On average, I get asked about where I'm from about 10 times a day.
I understand why. I don't have an easily identifiable accent. My auto-reply is, "I am a British-Australian New Yorker." It's usually met with a slightly puzzled look. I guess most people are wondering if that's even possible.
Given that around 30 percent of New Yorkers are from somewhere else, I assure you, almost anything is possible.
Then I am asked "why?" Australia has always had an exotic allure. Many Americans can only dream of being able to visit the land down under, with its endless beaches, easygoing lifestyle and wide array of the world's deadliest animals. It sure lured me. I grew up in the United Kingdom in the '80's where the most exotic thing I ever saw was Neapolitan ice cream. But there was also a TV show on five nights a week that transported Brits to a fictitious Aussie suburb. Whilst stateside viewers were treated to the glamour and high drama of the Young and the Restless, across the pond we got stuck into the everyday lives of middle class families who seemed to live endlessly in board shorts and flip flops. Plus, it never seemed to rain!
But none of this answers the why. The short answer is I needed a tougher challenge. I lived in Australia for about 15 years, ten of them in Brisbane (Queensland). I ran a theatre company, dabbled in TV, film and commercials. I had great friendships, worked with talented people, and yes, sometimes could be the only person for miles on a beach. But when you are an actor, following your gut is intrinsic. Mandatory. Eventually I couldn't ignore myself anymore. I wanted to live and work in the most thrilling city in the world. I was going to move to New York.
And that's when the real hard work started.
I am here on an "Extraordinary Talent" visa. It means that before I could even quit my job, pack my bags, and say goodbye to all those killer creatures, I had to prove I was better than average. This is a grueling process. It takes months of collecting evidence from your career, filling out forms, getting supporting letters and making sure that you meet all of USCIS's rigorous requirements.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think you should just be able to walk into America simply because you fancy a change. This is the land of the free, not free land. But the process is soul searching stuff, structured to put you off before you even file an application. After all, aren't there enough actors here anyway?
I persevered (I'd already emigrated once, so I was hardened to the experience), and have never looked back. It's not always that easy looking forward though. We are after all, in the Trump era, where social media reigns, and immigration is a hot and controversial topic. While his focus is currently on those south of the border, it's generally felt that -- should he win -- he will make it harder not only to come here as an international worker but also to be here as a non-citizen.
So why do we do it? Why do we leave the golden shores in droves every year, and move to one of the most densely populated and competitive cities in the world? For the same reason the Dutch came over 400 years ago and the British not long after. The promise of something new and exciting. In Australia you can be lucky to get more than one audition a week. Next Tuesday I have three before lunch. All for theater, all with money attached. In the few years I've been here, I've played the classics, performed new work, recorded a radio mini-series, and produced a creative development actually on 42nd Street.
I don't know if I'll ever get my name in lights outside a Broadway venue. Or even an off-off Broadway one. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to afford to live somewhere where the rent is more than $900 a month. And somedays I wish the train took me all the way to the Gold Coast. But this thrilling game of "can I do it?" in this most electric of places makes it a game worth playing. I've learned more about myself as an artist in the last few years than I did in the 30-something before. I've learnt more about myself.
People from all backgrounds and walks of life over hundreds of years have helped make this city great. More are coming every day. And this English-Aussie actor is another one, meeting it head on, making dreams come true, and influencing the accent of the city that never sleeps.