"I aim to be Lulu’s opposite and want to be known for my artistry, not my cheekbones."

essays

williamsYoung Artist in Hollywood
Tahlia Jamison

Tahlia is an online student here at West. A model/dancer/actress, she loves combining working in fields she loves with getting a college education. In addition to enjoying all areas of the performing arts, Tahlia has fun spending time with her close-knit family, as well as reading, writing, going to the movies/theatre with friends, traveling, swimming, and playing with her dog.


I’m sitting in a café on Melrose learning lines for a scene I’ll work on in acting class. Ring! The phone blares; my agent’s on the line. She tells me to drive toward Santa Monica, promising to text the address of a last-minute TV audition I must get to in 45 minutes. Stuffing the scene and an uneaten apple into my gigantic dance bag, I wave goodbye to my waiter friend and fly.

Checking my texts, I put the casting director's address into my navigation system. Heading west, I practice my lines for a class scene aloud. Mercifully, I arrive on time and sign in. My audition “sides” (two scenes strung together from the TV show for the role I’m up for) are handed to me. I hear a cacophony of voices and peek at the two dozen girls there for the same part, as they chat with each other or run lines for the show loudly. Unlike me, every one of them is fair and most are blond. I’m a Latina/European mix—not what's seen in the industry as an "All American Girl Next Door" type.

Needing to escape from the girls' noise and my nervousness, I let the receptionist know I’ll be out in the hall reading and practicing the material; she promises to get me when it’s my turn. I find a quiet spot on a stairwell, skim through a synopsis, and highlight “my” character’s lines. Then, I run the scene like wildfire, first silently and then—despite an audience of actresses streaming in and out of the office—right out loud. I’m just starting to feel good about it when the receptionist calls my name. Heart thumping like crazy, I gather my belongings and walk through the waiting room into the casting office.

Behind a desk is a casting lady I’ve never met; with her—to read opposite me—is her secretary, who sets up a camera and gives me a “mark” to stand on. I hadn’t known I’d be put on tape, so I smooth my hair hurriedly. Then, I “slate” (state my name and agency). Feeling unprepared, I read for the role. The secretary speaks like a robot, yet the scene goes well; a grin steals across my face. The casting woman eyes me quizzically, compliments my work, and asks my heritage. My heart sinks, but I manage to recite my varied ethnicities. She says, “You’re very strong as an actress, but not right for this. I’ll send your tape to the director, and keep you in mind for the future.” And so—out I go!

Speed-walking to the car, I silently curse the practice of typecasting according to looks/ethnicity. It’s technically not supposed to exist; producers brag about “colorblind casting.” In truth, how a performing artist looks remains a huge element of whether he or she books a job. Frustrating? Very! However, I’m comforted by my plan to join a minority-hiring committee of my union, Screen Actors Guild, in the near future.

In the car, I’m glad to have my class scene to focus on and use it to vent my annoyance. It’s cost me $8 in gas money and $5 in parking fees to go for a role I’m not even right for. I head for my dance studio, take an advanced jazz class, and feel my stress melt away. After changing into “street” clothes, I eat a protein bar, then go to acting class. There, I enjoy doing the fiery scene, using my raw emotions. On the way home, I stop at Ross-4-Less for shorts to bring to a 6:00 a.m. shoot I’ve booked the next morning; it’s a mere nine hours away. I greet my parents, share my day with them, eat dinner, and study for a Lit quiz before sinking into deep slumber. Another day in Hollywood.

