well knew it. I’ve been in this town for exactly three days and each and every goddamned waitress calls herself an actress. That is a hoot!

Sarah smiled politely. This was a difficult thing to do as her mind held a vision of forcing her hand through the guy’s temple, yanking out his puny brain and showing it to him as he slowly died.

“Well,” she said, “that doesn’t really surprise me.”

“Hell man,” the loud guy continued, “I’d always heard that, but I didn’t know it was true. I thought it was just a joke.”

Sarah spoke calmly, “I think the word you’re looking for is ‘cliche.’ And, well, some cliches happen to be true.”

The loud guy stopped laughing, looked directly at Sarah and said, “No. Actually the word I was looking for was ‘joke.’”

And then followed a long pause.

Until finally Sarah said, “Okay,” and walked away.

She walked back behind the counter and over to where Mr. Grilled Cheese was seated on one of the stools. He was a regular, and though she knew that he had told her his name at least twice, she could only remember him as Mr. Grilled Cheese because that was the only thing that he ever ordered. He was nice. Well, maybe ‘nice’ wasn’t it. He was polite. He seemed a bit too somber for the label of ‘nice.’ Let’s say just that he was not a jerk and that that was good enough for this particular moment.

Sarah leaned on the counter and asked him, “So why is it that you only order grilled cheese?”

He seemed startled at the sudden attention. Shy. Definitely shy. “Well,” he began, “I like the grilled cheese here. When I feel like grilled cheese this is where I come. If I feel like something else, I go somewhere else.”

Sarah asked, “But why not try something else here? Have a burger. Or the grilled chicken sandwich is really good.”

“I’m a vegetarian,” he said, and Sarah noticed that he was blushing deeply. He stammered on, “Not that… I mean… I know that cheese is not a vegetable. It’s just that I don’t eat meat… It’s stupid, I know.”

“No, it’s not stupid. I hear that it’s much healthier to be a vegetarian.”

He smiled an embarrassed-looking smile and said, “not when you’re eating grilled cheese… and french fries… and chocolate malts.”

She smiled and laughed, “No, I guess that’s probably true,” she said and noticed out of the corner of her eye that the loud guy was waving to get her attention.

“Excuse me,” she said to Mr. Grilled Cheese and she walked back over to Table 12.

The loud guy asked her, “So do you consider yourself an actress or a waitress?”

Sarah took a breath and replied, “An actress.”

“Oh man,” said the loud guy as he laughed and slapped the table. “And you don’t see that as a joke? You don’t see how goddamned funny that is?”

“No. I’m sorry, I don’t”

“See, Winona Ryder is an actress. Okay? Do you see Winona Ryder waiting tables? Angelina Jolie? Do you think Tom Cruise ever waited a table in his life?”

Sarah said, “I have no idea whether Tom Cruise ever waited tables. But I know a lot of other actors who do.”

“No,” said the loud guy, “You don’t. You see, that’s the joke that you’re not getting. They ain’t actors, they’re waiters.”

Sarah prickled and said defensively, “I’m an actress. I’ve got a role. I’m going to be shooting a movie soon.”

“And I’m gonna be riding a jet-ski soon. That don’t mean I go around calling myself a jet-skier.”

Sarah took a deep breath, then spoke calmly, “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

The loud guy smirked and said, “No ma’am.”

Sarah walked back to the counter where the clock basically screamed at her that there were four hours and eleven minutes to go. She noticed that Mr. Grilled Cheese’s glass was nearly empty, so she poured him a refill and brought it over.

As she turned to go, Mr. Grilled Cheese spoke up, though it was only to say, “Um…”

Sarah turned back to him. He seemed ready to say… something. And Sarah found herself rifling through her memories to think of any occasion where this guy had actually been the one to start a conversation.

He said, “So… you… you’ve got a role?”

Sarah glanced back over at Table 12. Had she been so loud that he had heard it all the way over here? Oh God.

“Yes. I’ve got a role. In an independent film”

“Wow. Congratulations. What kind of part is it?”

“Small,” she said as she relaxed into a laugh. “It’s small. But it’s crucial to the plot. So it probably won’t get cut.”

“That’s great,” he said. And then he just stared at her. It was obvious that he wanted to say something else, but he didn’t say it.

Sarah said, “Yeah, I hope it’s a…”

“I heard you talking to Mary,” he interrupted, “the other day… That you had… um… broken up with your boyfriend.”

