By Roslyn Lo
The entertainment industry is a world of its own, a lucrative profession rife with inspiration, yet devoid of a tangible formula for success.
In this sense, the business of acting is not so much a business at all, but rather, a free-for-all game that randomly factors in skill, looks, ingenuity and a bit of luck.
Real estate broker, producer, writer and actor Sarah Saltzberg sees the entertainment world through different eyes. She recognizes that being an actor is akin to being an entrepreneur — playing a high-risk, high-reward game.
The broker-actress hybrid said her pursuit of the arts has become a carefully calculated science.
Saltzberg is a bit of a paradox — a free spirit yet a shrewd planner, and someone who has managed to embrace both the business and acting worlds simultaneously. “I am not like most actors; I am business-oriented. It’s such a different side of the brain,” Saltzberg said.
“As an actor, I went to school for acting, and there is never any business education. You come out being a fantastic actor with no real understanding about the business of acting. You could be the greatest actor in the world and not understand the business, and then what do you have?”
Saltzberg discovered early on that, instead of following the beaten path of the artist, she could use her instincts and skill to chart her own course.
As a top agent at City Connections Realty, Saltzberg leads a 20-strong group that concentrates on the northern Manhattan market and she is the exclusive listing agent for dozens of landlords in the Morningside Heights area.
She credits much of her success to being able to delegate. “I learned to give away power. We have two agents that do all the training, one that checks vacancies, one just deals with upkeep of the website. All of this has come from tasking things,” said Saltzberg.
“What are the things that we can focus on, and want to give away? It gets the company involved. There’s a trend of assigning people to what they’re best at; a lot of being successful is about being inspired.”
At night, Saltzberg leads a different team as a creator and star of the Tony-award winning Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; as a writer/actor/producer of the Broadway-themed improv charity show Don’t Quit Your Night Job and; as the co-writer of off-Broadway’s Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage.
Saltzberg also lends her brand of humor and improvisation to a drama program at PS6 on the Upper East Side where she teaches young children the art of improv.
The two careers may be as different as night and day, but they share one common theme: the direction of Saltzberg’s bold, business-minded instincts.
“I’m constantly looking for new projects. In both industries, you constantly have to be looking for the new thing, you have to stay ahead of the curve, and you cannot sit back and wait for something to come to you,” Saltzberg said.
Just a decade ago, Sarah Saltzberg worked as a waitress fresh from graduating Boston University’s theater arts program. Working her day job with dreams to pursue her passion, a friend recommended real estate as a suitable stand-by career. “Even as a waitress, I knew how to up sell. An actor friend recommended real estate to me. I realized it was a major difference between a $20 tip and $2,000 tip,” Saltzberg said.
After taking the state course and receiving her agent’s license, she quickly discovered her natural business instincts and affinity for real estate.
Today, Saltzberg deals with property in emerging New York City neighborhoods, including South Harlem, Washington Heights, Brooklyn, Prospect Park and Bedford-Stuyvesant. She said there was an entirely different game plan involved in selling property in such locations.
“We’ve had some crazy situations, walked into drug deals, and even climbed down fire escapes,” she laughed. “You have to have a sense of humor about it. Although it gets crazy, we sort of think of it as an adventure. If we can laugh about it, it makes it more palatable.
“But our strength is being frank with the landlords about what they have to do. They don’t really know what goes on. We tell them, ‘Okay the lobbies need to be painted, they’re a real deterrent,’ or ‘There is something going on in the third floor, you need to put up cameras.’
“We really work closely with clients and, for the most part, we work on specific listings; we’re not all over the city. We have relationships with clients, and we rely on them as well.”
Having watched her real estate beat change over the years, Saltzberg said, “We want people to live there and help the neighborhood flourish. I witnessed 8th Avenue change. All these restaurants, bars and shops — most of them are owned by neighborhood people, and to me that’s an amazing sign of a real neighborhood. People live where they work and there’s a sense of community.”
“But not all places will have condominium developments,” she said. “You do hope the quality of life will improve for the people who have been living there for 20 years, and that’s important for us because it can get tricky in gentrified neighborhoods. You want to be respectful and responsible and not create any friction.
“Hopefully, by contributing positively you can be seen as less of a threat and more as someone who is there to help.”