Thursday, July 21, 2016

Making Friends in L.A. (or Anywhere!)

It’s ironic that you can move to a city of 12 million people and feel absolutely alone, but you can.  Sure, you can go to actor networking events, union workshops, and acting classes and meet fellow
struggling actors (the city is overrun with them!), but if you’re looking for close friends to have fun with, people in the same hugely competitive business may not make logical soul mates. Plus crazy schedules can make it hard to connect outside of classes and auditions. When I tell an actor friend "Let's get together for lunch!" I invariably have to preface it with "What does your schedule look like?"

Bumping into someone’s shopping cart at the supermarket could have you mistaken for a stalker, and I’ve watched (and appeared in) enough Investigation Discovery crime shows to know that you don’t look for friends in bars. (A couple vacationing at the beach a couple of years ago did that and didn’t survive the night!)

The best bet for finding friends (not to mention potential dates) is to look for people with similar non-career interests who live in your same general area. Practice the lost art of being friendly: smile, make eye contact, listen more than talk, reciprocate invitations, look for opportunities for 5-minute chats with people in the neighborhood (Your flowers are beautiful! What a cute kid/dog! That’s a great skateboard/guitar/dress/etc. Where did you get that?).

Make it brief. Limiting initial conversations to 5 minutes means you don’t appear needy and gives you an exit if the person seems a little odd or not interested. If they seem cool, the next time you see them, try another 5 minutes. Or “I was just thinking about our last conversation. Want to grab a coffee?” Then you can talk/listen more.

Here are a few other ideas:

1. Take a cooking class. Really, this is a no-brainer. For thousands of years people have connected over food. When warring tribes make peace, they have a feast. Think about it, there’s this wonderful nurturing aspect about feeding each other, and with the popularity of TV cooking shows, cooking classes have taken off.  Seafood! Ethnic! Vegan! Classes for singles. Classes for couples. Classes near where you live. You can find classes online at sites like Cozy Meal or  HipCooks and through write ups at LA Weekly.  Cooking classes encourage interaction and happy chatter. Plus they give you an excuse to invite people over for an evening that’s fun and relaxed. And not just people from class.  “Hey! I’m trying a new chili recipe! Come over!”

2. Volunteer for some charity or service that makes all participants feel good, and be sure it involves a group activity rather than sending you off by yourself. Think Habitat for Humanity. Cleaning up the parks/beaches/environment. Fighting for a cause! Animal rescue groups are big with actors in L.A. so check out Hope for Paws, Best Friends Animal Society, and other groups. You may strike up an acquaintance with a recognizable star while making a huge difference in the life of a homeless pet. Win! Win! You can find LA groups looking for volunteers here and at LAWorks and Volunteer Match. Most cities have a similar list online.  Again, look for a group near to where you live. It’s hard to extend friendships outside of the group if the person lives across town.

3. Literary? Music fan? Independent bookstores and music stores frequently host free events where like-minded people can get together and chat with the author, with the band, and with each other. Sometimes there’s even food. Scout your neighborhood and see what’s available.  Knowing that the other person has the same taste in grunge bands or Gothic fairy tales gives you an instant topic of conversation. Find a list of bookstores here. You might consider joining a book club. The LA Public Library publishes a list online here.

4. Join a Trivia Team. This is the one exception to looking for friends in bars. People who are into trivia tend to be smart, normal, and competitive in a fun way. They don’t come for sympathy or booze, they come for the game. Lots of bars have trivia night. Find Pub Trivia Night locations here and  here. If you’re a font of esoteric knowledge, check it out. Those who read two-inch filler columns in newspapers need to find each other. Plus you could win a prize!

5. Have a decent singing voice? Join a choir. Church may not be considered cool, but I can tell you that a lot of actors are in an ongoing conversation with God so don't be shy. Joining a choir gives you a reason to get up on Sunday morning and you can be reasonably certain that those you meet are not currently substance abusers, which is important if you’re also looking for a Significant Other. There are choirs not affiliated with religion, but those may be more into professional performances. Your choice.

6. Hang out at the dog park. People who are kind to animals are generally kind to other people (sadly, the reverse is also true.) If you have a dog that plays nice, great! If you don’t have a dog, consider adopting one. A dog park is a great place to check out the different breeds first and people love talking about their dogs more than they love talking about their kids. It's the perfect ice breaker.

7. Browse MeetUp online for all kinds of open groups that welcome new members. Least stressful for newcomers are group sports (Baseball. Soccer. Tennis. Swimming. Kayaking. Scuba diving. Whatever you’re good at.) Also check out salsa/ballroom dancing, photography, board game groups, anything that’s fun and gets you out with a crowd of like-minded people.

8. Join a hiking group. In LA endless sunshine means there are hikers everywhere so you can get fit while meeting friends, and being out in the fresh air is much more interesting that sweating through repetitions at the gym. MeetUp, the American Hiking Society, and the Sierra Club are good places to start looking for a local group.

9. Explore. There are tons of cool things to see and do in Los Angeles. Museums have free days and often sponsor special events that draw a crowd. What’s your pleasure? Here’s a lengthy A to Z list of possibilities that also make great dates if you're already a twosome.

10. Finally, be consistent. This is key. Don’t go to a place or event one time. Go lots of times so that people get to know you and you get to know them. Too many people get discouraged if they don’t connect with someone right off the bat. That great person may not be there the one time you are, or maybe you caught them in a rare grumpy mood. Good friends take time and understanding.

And as for making actor friends, let me amend what I said above. Oscar-winning Brit David Niven first arrived in Hollywood in 1935 with no acting experience and few connections. He possessed, however, a quick wit, a wealth of clever stories, a serviceable dinner jacket, and better than average skills at golf and tennis. As a result, while still working background and supporting himself as lowly crewman on a charter fishing boat (for the likes of Clark Gable, among others!), he was frequently called upon to fill out a foursome at the estate of some big star. And while he was initially escorted to the front gate right after the game, he was eventually invited to stay for cocktails.

We should all be so lucky.

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