|West July 23, 2002||
By Laura Weinert
Invite casting directors and actors to speak at a public hearing on the state regulation of casting director workshops, and you are naturally going to get a very large turnout. You are also going to get your fair share of high drama. So impassioned were the speakers at the July 9 hearing, organized by the Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, that the hearings themselves at times resembled the very thing they were attempting to debate: casting director workshops.|
More than 100 people turned out at the hearings, held at the Van Nuys State Building, to offer testimony before a panel of three: California state labor commissioner Art Lujan, DLSE acting chief counsel Anne Stevason, and DLSE regional attorney Thomas Kerrigan. In upcoming months the three will determine whether the workshops currently comply with state law.
The fierce debate over the legality of these workshops began to heat up earlier this year. In January the DLSE offered its opinion that casting director workshops were in violation of state law, which prohibits job applicants from paying for the chance to be considered for employment. In February, DLSE attorney Kerrigan sent a cease-and-desist letter to all operating casting director workshops. Many workshop owners responded by seeking legal counsel and setting out to prove that what casting director workshops offer is not an audition but an education.
The current goal, said spokesperson to the labor commissioner Dean Fryer, is to hammer out a set of guidelines, agreeable to all parties, which would insure that the workshops do in fact operate within the law.
At the July 9 hearings a throng turned out to offer opinions on the issue, and suggestions for guidelines. Speakers included Guild representatives, actors, workshop owners and their attorneys, and such casting directors as Eddie Foy, Megan Foley, Robin Nasif, Dori Zuckerman, Kathy Henderson, and Michael Donovan.
Only the acting guilds, casting director and professor Jerry Franks, and several actors were there to criticize the workshops. Instead, speaker after speaker stepped up to sing their educational virtues.
"Everything I know about auditioning I learned from CD workshops," said actor Tom Gottleib.
"I can't sit silently by while meddlers try to keep me from my work and dreams," said Paul Keith, who presented a long and impassioned speech.
One actor even went so far as to compare the state efforts to regulate the workshops to the Salem Witch Trials, warning the panel not to be influenced by a few radicals, as courts had been in 1692.
Others presented more pragmatic arguments. Actor Kathy Joosten argued that while she certainly doesn't need to do workshops to meet casting directors any more, she does them to help keep her chops up. "I do workshops because I need the experience," said Joosten. "When I don't do them, my agents get mad at me because my success rate goes way down."
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists made their appearances as well. SAG's director of legal affairs Vicki Shapiro explained that while the Guild wanted to see a consensus reached, the board had passed a resolution on the matter in April.
"SAG is in complete agreement with the conclusion of the DLSE that requiring fees by these workshop operators is in violation of California Labor Code," said Shapiro, "and the Guild will take whatever reasonable action is available to support the action of California officials to eliminate this conduct."
Perhaps it's not surprising that not many actors were willing to stand up in front of a room full of potential employers and denounce one of the ways these casting directors make money. The sum total of anti-workshop actors? Three, if you include Roggie Cale, co-founder with CD Billy Da Mota of DoNotPay.org, the organization that spurred the investigation.
Da Mota also spoke, opining that the suggested guidelines presented thus far by the workshop coalition and the Casting Society of America are "meaningless."
"These are not guidelines," said Da Mota. "These are a blueprint for continued abuse? They'll say that there's a big difference between an audition and a workshop. There is. The difference is, with a workshop, an actor pays and a CD gets paid... Saying that CDs do workshops to 'demystify the casting process' is like saying a dope dealer sells dope to become a better negotiator."
The few anti-workshop speakers who stepped up to the mic were treated to a roomful of boos and hisses.
"I was a little sorry that some of the youngsters got a little boisterous," Joosten told BSW after the hearings. "I thought that was a little more high school-ish than necessary. But I thought that the [pro-workshop] speakers were impassioned and that they presented a good case."
The unbalanced turnout and boisterous behavior led Kerrigan to issue a letter to attorney Brian Dixon, of the law firm Littler Mendelson, who represents the Los Angeles Actors Workshop Coalition.
Kerrigan criticized the fact that prior to the hearings, Dixon had reserved rehearsal space in the Van Nuys state building for pro-workshop actors in support of his clients to practice their speeches. He also suggested that Dixon had encouraged pro-workshop speakers to arrive early at the courthouse so they could monopolize the speaking time.
Wrote Kerrigan, "The result of these efforts was that after the representatives of SAG and AFTRA had expressed their full support for the position this agency has taken with respect to these workshops, we were subjected to an almost unrelieved string of actors and casting directors talking on behalf of your client. I must say, speaking for myself, that I found their impassioned speeches unpersuasive....
"The most deplorable feature of this meeting, in my judgment, was the poor behavior of your client's adherents.... These tactics, as much as they may have heartened your clients, do not reflect well on their position."
Dixon responded with a letter addressed to Art Lujan. In answer to Kerrigan's accusation that pro-workshop speakers had rehearsed, Dixon wrote: "Mr. Kerrigan considers the private meeting that was held in advance of the hearing to be improper.... Are citizens of this state not to meet about subjects of common concern?"
He continued "Contrary to Mr. Kerrigan's representation, no one with opposing views was prohibited from speaking at the hearing."
Dixon also questioned whether Kerrigan's letter reflected the position of the Department. While no official statement has been released, labor commissioner spokesperson Fryer supported Kerrigan's impression of the hearings. "It was unprecedented," said Fryer. "This is something that we don't see. Our hearings have always been very civil. This is akin to things that I have seen on college campuses when I was a student. This is not a professional approach to a situation that is trying to be resolved."
Dixon is not the only one criticizing Kerrigan and his investigation.
"There's been no due process," insisted Bob Stewart, a.k.a. Peter Elliott, of L.A. Actors' Online, an actors advocacy group. "There was no specific complaint against my company, no hearing, no investigation. Yet a cease and desist letter was issued and my company's reputation damaged."
Stewart challenged Kerrigan and his "biased manner" and accused the DLSE of moving "recklessly." He also cited that Kerrigan is a drama critic for AmericanReporter.com and member of the Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle.
Asked to respond to these accusations, Fryer commented, "The bottom line is that Tom is doing his job and he's doing a darn good job on following through on what he needs to do. His investigative product has been very good, regardless of whatever accusations are being leveled toward him."
Is the fact that Kerrigan is a drama critic a legitimate cause to question his work?
"No, it is not," said Fryer. "It might give Kerrigan a little more insight into the industry than perhaps other attorneys might have. Kerrigan has been very professional throughout this entire process, has presented an excellent investigative process, and has done his job quite well."
What the state is interested in at this point, Fryer reiterated, is guidelines. "If the industry can present guidelines that would bring the CD workshops into compliance with state law, we would be happy with that."
In the meantime, he stressed, workshops should comply with the laws on the books.
"They are not to be taking payment from actors to come before casting directors in the hopes of receiving work," said Fryer. "That is the bottom line and that's how we're finding these CD workshops function. And that's what we are seeking to stop. No one should have to pay an application fee to get before a person who is in power to hire them, or has the authority to hire them--no matter what industry or what job you are seeking."
No doubt the debate will continue to rage as both sides continue to submit and debate opinions and possible guidelines.
And of course, the question remains, even with the guidelines in place: How does the state intend to enforce them? Would actors then be able to use the guidelines to wage lawsuits?
Fryer did not respond to this question by press time. Perhaps this too is something the state is still figuring out.