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East November 15, 2002

Whither Casting Workshops?
Four Actors Give Their Views on 'Paying to Audition'

In response to last week's box story, "Casting Directors Advocate Views On Workshops," four actors answered Back Stage's call to give their opinions on the "pay to audition" issue.

Regina Taufen

I myself have paid to audition and didn't have the greatest experience. The casting director for whom I read commercial copy didn't give me any direction and then suggested I take a class; it felt like she was on the clock, determined to get through everyone else who was waiting in the lobby.

I still get the emails, and like to skim through the bios of the casting directors or agents to see what they've cast. But I usually end up deleting them--because paying to be seen sort of feels like gambling. I'd only want to do it once or twice and if it doesn't work, I figure I should probably stick with my Bikram yoga class as a career investment.

It's a hard coin to toss. The amount of money that goes into mailings easily adds up to one of these sessions. Hence, meeting someone face to face versus sending your headshot out blind seems worth shelling out for. However! My most recent theory is this: the casting directors and agents that sign on to do these workshops are subconsciously or consciously thinking: if you're paying to be seen, you're probably not that good. It's like being a native New Yorker and staying away from the tourist traps. You want to find the gems, so you go to the places that not too many people know about. I only wish more people in casting thought of Off-Off-Broadway theatre as a place to find the sparklers!

Ed Kulkosky

Meeting casting directors, as well as agents, at paid workshops is a necessary evil. It's the only way I can get exposure to many of these people. If actors can't get the breakdowns and have no agent--as most do not--how else are they going to get work? These meetings have been productive for me, getting me calls to real auditions and landing me a few roles.

If the casting people are sincere and really looking for talent, the meetings could be worthwhile. If, on the other hand, they just go through the motions to pick up a few extra bucks, that's bad. You get to know how to make that distinction after awhile. Generally, I prefer to audition for somebody who is casting an ongoing show and is constantly looking for new people.

A downside is that you often get contradictory opinions from different people about what to do or not to do at auditions. Address the auditor or not, memorize sides or not, be big or small. Everybody says, "make choices," but nobody gives a clue what choices might work. So in the end, it's up to the actor to figure out how to audition. But the face-to-face meetings can still be useful just to get yourself into the director's memory bank.

Maureen Griffin

While I understand the concern over "paying to audition" and do not necessarily disagree with setting guidelines for "casting workshops," I think some of the current suggestions cross the line of rationality.

As reported in Daily Variety on July 9, 2002, the new guidelines established by the California Division of Labor Standards "included the explicit requirement that participants be notified that workshops do not represent a guarantee of employment." Well, there's a concept. Glad you clarified that.

How about this proposal: "Jean Frost, director of AFTRA's agency department in Los Angeles, suggested . . . a 30- to 90-day period in which casting directors would not be allowed to hire a thesp [sic] who had attended a workshop with that c.d." They're not serious! And my personal favorite: "Workshop Providers shall collect all head shots and resumes at the conclusion of the workshop session and return them to the participants." Am I reading this right? Someone please explain this one--I'm lost.

I recently attended two "casting workshops" in NY, and this is what I got for my money: (1) a talk, followed by a Q&A, by a CD, informing me: (a) how their office operates, (b) how to submit to and follow up with them, (c) if, when, and where they attend showcases, (d) what material they do and don't want to see, (e) whether they cast through EPAs, and (f) what they're looking for from an actor; and (2) an opportunity to have my audition technique and material critiqued; and (3) discovering what type of roles they could see me playing. In short, I got a wealth of information for a nominal fee, and I'm looking forward to going again. Bring on the waivers!

Monroe Mann

Once, I was a firm believer in paying to audition. My opinion has changed. This "pay to audition" casting arrangement demeans agents and casting directors both, and does a grave disservice to artists everywhere.

Many years ago, artists had to actually WORK to gain the attention of the industry. Artists actually had to prove to people that they were serious about success. Now, thanks to this deplorable pay-for arrangement, artists are taught to believe that they no longer need business skills, charisma, chutzpah, or determination; they only need money. And this is very sad, and very incorrect.

This pay-for arrangement encourages artists to forget that they are entrepreneurs, first and foremost, and that hard work, and not money, is the true determinant of success. Today, meeting with a casting director or agent is nothing to be excited about because it has become so easy.

While it cannot be denied that some people have had success via these workshops, most simply become more and more determined to get an "agent," instead of becoming more and more determined to make one's own opportunities and get noticed through one's own ingenuity. Too often artists believe that they absolutely need agents and casting directors to get work, so they pay to try to get them.

Truly, though, doesn't it make more sense to put effort into producing your own extraordinary shows and films, and having the agents and casting directors come pay to see YOU? Paying to audition MUST stop, if only because it is putting more and more artists out onto the streets of NY and LA with the notion that you don't have to work hard to succeed; that you merely have to fork over some dough. Stardom can't be bought; it must be earned.

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