The City of Big Shoulders

Nov 14, 2009 by     No Comments    Posted under: Thousands of Stories

Beautiful Chicago & Lake Michigan

“Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.”
~Carl Sandburg

I came to this city on a whim.

In July 2007, I was a fresh-brewed college grad working as a server in Boulder, CO when friend/partner-in-crime Jesse Case asked if I’d be interested in moving to Chicago with him.

It took me about 3 seconds to say “Yes.” I had never been to Chicago in my life.

So, for every “2007 Joe” reading this:

Chicago is awesome…

…though maybe not for everyone. Many of my friends who come here from Colorado to visit expect Chicago to be New York. They expect to be surrounded by skyscrapers, car horns, and jerks at all times. But the truth is that Chicago, despite its “The Second City” moniker, is its own incomparable entity. The people here, notorious for their toughness, are only hard when they have to be. In my time here, I cannot tell you how many doors strangers have held open for me. Or how many times I’ve gotten a friendly “hello” from a fellow pedestrian as we’ve crossed paths. Or how un-despised I feel riding my bike on city streets. The buildings are urban, but the faces and voices ooze Midwest values and sensibility.

Chicago is not the metropolis monstrosity that NYC is. It is a city of neighborhoods. Seventy-seven of them, to be exact, and each with its own unique flavor. The youthful energy of Lakeview. The gangs & violence of Englewood (sorry, but it’s true). The hipster vibe of Wicker Park. As cheese-ball as it sounds, there is literally a place for everyone in Chicago.

Yes, There Is a Lame Side To This City

Before I get swept away in my own tidal wave of civic admiration, I should mention: rated Chicago the Most Stressful City in the country.

Chicago’s public transportation is so extensive that I honestly have no need for a car. However, the city’s seemingly constant need for construction and roadwork can cause some serious delays on trains and busses. (My best advice: my bike. Invest in a good bike and a good lock!). The cost of living is high, but not as high as in New York. It all depends on where you live within the city. There are a TON of free services in the city that will help you find a good apartment that fits your budget. All you have to worry about then is the 10.25% sales tax (the nation’s highest). Yikes!

Opportunities Abound For The Dedicated Performer

I’ve only been a Chicagoan for two years, but I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: theatre in Chicago is growing, and there are plenty of acting opportunities to be had. As an actor that has no agent and is not a member of any union (yet), here’s what I’ve learned about seizing these opportunities:

  1. Get your ass on the internet! League of Chicago Theatres, PerformInk, Theatre in Chicago… Shall I keep going? These are only a few of the MANY online resources for the aspiring actor, especially if you’re in the “resume building” phase of your career. Most audition announcements on these sites are for non-equity productions, both musical and non-musical. So get your headshot-and-resume and go Go GO!
  2. This industry IS as small as they claim it to be! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at my auditors as I give my slate and thought “I saw that guy at an audition two weeks ago,” or, “Wait a sec…I KNOW that guy!”
  3. With the above in mind, DON’T BE A DICK! Seriously. It’s the same no matter what city you’re in. If your peers don’t enjoy working with you, they won’t.
  4. What Ben said about L.A. holds true for Chicago. Many of the actors here aren’t taking the business seriously. Many don’t have training, are using black and white headshots, don’t treat acting like a business, or are spend only a few hours a week in pursuit of the career. The mere commitment of 20+ hours/week pursuing an acting career here will put you far beyond the vast majority of actors in this city.

Improv, Sketch, and Stand-Up

Chicago has a reputation for producing some of the funniest comedians in America. The Second City paved the way for Saturday Night Live, and has provided the show with talent for more than thirty years. In January, I began studying the art of long-form improvisational comedy at iO (formerly ImprovOlympic). In doing so, I discovered a way to get myself some valuable stage time on a regular basis. Additionally, doing improv has changed the way I approach theatre and character work. I highly recommend at least dabbling in it. If nothing else, it helps you build bulletproof confidence in yourself!

In Conclusion

In November 2009, I am a working actor in Chicago, IL, performing for live audiences at least one night a week in some of Chicago’s most renowned comedy clubs and theaters. I pay the bills by waiting tables during the day. Friend/partner-in-crime/roommate Jesse Case is one of the dozens of successful performers I am proud to call my “close network.” And this is just the beginning.

I came to this city on a whim.

So, “2007 Joe,” what are you waiting for?