consider ILLUSTRATION: Alisa Yang

Communal Connections

What goes around comes around for traveling actors looking for a place to stay

By Ellen Snortland 08/04/2011

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Busy, happy people in and out all day, the smells of toast or food cooking wafting through the air at all hours, the sounds of London just outside … the Figtree Community in the Islington area of London is a reminder of my past, as well as a beckoning toward the future. My recent arrival here branches from my early years in Los Angeles, when I was a professional actor and lived in my own commune.

Because I am a member of the Actor’s Institute in Los Angeles, I have AI “family” members all over the world. What we have in common is a workshop called the Mastery, created by Dan Faucia, a serious yet mischievous blue-eyed Italian-American artist and muse to others who also served as VP of comedy development at Paramount for years. What made Fauci’s heart sing arias was to conduct intensive two-day workshops that had (primarily) actors reach into their often jaded hearts and rediscover why they were actors in the first place. Those lucky enough to experience the course would often have their non-acting loved ones and friends take the workshop as well.

Now, in the 21st century, people from all over the world and from all walks of life have learned about the Mastery. They have put themselves in the able hands of Dan and his teaching partner, Larry Gilman, if they are in LA or Dan Fauci’s protégés — some of whom have never met Dan — if they live in other parts of the world. What people take away from these sessions often shifts how they relate to life itself. Not a bad way to spend two days.
When we recently found out we’d been selected to take our show to the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival for the entire month of August, one of the first things I did was reach out to my AI “relatives” here in the UK for advice, encouragement and a place to stay in London. Christine Kimberley, who leads the Mastery in different parts of England, told me I should ask Ranjit Krishnamma, another Mastery leader and a delightful human being, for a place to stay. Voilá! Not only did we get a place to stay in London for a week prior to the opening of my show in Edinburgh, but we got to experience his home, the Figtree Community, named for the giant fig tree that once graced their commune’s backyard.

I’m flummoxed as to why more of us don’t live communally. Pooling resources makes a lot of sense, especially when so many of us have faced dwindling, nay, explosive financial loss over the past three years. The ecological footprint of shared housing is much smaller than single-family dwellings. The safety in numbers adage is in play. Economically, 10 can live cheaper than two. There are many reasons why people should put co-housing on their menu of alternatives.

I lived communally from 1977, after I graduated from law school, until the early ’90s, when
I literally became a drug-war refugee and was forced to flee my 5,000-square-foot restored Craftsman mansion near downtown Los Angeles. My commune — housed in two historic restored homes named Starships Renaissance and Bounty — was three blocks east of MacArthur Park. At the peak of the scary ’90s, I would hear dozens of gunshots each night, which caused me to hit the floor at every sound. Finally, I received personal death threats from drug dealers who felt that our presence (and my outspoken stance against them) was ruining their business.

The members of my commune were mostly in the arts or working on breaking through in Hollywood. What a relief to have cheap rent and other people who cared if you didn’t come home at night.

We did have to deal with a lot of preconceived notions; most people we spoke to were convinced that all we did was have orgies and that we never had any privacy. The concerns about orgies were mostly projections of either avid hope or, conversely, deep paranoia. As for the privacy part, we had as much or as little privacy as we had the skills to request. The people who do best living communally are people who set and maintain boundaries, but that’s true in any relationship.

 A quick tip for people considering communal life: Be VERY clear about making rules and agreements that are easy to maintain and recreate. It’s the little things that grate.
How lovely it is the Figtree Community still flourishes and has allowed us to nest in its branches before heading north to Edinburgh.

Ellen teaches writing workshops in Altadena and performs shows in Edinburgh. Contact her

PS: We open today, Aug. 4, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and play through Aug. 28 every day at 5:30 p.m. at the Assembly Rooms there. If you feel like being spontaneous and joining some other Pasadenans I know who will be there, come on over! For more info, see



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