Recently, in Professor Lincke-Ivic’s California Literature course, English 209, I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Bukowski’s poem, “The Genius of the Crowd” and Norman Mailer’s novel The Deer Park. Each offers a bleak, visceral view of the dark side of Hollywood, presenting it as a place where artists are tormented by controlling power brokers. The poem’s speaker lambastes a “crowd” that stamps creativity out of artists, erasing their unique qualities. I’ve been urged, by “geniuses” the poem describes to lighten my hair or wear blue contact lenses. I refuse, although I’d let a production alter my look temporarily for a role. Mailer's novel is the tale of a writer newly arrived here who attempts, with difficulty, to hold on to his integrity. The author depicts starlet Lulu Meyers as a young woman willing to do as she’s told by using beauty to get ahead, while neglecting to nurture her real or supposed artistic talents. I aim to be Lulu’s opposite and want to be known for my artistry, not my cheekbones.

As a young artist in Hollywood, I train and perform as a dancer/model/actor, so the intensity of both authors’ views, and those of their well-drawn characters, resonates with me deeply. I related to certain negative views the writers hold of the people and practices of Hollywood, as I’ve faced my share of unsavory characters and situations. All in all, though, the Hollywood portrayed in these works is very different than the one in which I was born, raised, trained, and now work.

While not always pretty, Hollywood is a city where many young people, like myself, find joy and freedom of expression studying and working as artists. Juggling training and performing with online college at WLAC, I love this town and practicing art here. Challenges—like not being “blonde enough” for a role—make me work even harder. Why? Because I get to do what I love: wake up early, study, head for a TV or commercial shoot, audition with dozens of others, choreograph a dance, do an acting scene, or walk runways. I feel lucky to be an artist in Hollywood, a world-class showbiz town.

My days and nights are a whirlwind of classes, auditions, interviews, rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, college studies, and professional gigs. It keeps me on my toes—at times literally. It’s inspiring to work with people I admire; I’m proud to be a member of SAG, our union. Friends I’m close to are also pursuing arts careers. We don’t sit around doing drugs or wasting valuable time. If not working, we’re training. If not training, we’re rehearsing. If not rehearsing, we’re seeing plays or films. We help and support each other, although issues of competition come up. We care about improving our skills to have a better shot at artistic careers and at earning a living in a challenging field.

My parents are artists who moved cross-country to act in films and TV. Both found high-level work in the industry, supporting our family by doing what they love. Each made tough choices to put family and ethics above materialism and work, showing me that it’s possible—though difficult—to balance a soulful, spiritual, family-centric life while earning a living in a field you love, but won’t sacrifice your morals to.

I was raised on Hollywood sets and “on location” in other countries/cities. I met fascinating people worldwide; extensive travel—and avid reading in planes/trains/buses on the road—enhanced my education. By age two, I longed to perform; by three, I began dancing. Smitten, I trained in all dance areas six days a week, performing onstage and on TV with noted youth companies. At 14, I was recruited as a model; each shoot or runway show was a chance to perform, transform, and use my energy to make audiences—and myself—happy. Today, I fund acting lessons and college tuition by dancing and modeling.

Fashion and dance morphed into a passion to act; I became the third actor in our family. Like my parents, I hold onto integrity while working in Hollywood. I feel that an actor’s training should be as rigorous as that of a dancer. Once determined to act, I didn’t want to “wing it” on natural talent alone. Thus, I auditioned for and enrolled in an acting conservatory noted for its intensity. There, I’m learning all aspects of the acting process, with mandatory reading and viewing materials, grueling classes, and fierce competition. Very purposely, I chose a training ground that stresses artistry, not commercialism.

Negatives exist in Hollywood, but positives, too, abound. This tough, inspiring city is a great one in which to learn and practice the performing arts. As harsh as some aspects of it may be, Hollywood offers innumerable growth and employment opportunities to those with energy, talent, drive, and stamina.

Artistic families flourish here. Like parents all over America, Hollywood actors cherish their kids; they car-pool, make play dates, and watch soccer games. Friends and I with actor-parents had happy—if unusual—childhoods. We watched the top pros work, and played or studied in studios, dressing rooms, or trailers. Not all Hollywood moms are self-involved; many take kids to work and on the road, exposing them to varied cultures. I loved being nomadic; life was an adventure. Parents working in a field they love don’t resent their kids, but embrace them. An artistic Hollywood parent, as I hope to be in the future, is often creative, open-minded, and satisfied.