“Oh,” she said, “Yeah, that.”

And as she paused, she once again saw the loud guy waving to her. “Excuse me,” she said.

As she walked up to Table 12 the loud guy said, “Okay, so you say you know a lot of ‘actors’ who wait tables. Okay, fine. Do you know any who did enough acting that they could quit waiting tables?”

“Personally? No,” she admitted, “So far I have not.”

The loud guy just smiled, spread his hands as if he had just demonstrated something profoundly obvious, and then he said, “Okay then.”

Sarah walked back over to Mr. Grilled Cheese. “Oh God,” she said, “That guy sounds like my old guidance counselor. ”

She took Mr. Grilled Cheese’s empty plate and asked him, “So what do you do?”

“Me? I’m a writer.”

“Oh,” she said, “that’s interesting.”

“No,” he said, “Not really. I’m a communications writer for an environmental engineering firm.”

Sarah frowned, “And that’s not interesting?”

“Not really,” he said, “The money in that field is in cleaning up toxic messes: ‘remediation’ they call it. It’s all about hydrocarbons and effluent and such and I’m the guy who’s supposed to make all of that sound interesting… I really don’t like it much.”

She asked, “Is there something you’d rather do?”

He thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, there’s this place in Colorado. It’s a zipline course. Being a zipline guide sounds like fun… Or maybe the Grand Canyon.”

“What would you do at the Grand Canyon?” Sarah asked.

“Wouldn’t matter. Sell souvenirs. Pick up trash. I don’t care.”

Sarah thought about this. “You know,” she said, “I hadn’t thought of it before, but picking up trash at the Grand Canyon might actually be cool.”

The two shared a smile.

Mr. Grilled Cheese said, “Anyway, back to what I was saying before… about your boyfriend…”

And as he trailed off it clicked for Sarah that, Oh My God, he was going to ask her out. But why? Why would he want to do that? Why would he want Ugly Girl?

And then he did it. “I was wondering,” he began, “if… I mean… if… Would you like to go out with me?”

Again, from the corner of her eye she saw the loud guy waving at her.

“Oh God,” she said, and Mr. Grilled Cheese visibly winced. “No, not you,” she said, “Not you at all. It’s that guy at Table 12 again. I’ll be right back. I swear.”

As she approached Table 12 the loud guy said, “One more question. You say you’re an actress not a waitress. Do actresses get tips?”

Sarah sighed and turned away without answering. He called after her, “Aaaawwww. Come on now…”

She came back to the counter and said to Mr. Grilled Cheese, “Okay, here’s the thing: it’s too soon.”

“Oh,” he said as his eyes dropped to the counter.

She continued, “I swear that’s not just a polite avoid-the-question type of brushoff thing. You seem nice enough but it’s really too soon. Ask me again in a month.”

He didn’t look up at her, just mumbled to the counter, “Um… okay.”

“Hey,” she said and stared at him, stared at him until the heaviness of the pause made him look up at her. “I mean it. Don’t get weird and stop coming here. And do ask me again in a month.”

He smiled shyly and said, “Okay.”

“Oh, and one more thing,” Sarah said, “What’s your name?”


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sarah.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 18 ]

Acting skills in real life situations

Waiting tables. Is this something that actors really do in real life or is this just a cliche?

Well, for better or for worse, it seems to be more than just a cliche. Many aspiring actors, in order to support themselves and the expenses in involved in beginning an acting career do work as servers in restaurants.

Why is that? Why is the cliche of the actor as waiter such a persistent reality for so many who are looking to break into the business?

There are basically two reasons why so many actresses are waitresses. The first and main reason is that being a server in a restaurant provides one of the most flexible schedules of any work career. Mainly because auditions can pop up at any time. And usually, in-person auditions (and especially call-backs) are scheduled on very short notice. An actor needs a job which makes breaking away for that important audition possible.

Working a "regular job" with 9 to 5 hours makes getting away for auditions a real challenge. And you don't want to miss any auditions. You never know which of them may lead to that big break.

Working the schedule that you want is also important in getting lined up with the right acting coach and the right acting courses.

The second reason for an actress to work as a waitress is that if you land at the right restaurant, you can actually make pretty good money as a waitress. And making good money can again help with all of those expenses like acting school and headshots (not to mention that expensive LA or New York rent!).

Acting classes