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On participating in the destruction of my own industry…

September 25, 2012

“Why do you participate in the destruction of your own industry?”

9/16/2012 – My roommate asks me this as I’m sprawled out of the couch at 11:30 pm watching Dance Moms on my laptop. I’m unsure whether he’s referring to watching reality television, as it takes away from jobs for “real” actors or the denigration of the dance industry as its portrayed in the series (though being a former competition kid, I find some hilarious parallels between the mothers on this show and the mothers at some of the studios I attended…). Knowing him, it’s probably both these things in addition to the destruction of our culture via embracing the norm of exploitative mindless garbage. I try to explain to him that it’s for “research purposes”, that since I’m about to begin working on a documentary theatre piece on dance competition kids it’s very important that I get a feel for where the industry is at. Neither of us swallow this BS and I finally just spit out, “but it’s the only reality show I watch” as if this will make it any more acceptable to him.

Why. Do. You. Participate. In. The. Destruction. Of. Your. Own. Industry?

9/18/2012 – My boyfriend receives a personal e-mail from a reputable agent’s office. “Dear Ryan”, it reads. “I saw you in your recent production and both myself and my assistant were very impressed with your work. We want to set up an appointment with you. For only $40, we’ll meet you, see you read and talk to you about some potential roles we would like to submit you for…”

“I’m confused,” Ryan says to me. “If they are so interested in my work then why should I have to pay to meet them? They get paid when I work. Technically, they need me more than I need them.” I call bullshit. He e-mails them back and politely asks if they would be willing to see him for free since this seems to be a personal invitation. They e-mail him back and politely say no. Apparently it’s an invitation to a “special workshop” and they plan on teaching him stuff. They remind him it’s by invite only. Their story has changed.

Ryan is one of those actors that was fortunate to book work and find representation right out of school, which doesn’t negate the fact that he has been busting his ass since graduation (and it’s been awhile since the boy has been a college student). He is at the gym each morning and in weekly classes working on his craft as an actor and singer. He is less interested in self-promotion than in doing stellar work that he’s proud of and finds challenging Ryan has never paid an agent, manager or casting director as a teacher to “develop” his talent yet he works regularly, has a number of big credits and gets called in for things I envy (i.e. “Sweetie, what happened to my lavender button down, I need it for my second Shakespeare in the Park call back?”).

So, are you going to do it? I ask him.

“Do what?” He is organizing work related papers for the following morning.

The workshop you were invited to.

“If I participate in this, it makes it okay and therefore normalizes this practice for other actors. It’s exploitation of a population that everyone already feels it’s okay to take advantage of. It’s unethical on their end and would look desperate on my end.”

He jumps up and looks out the window.

“Wanna walk the High Line while the weather is still nice?”

Dance Moms is on in 15 minutes.

I get why so many agents, casting directors and “industry people” host pay to play workshops. It’s a business. So many actors. So little time. So few parts. So few people can be represented at once. It’s a way to weed people out, albeit not necessarily by talent or looks or anything that would necessarily get an actor a job or representation (Who is willing to shell out the cash to be here? Who isn’t?). What it all boils down to is potential to make money. There are many people who are desperate for a leg up, who have the cash and are willing to pay whatever it takes to have a chance at “being seen”. And seriously – who can blame them for taking these workshops? Each day I hear from colleagues about the pressure to attend, how they feel it’s the unfortunate direction the industry in headed, how “everyone” is doing it, how they don’t necessarily get feedback outside of a few adjustments, how it doesn’t make them better actors only it’s a chance to be put on the radar by someone who could potentially get them work. What’s wrong with that? I’ve also heard from actors who have received auditions and work from attending pay to plays.

A few years ago I really wanted to work on my television and film acting skills. I had been having problems adjusting to acting for the camera and my agent suggested taking class. I was torn between several casting directors’ “Television and Film” 10-week intensives (some of which are reputable) or going to one of the many acting schools that offer classes in this. After careful deliberation and Facebook posts asking for recommendations, I auditioned and enrolled in class at Primary Stages/ESPA. I was certain it was the right decision based on the extensive credits and careers of the faculty and the reputation of the school (I’ve been enrolled in classes at ESPA ever since). I wanted to grow as an actor and artist so it was imperative that I feel safe enough in class to mess up and fall flat on my face. How could I have done that in a class advertised by a casting director who is actively seeking class talent for auditions? I give kudos to those who can but it certainly wouldn’t have been the smartest choice on my end.

After a year of classes I booked a role on Onion News Network, an independent film and was on hold for Boardwalk Empire and another feature film. Through auditioning, I created relationships with some of the casting directors that were regularly sending me mass e-mails about their workshops. I credit these bookings with the technique and on camera work that was gained from taking class with teachers who are passionate about growing talent and working with actors who want to better their craft.

I often think about what it would look like to put together a “meet and greet” or “panel” or “workshop” or “seminar” or whatever you want to call it with fierce actors and target all of the agents and casting directors who are regulars on these pay to play seminar lists, the ones I receive constant e-mails from to reserve my spot for “pilot season coaching – $600”, “Wicked audition coaching – $250”, “Meet Your Dream Agent Night – $80” etc. and tell them that if they pay $100, they will have the privilege of receiving headshots from some great actors, hearing them talk about their experience in the industry and seeing some work of theirs.

What would this look like?

What would it look like if actors collectively elevated their status within the industry and weren’t expected to pay to create genuine relationships?

This world is a mess. Perhaps at some point we all participate in the destruction of our industry. On this particular night I’m torn between watching the new episode of Dance Moms at its regular time on television or going for a walk with Ryan. I opt for the walk. For two hours we wander around Chelsea discussing the upcoming Presidential election and riots in the Middle East.

On this night destructive choices were avoided but it’s not always that easy.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. The Growing Artist permalink
    September 25, 2012 2:15 pm

    Wow- This is a great post! I understand the dilemma you are going through. It’s great when you think about it from both sides of the story. I also love Dance Moms 🙂 It’s rather addictive!

  2. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    September 25, 2012 2:44 pm

    Oh damn….what a post. I like your style. 🙂 In a way, I do participate by working for a theatre company that prefers entertaining happy musicals to anything truly thought-provoking but it’s still quality theatre that’s being produced. So, I’m prolonging the destruction? Argh.

  3. September 25, 2012 3:17 pm

    Such a great post with so much to think about. I definitely believe we’re all somewhat responsible. Which hurts, haha.

  4. September 27, 2012 12:05 pm

    Firstly, I love this post. However, I have to admit that I have been to a couple of Actors Connection Seminars. I was new to New York and I felt like I was ‘investing’ in my career. The first was a workshop for a specific musical taken by the Associate Choreographer. It really helped me prepare for the upcoming audition (which led me to callbacks for the Broadway show and then being invited in to audition for the tour). The same Associate Choreographer from the workshop ended up being on the deciding panel for the tour auditions and remembered me.
    The second was a seminar with a well known Broadway casting director that I had already made good headway with at auditions and an agent from Bloc. The question and answer session was most helpful in terms of self-marketing and building a relationship with casting directors. Plus, we were able to get feedback from the panel (something I always wish we could get at auditions). So, I am guilty. Would I do it again? Honestly, I would for either of 2 reasons:
    1. If it was a musical workshop that I wanted a better understanding of what was expected at auditions.
    2. If a seminar came up with someone in the industry I really wanted to work for or had already made a good connection with.
    As a professional, of course I would rather not have to pay for the privilege…And you are correct, even the casting directors told us that we should not think of the seminar as a class….it’s an audition!!

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  1. Sunday Summary — September 30, 2012 « The Green Room

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