By Xi Chen
Los Angeles is a place that can chew you up and spit you out.
Statistics show that there are 50,000 new people who move to L.A. every year and about the same number who leave.
There are as many who come to pursue their dreams as those who give up and move on.
Lifebook is a place that makes things easier. It is more than simply an acting school. It is a community of artists working together to try to achieve their dreams Many students go on to produce and star in films with their fellow students.
There are actors, musicians, comics, writers, directors, producers and more. Lifebook’s community has artists of all backgrounds, experience levels, from multiple fields, all working together.
The founder of Lifebook, Allen Levin started the school in a room that he rent for $300 a month. Then he recruited more than 60 students in two months and now the school has two locations in L.A. and a third is opening in May 2013.
“I never have to borrow any money. It was an experiment. I just thought it would work and it did, partially because my students start to get big professional jobs,” Levin said.
Levin said that many students have helped other students get auditions, and Lifebook artists often book professional work on the same project together.
This community of artists stands powerful in an industry where it’s almost impossible to succeed alone.
Levin doesn’t have any employees. He provides scholarships for students and those students work for him in the school.
“Some of the students are on full scholarships here because they work for the school. It’s a trade. So I don’t need employees,” he said.
“With a lot of my students, say they have a lot of talent but they don’t believe in themselves, so a lot of times they’ll come to me and study for four weeks and quit. And it’s a real shame. If they would continue to be trained and trust the process they could have their dreams, but many of them won’t,” Levin said.
When asked about how many students become real actors after the training, he said, “I would say that every single one of them who don’t quit.”
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Tanissia Sprull is a dreamer. Born in a small town in South Carolina, Sprull can’t imagine her life there as a waitress. She said she knew that she was too good for that. She moved to Santa Barbara for college at the age of 18.
“Back when I was 18, I thought I could do photography school and do acting at the same time because L.A. is like an hour and a half drive,” said Sprull, who ended up choosing acting over photography after graduation.
Just like many other young people, Sprull came to L.A. to become an actor. However, what she found was that she needed to have a job to live.
“I once got stuck just working to pay my bills and that’s it and not pursuing acting at all,” Sprull said.
Sprull said it is hard because sometimes you don’t have any direction.
“Since finding Lifebook, I’ve been able to find a better balance,” she said. And if she had found Lifebook earlier, she could be far beyond where she is right now, she said.
Regardless of the hardships, when asked whether she has ever thought about quitting, Sprull’s answer is, “Never.”
“Some people are like, you’ve been here for 10 years or whatever, you haven’t made it yet, but what is made it? To you it might mean one thing, to me it might mean another thing,” she said.
Everyone’s journey isn’t the same, she said. It takes time to be good at something. “You don’t get out of medical school and become the best doctor in the world,” Sprull said. “It can happen, I guess, but it takes experience.”
Sprull recalled that the hardest thing she has ever gone through is being homeless.
“I’ve been homeless for two and a half months,” she said.
She slept on the beach, in the stores, sometimes she would crash people’s couch when she could, and she has even slept up on the mountains.
“It’s the craziest thing you’ll do, when you want something so bad.” And going back to South Carolina is not an option for her, Sprull said.
“What am I going to do? Waitressing at a Waffle House?” she said.
“There is nothing I’d rather do in my life than being an actor; that’s the road I have to take,” Sprull said.
She said that she keeps her sights on the future, not what’s happening right now.
“Now, things could be really bad, really bad. Like, where am I going to sleep, what am I going to eat?”
But Sprull believes that as long as she can keep performing, learning new things, that makes it worth everything.
The youngest student in Lifebook is 18 and the oldest is in his late 70s, according to Sprull.
“Bob, for example, he’s spent his whole life being a lawyer,” she said. Then one day he said, “You know what, I want to be an actor.”
Sprull used the word “amazing” over and over to describe Bob. “He’s got all the talent stored up in his whole life and now he’s got his own agent.”
Living your dreams.
Sprull’s dream is coming true. A couple of days ago she got into an audition for a commercial and was selected by the show 30/60, which is a student-run showcase produced by Levin.
“He invites all the producers, directors and agents to our show and many students get booked after the show,” she said.
Sprull said she is really excited about the show, and her future.
As Levin always says, nobody can play the role of you better than you.
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for,” he said.