Of course, Hollywood’s power elite can be cruel; temptations abound—and some give in. Predators can be ignored or resisted, though; we young artists warn each other about the creeps who lurk around. On the plus side, many Hollywood teachers/mentors are eager to encourage, not abuse, young artists. I’m grateful to have missed the McCarthy era, when artists were hunted down, threatened by hypocrites to “rat out” themselves or others out as un-American. Years ago, producers notoriously controlled artists and their lifestyles, but today the practice is far less prevalent. Artists have found their voices and power, forming production companies through which they direct and produce, as well as act.

Hollywood may seem corrupt to outsiders, since media publicizes its negatives rather than its positives. If as many artists here were the druggies depicted by tabloids, film production would grind to a halt. On a shoot, a stoned-out player stumbling around or forgetting dialogue is an exception, not a rule. Some artists suffer, tormented by the grind of this city and its oft-extreme competition. We lose some to drug overdoses, the result of deep pain that usually began in childhood, not Hollywood. Pressure is fierce; artists may be used or ripped off. I admit that our city is far from pristine.

Nevertheless, the joy of being a Hollywood artist makes this tough, serious pursuit worth it. My friends and I don’t abuse alcohol or drugs: we’re too busy! We study dance, history of film/theatre, and great plays/screenplays; we audition by day and do theatre by night. It is time-consuming and mind-expanding. Great auditions/classes give us natural highs; poor ones leave us frustrated or in tears. We practice scenes, create new projects—and grow. Going to work is a pleasure, not a grind. It’s so exciting, while most of the city sleeps, to head off to a set while it’s still dark outside. Before 6 a.m. we’re being made up, getting into wardrobe and—literally—being prepped for “Lights! Cameras! Action!”

The Hollywood I know and love is a hub of activity. Great things go on: family life, excellence, volunteerism, open-mindedness, charitable fundraising—and joy. We have the finest film schools, turning out the likes of Steven Spielberg, who has taught history and moved millions through films such as Schindler’s List; he is a homegrown Hollywood success—and an inspiring individual. Though imperfect, Hollywood is filled with unique, creative minds. It offers more freedom of expression than most other U.S. cities. Hollywood is a Mecca for gifted and “different” souls who flock here in droves, adding to the mix.

But what do I appreciate most about Hollywood? I appreciate my parents, who've always been and remain my best role models and inspiration. My mother and father have turned down roles in order to remain moral people, great parents, and true artists. I’ve been lured by liars, asked to pose nude, and offered alcohol and drugs. Guess what? I just said “No!’ and still do. It’s not easy to handle Hollywood—my parents taught me that—but remaining true to oneself as both a person and an artist has vast rewards. Art is beautiful in and of itself. We who create here have an inner and outer glow. Some artists may not get ahead as swiftly without taking immoral shortcuts, but we remain true to ourselves—and encourage others to do the same. We play roles in projects that may touch the lives of millions.

My Hollywood is one of dancers sweating for hours in ramshackle studios, stage productions playing nightly, actors training for and being cast in films, TV, and theatre. Craft, energy, talent, stamina and discipline run this city. Hollywood artists wake up at 5:00 a.m. to write, learn lines, study, and go to—or hunt for—work. There is more good than bad in the Hollywood where I was raised, a town I still love being a part of.

Having lived and worked in Manhattan, Vancouver, Auckland, and Mexico City, I’ve experienced cities that offer different paths to art. However, I feel most challenged and vital—in art and in life—here in My Hollywood. Reading Bukowski and Mailer was wonderful; I relish these two fine writers’ work. Even so, the Hollywood both of them describe is the polar opposite of the home and workplace where I feel privileged to train and work. For me, being a young artist in Hollywood is a stimulating, joyous adventure.