Philadelphia: Theatre’s Actor-Friendly Home

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Philadelphia and New York are two of the nation’s largest cities. While theatre is abundant in both places, there is a huge difference between being an actor in each city.

New York City is viewed throughout the country as the mecca of theatre. Stage actors often move to New York to chase their dream of one day appearing in a Broadway show.

Now sure, being on Broadway is the ultimate job for an actor. However, getting work elsewhere in New York City is the real challenge. Due to the highly competitive nature, many actors are spread out across the country in different regional theatre scenes.

Ross Beschler started his acting career in New York. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Columbia University, Beschler started doing small acting work in the city. At that time, he had never even been to Philadelphia. That all changed when he heard about Temple University.

Beschler began to pursue his Master of Fine Arts degree at Temple in 2006. In addition to becoming an adjunct professor at the school, he began to book acting jobs throughout Philadelphia. While he originally came for Temple’s graduate program, Beschler stayed for the tremendous opportunity Philadelphia had to offer.

“I wasn’t coming here looking for anything but my MFA,” Beschler said. “But I stayed because I was working at professional theaters before I even graduated from my grad program. It’s such a permeable place. I just figured I’d stay here and see how that goes. Now after a number of years, I still feel that way.”

One of the largest benefits for a working actor in Philadelphia is the cost of living. According to Salary.com, New York actors make an average of $62,581 each year, while Philadelphia make an average of $55,872. However, the average rent in New York City is $3,519 per month, compared to $1,409 in Philadelphia, according to RentJungle.com.

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Each average listed is for the month of February of the given year. Statistics courtesy of RentJungle.com

From his experience working in New York City, Beschler has found that it is a very stressful environment to make art in. While there is much more work being done there, he sees the city’s lack of overlap in its theatre communities as a disadvantage.

“I find that Philadelphia operates as a big ensemble,” Beschler said. “I work with a lot of people, and we’re building a lot of common vocabularies together.”

Fellow Philadelphia actor Jeff Coon also highlights the collaborative aspect of Philadelphia’s theatre scene.

“It certainly feels like it’s a much more supportive, nurturing group of people,” Coon explained. “It’s not dog-eat-dog. If someone gets a gig that you would have liked to have gotten, you’re disappointed, but you’re not devastated because your friend got the job.”

Now one of Philadelphia’s most established actors, Jeff Coon has been working here since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993. His first production was, fittingly, at the Arden Theatre Company, where he has since performed in multiple productions.

“I really got lucky in terms of timing,” Coon recalled. “It was starting to burgeon and become a place where you could work and also make a living. I think I made $150 every two weeks at my first job, granted I wasn’t a member of the union then. But the Arden is so much bigger now, and it just wasn’t that way before.”

Unlike Beschler, Coon has never worked in New York.

“I like New York for about 24 hours,” Coon said. “I go up, see a show, and see friends, whatever. After 24 hours, I’ve had enough. It took me a while to accept that about myself, to say, ‘It’s okay that you don’t like New York because you’re working here.’”

Coon has more than made a name for himself in Philadelphia, working for more than 10 different companies, including the Arden, Walnut Street Theatre, and Philadelphia Theatre Company. His tremendous body of work has resulted in 10 Barrymore Award nominations, including a win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role as Dominique in The Baker’s Wife.

Though he has been stationed in Philadelphia for the better part of the past 23 years, Coon also had the opportunity to travel to Seattle and Houston with a production of Grand Hotel. While he enjoyed the getting to act in other larger cities, he no longer sees himself leaving Philadelphia. As a father of two, the only way he would travel far for a job would be if it paid considerably well.

For Cara Noel Antosca, working in Philadelphia was not something she ever had in mind. After graduating from Elon University in North Carolina, she moved to New York City to pursue her career in musical theatre. After seven years in New York, Antosca moved to Philadelphia when her ex-husband had gotten a stage crew job there.

“I had my reservations about moving to Philadelphia, but I knew that New York was just a ‘hop, skip, and a jump away,’” Antosca said.

Now over three years later, Antosca is adamant that she has no intentions of leaving Philadelphia. The supportive nature of the Philadelphia theatre community sucked her in, and has allowed her to build strong relationships in the city.

“Everybody is on each other’s team,” Antosca said. “When somebody can’t do something, they’ll recommend you, and if you can’t do it, you’ll recommend someone else. New York was not that way. Actors in New York are there to be actors. Here, we’re here to be actors, but there are so many other facets of our lives that we’re able to balance more easily.”

As a relative newcomer to the Philadelphia theatre scene, Antosca has worked primarily for 11th Hour Theatre Company. However, she continues to build relationships throughout the city. Needless to say, Antosca is one of many actors who are thrilled to be working in Philadelphia.

“This is my home,” Antosca said. “I’m completely content staying here and working in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware. I’d rather be here and work a little bit less, but in a community I know has got my back, than work all the time in New York where nobody cares about you like they do here.”

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