California Dreamers

They made a splash in Tampa Bay, but how are they doing in L.A.?

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It's an old story. An artist somewhere far from the nation's artistic centers gets an idea: Maybe I owe it to myself to try the Big Time. So he or she leaves Topeka or Amarillo or Akron, travels to New York or Los Angeles, and tries to gain a foothold.

Three Tampa-based performers have made the move to L.A. in recent years. Here's how they're faring:

Return to the Coast: Petrus Antonius. A familiar face from many Stageworks and Gorilla Theatre shows, Antonius is no stranger to L.A. — he lived and acted there from 1979 to 1983 and also spent 15 years in New York.

But his decision to return to L.A. from January to May of this year came after his agent in Orlando found him roles in two films — The Celestine Prophecy and Lonely Hearts with John Travolta — and "I thought that would help me to get back in the game again." Antonius specifically went back to try out for the TV pilot season. None of his auditions turned into jobs, but his agent suggested that he return in August — which he intends to do — for the TV episodic season. And Antonius did find some work, meanwhile: He performed in a short film for the Las Vegas Film Festival and participated in two screenplay readings. He's been told that he'll be cast in one of the resulting movies, a low-budget comedy/drama called The Pony Show. Antonius admits to being "a little bit" disappointed that he didn't find any pilot work, but as he's often cast in Hispanic parts, he's encouraged that "the Latin market is coming back." As for doing theater in L.A., it just doesn't pay: Most of the houses are tiny, Antonius says, and actors' stipends are even smaller. In any case, his coming months on the West Coast are crucial: "I've been living for six months on my savings, so now I go back, I really have to get some work. ... If that doesn't work out, I have to make a decision what to do with my life."

A Flurry of Activity: Linda Slade. Veteran British actress Slade spent only two years in the Tampa Bay area, but while she was here, she was brilliant in Stageworks' The Turn of the Screw and shone in plays with Gorilla Theatre and Sarasota's Banyan. Since moving to L.A. in April 2005, she's discovered that "there are thousands of opportunities; whether the standard is as high as what I was used to, maybe not, but you can certainly get your face in front of a camera every day of the week if you want to."

Upon arriving in town, she took any job she could find, no matter how unpaid or unusual; one of her strangest roles had her burying mannequins in the desert for a spine-injured director who filmed the action while high on pain-killers. To support herself while looking for parts, she took jobs teaching theater, which, combined with poorly paid stage work, left her exhausted. So she resolved to audition primarily for the cinema, and has completed four films while continuing to audition 20 or 30 times a month. Last year she had a part in the movie Hollywood Confidential, and she's just finished playing second lead in an "international film, it's set in Germany, and I'm playing a British nurse who speaks both German and English." Coming up is a "fun" western, a job she attributes to her ever-growing network of friends in the industry. She thinks some of her success can be attributed to her résumé — "I've had 20 years in the industry behind me" — but there's also the fact that the majority of actors looking for jobs in Hollywood may be "stunningly glamorous" but have little talent or training: "They have no idea." In any case, she loves L.A.: "I love the energy. Everybody's trying to make their dreams come true."

A Change of Plan: Colleen McDonnell. I reached McDonnell in Sarasota one evening just after a rehearsal of Banyan Theater's A Doll's House. "Best of the Bay" winner McDonnell, who starred in plays all over the Tampa Bay area before settling in L.A. in August of last year, was back in Florida to take the plum role of Nora, a wife on the verge of a revolution in consciousness.

To my surprise, McDonnell told me that this is the first acting she's done since her move to the West Coast — all because of an injury she sustained before leaving, playing a violent scene in American Stage's Dinner With Friends. "I sprained my neck and ... injured my back a bit also. ... It got to the point where I couldn't turn my head, and there's no way I could do any auditions, nothing." While she healed, McDonnell took a day job as a cosmetic manager at Macy's, and now that she's got her full mobility back, she's planning to make the rounds of agents and auditions. (She's already held meetings with an enthusiastic casting director.) Even while tending to her physical injury, she fell in love with her apartment in Santa Clarita, near Cal Arts University: "It's beautiful, it's up in the mountains a bit. ... It's a really nice place to go home to." And she refuses to stew over missed opportunities: "Things happen," she says, "and that's the way it goes." What matters is that she's physically better and "I'm ready to take on L.A. when I get back. ... I just try and stay positive and look toward the future."

Three performers, all taking the chance of their lives.

I admire their courage. And I'll check back with them in a year.

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