The first time Shana Allen packed up her car and drove to Los Angeles, she had a dream and $1000. The south Baton Rouge native who has a B.A. in theatre arts from Southern University left in 2009 to pursue her acting career. Within one year, she was back in Baton Rouge without her then newly wrecked car — defeated. Now she is once again in Los Angeles, living five minutes away from the famed Hollywood Boulevard — a little smarter, with a bit more money and SAG eligible — redeemed.
“In Louisiana, there is reasonable opportunity in this business but, here in L.A., I’ve been able to get more specialized training and tap into a lot of valuable resources that are not as available back home,” Allen said.
Allen’s story isn’t ill typical for Baton Rougeans in pursuit of entertainment-based careers. The city has only recently begun offering more opportunities for budding actors and comedians, so moving to Los Angeles used to be the answer for individuals in pursuit of those careers. Baton Rouge has submitted to Hollywood names as large as American Idol’s Randy Jackson to celebrity gossip show TMZ producer and on-air personality Van Lathan.
Its success stories like those that inspired people like to Allen to go forward with her dreams.
Since moving to Los Angeles, Allen has booked a Fruit of the Loom commercial, which is the role that made her SAG eligible. She said it’s a great thing to meet people with the same dreams she has, and at the same time, she said she has to work harder to make a name for herself. She credits her hometown for giving her the ability to navigate Los Angeles’ competitive arts scene.
“Being raised in Baton Rouge instilled good values in me — the basic things like politeness and treating others how you want to be treated,” Allen said. “Coming from a smaller city, it’s easier for me to embrace that concept and treat others not as opponents, but as fellow artists.”
Comedian/actor John Dardenne moved to Los Angles in 2003 to attend USC. Upon graduation, he said he had made so many friends and connections that he decided to stay.
“I remember looking at my cell phone trying to will it to ring, and it did — it was my agent telling me I booked two national Nintendo commercials,” Dardenne said. “I was two years out of college, unemployed and low on money. I used some of the money to produce a live solo performance show called ‘School For Suckers.’”
It was that solo show that got Dardenne into the door at “The Wanda Sykes Show”. He worked as the assistant to the executive producer before being promoted to writer’s assistant, where he was then able to include some of his own jokes in the packet to Sykes.
“I bought a cheap bottle of champagne and kept it in my fridge hoping to drink it if one of my jokes made it on air,” he said. “When she used my first joke, I felt so much pride and excitement, the bubbly never tasted so good.”
Now, Dardenne garners income from acting in commercials for companies like Dish Network, doing movie extra work, production on music videos,
paid stand-up gigs and teaching youth improvisation classes. On one of his more brag-worthy nights, Robin Williams happened upon his improv show and even joined in. And of his biggest regret, well, Dardenne said is laughable — he missed out on a blind date set up by actress Megan Fox.
Nevertheless Dardenne said he loves Los Angeles.
His father, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne authored the motion picture tax credit responsible for bringing many film and television productions to Louisiana. So while he may not be moving home, Dardenne said he thinks it’s awesome for ‘creatives’ to move back to Louisiana especially when there are so many industry jobs available in the state.
Chenese Lewis is one of Louisiana’s boomerangs.
Lewis moved to Los Angeles in 2004 to pursue her acting and plus size modeling career upon winning the national title — Miss Plus America 2003.
While in L.A., Lewis gained major credits and experience in acting, hosting, modeling, moderating panel discussions, motivational speaking, event production and expert commenting. She said her biggest accomplishment was her 2010 “Love Your Body” campaign that led to her producing “Love Your Body Day” for the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization for Women for six years. She was also a cast member on BET’s show “Hell Date” and a model for the clothing store Torrid.
In late January, Lewis packed up her experience and moved back to Baton Rouge.
“Since I’ve been gone, the entertainment industry in Louisiana has really boomed and a lot of major projects are being filmed here now,” Lewis said. “I think the industry here will continue to grow and the tax incentives given to the entertainment industry here is a big part of that. It’s very expensive not only to live in Los Angeles, but to do business in Los Angeles as well. Being able to be home with my family and still do what I love is a win-win for me personally.”
While in L.A., she stayed connected to Louisiana which made her transition back easier. For the last four years she worked with the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans on Radio Row interviewing celebrities for her podcast. In 2013, she hosted a natural hair event at the Kress Gallery. And now officially a Baton Rouge resident again, Lewis hosted this year’s Baton Rouge Fashion Week.
“The positive feedback I have received moving back has been overwhelming,” Lewis said. “People are so proud that someone local was able to go to a big city and be successful and bring it back home. Some people in Baton Rouge won’t allow themselves to think that big. Lots of people here never leave the city and never step outside of the box and live their lives to the fullest or pursue their dreams. Their concerns were valid, my story could have been very different, but I had to step out on faith, and at the very least if it didn’t work out at least I could say I tried and not have any regrets.”