People often ask me, "Why South Korea?" They say, "You can never make it overseas!" Then they declare, "You should come back and move to LA or New York." If I would have listened to the masses I wouldn't have the experience or the awards that I've received. So in this post I'm going to provide you with three of the major reasons why being an expat thespian is so beneficial.
YOU HAVE TO PUT IN THE WORK
I technically have 4 agents. Two for film, one for television and one for commercials. Don't let that impress you, because the reality is, my commercial agent hasn't called me in over 2 years, my television agent just contacted me 3 weeks ago after a 3 year hiatus and my film agents, whom I love dearly, can be on and off which is the rub of the business. But you must understand that most of the agents in Korea are representing the same foreigners. The idea of "type" is very broad when you live overseas in a homogeneous society. I don't walk into an audition room with everyone always looking like me. It can be a plethora of different types staring back at me. So, how do I get work?
I have to put myself out there and network on my own. I've learned how to interact with the Korean directors, producers, assistants and I'm still learning. My strategies include attending Korean film festivals and targeting the the films that have guest visits, sending out monthly emails to every person in the industry I've ever met, (I keep all business cards) and lastly attending events within the Korean & Western acting community, whether it be as a participant or audience member. As an expat thespian you have more time to read about the business of acting and build a website, educate about social media, take online classes for Google analytics, and design business cards. More time to learn the art and science of being an actor. The possibilities are endless!
Here in Korea you can't stop. You literally have to be like a shark and keep moving because once you stop...you drown. Being an expat actor teaches you to not depend solely on your agents. My most recent film role was provided to me by word of mouth, not through an agent. I have to constantly be thinking of ways to market myself and yes I fail all the time. I throw an idea against the wall and if it doesn't stick I try something else but no matter what...I keep moving forward. You have to put in the work, you don't have a choice. (Unless you just don't want to work ;)
MONEY BECOMES A SMALLER ISSUE
2014 was the 1st year, in my 5 years of living in Korea, that I actually paid rent. My first few years I was working as an English teacher and the school paid for the apartment that I was living in. This is common in Korea, pending your contract of course. It's not a lavish apartment, but it was free. The only thing the teacher is required to pay are the utility bills, which can be as low as $60 or as high as $150 a month. This advantage provides the expat thespian with the opportunity to save money, so that you can do more traveling overseas, spend more time writing, more time working on your craft, or pay off your debt! Can I get a Hallelujah? If you get the right gig, in the right country, you as the expat thespian won't have the same pressures as the actors in the west.
After my career started taking off a bit I had to move from the traditional 9a.m. to 5p.m. schedule and find a 1p.m to 6p.m. shift. Here in Korea they're called Afterschool Programs. This was more money, but now I had to start paying rent. I got pretty lucky though, because I had an understanding boss who would let me hire a substitute teacher for those days I had to be on set filming. So I was able to do the job I love while keeping the job I need. No, not every afterschool program director is going to be as "chill" as mine, but even when I was working 9a.m. to 5p.m. I would use my sick days or just film on the weekends. I communicated with my agents and they worked around my schedule. I took risk and that's important even overseas.
Not having to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from is a great feeling as an actor in general. Imagine not sweating bullets about car payments because you have access to to one of the best transportation systems in the world. No worrying about insurance or rent and think about what that opportunity could mean for you as an expat thespian.
I just recently got back from Japan in September for the Ivana Chubbuck Workshop. I'm heading back next month for a Viola Spolin Workshop with Tordy Clark - a RADA trained actor/coach currently living in Tokyo. Next year, I'm attending the Alba Technique Workshop in Ireland! I was able to pay 85% of the tuition cost for Ireland with 3 hours of industry work I received here in Korea.
Having said that, not everyone can go to any workshop they desire especially actors in the West. They usually have a day job that won't give them the time off or the money situation is extremely tight. However jobs like my current position are the sweetest gigs. I sing to children in the evenings so that they can learn English through song. I usually work shifts between 5p.m. to 9p.m. and my schedule comes out a month in advance. I'm able to let my boss know when I can and can't work. This current position provides more possibilities for me as an actor in Korea. I have an extremely flexible schedule so that I can audition, do voice work, be on set or attend any workshop I want!
THERE YOU HAVE IT THESPIANS...
The three most important reasons to be an expat thespian...in Korea at least. Aren't you tired of that LA/New York hustle? Then come overseas and experience a difference with your friend #TheSeoulBrotha. No, all these advantages didn't happen overnight and yes at some point I will move back to America. However, I'm thankful for the opportunity that this beautiful country has provided for me.
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Till next time thespians,