So far, the most interesting challenge about opening an acting studio in a new city has been selecting the right location. I’ve done a lot of space shopping in the Austin area and the decision never gets easier. The dilemma isn’t uncommon or surprising. Though I’ve never undergone this kind of search before, I watch enough HGTV to know that it’s the same simple dilemma everyone faces when searching for the right place: Do I pay more and sacrifice a lot of what I think I want in order to be in a more trendy location? Or, do I choose the right space at the right price even though it isn’t centrally located?
In my case, I’d really like to believe that the famous real estate adage, “Location, Location, Location,” can be interpreted loosely. (Notice I didn’t say, I hope the adage is wrong.) I found a place pretty early in my search that was exactly what I was looking for in terms of square footage and layout and I even got an offer that was considerably lower than the advertised rate. The space itself looked like a great find but I wanted to be closer into the city. I kept looking around, thinking I’d find something similar somewhere else but the more I looked the more amazed I was that a big empty room could be so hard to come by. I checked out availabilities on the East side, where all the cool kids go to make art, and I could see why it is becoming such a popular place to create. There is a lot of cool stuff going on there and there is an exciting mix of people from various backgrounds but as soon as a place starts getting cool it also starts getting expensive. That means the spaces in my price range are really small. I’d have to decrease my class sizes and rehearsal requirements just to make them fit into the space and, with so many people in that area making theatre on a larger scale, I just don’t think a cramped little acting studio could compete.
The first location I looked at was pretty far north of Austin so it would be a long drive for city dwellers but North Austin is a highly populated area. It isn’t a place where people commute to work or play. It’s a place where people make their homes and send their kids to school. I’m sure there are tons of families in the area who would be happy to pick there kids up from school and not have to drive back into the city to take them to acting class. The part I’m less sure about is the location’s ability to attract working theatre artists.
A major aspect of my vision is to create a space where actors, playwrights, and various collaborators can come together to train, get feedback on their work and exchange creative insights. I believe that in order for a studio to be successful, it has to not only provide great training and be a source of excellent work, it also has to feel like a creative home to a core group of people who see it as a place to turn for inspiration and support. If I have to drag artists out from the East Side to my North Side studio, they may be willing to commute on a short-term basis in order to be involved in an interesting project, but it is doubtful that they will keep coming out for training and feedback when the project is over. If, on the other hand, the quickly growing population of Austin’s North Side is home to a number of talented theatre artists who would love to work in a creative space that doesn’t involve a twenty minute drive into the city, I might have a very good chance of making the North Side BNTC’s new home.
The more I look at my options, the more attached I get to this possibility, but I’m not just going to jump into something that I hope will work out. So, like the responsible business person that I am, I’m in the process of conducting preliminary research to find out if there is a hidden well-spring of theatre artists on the North Side who are searching for a creative home.
Now this is the point where those readers who have had even the most minor experience in real estate are starting to get uncomfortable. Why are they uncomfortable? Because they are remembering what I said earlier about finding the North Side location “pretty early in my search.” A good space doesn’t just sit on the market waiting for people to complete their research. I stumbled upon this location while I was just looking around to get an idea of price ranges in different areas. I didn’t mean to find what I wanted right away!
I was feeling pretty pressured for time when I went out the other day to take another look at the space but I learned while I was there that another space with the same layout would be opening up in October. I went home feeling encouraged that this new information had possibly bought me some time and I emailed the leasing agent to let him know I’d like to be the first to hear when the other space became available. After sending the email, I went to bed feeling relieved from the pressure that had been building with each passing day since the first space had hit the market.
The relief lasted exactly 24 hours. When the leasing agent wrote back, it was to say that they were going to start aggressively marketing both spaces next week. For those of you who have searched for a home or work-space, or know anyone who has, I’m sure this story is a tired repeat of the same old ups and downs that you are all too familiar with yourself. Nonetheless, I’m sure you also remember how important it feels when it’s happening to you.
At this point, there isn’t much I can do. I can’t rush into something unless I know it will work for my business and I can’t make them save the space for me until I’ve finished my research. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow afternoon with a guy who is part of a professional theatre company on the North side. The company started just a few years ago so they have first hand experience with the challenge of finding artists to work with in this area. I’m hoping he will be able to give me some much-needed insight about what lies ahead and I’m also hoping (as I always do) that our companies will find ways to benefit from one another’s work rather than viewing ourselves as competitors.
The list of things I need to get done if I’m going to move into this space is ever increasing and yet the main priority right now is to determine if the North Side is actually the right place for BNTC. With that in mind, it’s time for the “call to action.” The part of the blog where I ask you to help me out. If you know of any individual or organization associated with the arts in North Austin please put them in contact with me. If you are a theatre artist or parent of a child who is interested in acting, please let me know if you think you’d like to part of BNTC. Finally, no matter where you are located, if you are supporting this project even just by keeping up with how things are going, please let me know who you are. Here’s a form to fill out so you don’t even have to go to your email account.
BNTC in North Austin
Update: Immediately after posting this, I received word that the space I was looking at got leased to someone else. The other space with the same layout is still available but now the pressure is really on. *Sigh!*