Workshops Work if You Work It

by Teresa Reilly on January 20, 2010

When I find myself in a rut in my acting career (and don’t we all have an intimate knowledge of some killer ruts in this business?) I turn to a trusted confidence booster: the casting workshop.  I know the topic has been discussed on the Right Cast before, but I thought I’d add my two cents, as I’ve been back in the workshop groove this month.  It’s a tough topic, because nobody agrees on anything, but I’ve got to argue the positive today.  Casting workshops work…

…If you work them!  Anyone can pay $50 and go home with a lighter wallet and not much to show for it.  I’m all for the workshops if you spend your money wisely, and squeeze every last bit of usefulness you can out of it.  The first time I joined a casting workshop, it was for One on One in New York City.  You had to schedule an audition slot with them first, do two monologues for one of their directors, and then if accepted, you could immediately start signing up for “pay to play” casting workshops.  At the time, the entire idea of meeting a casting director in exchange for money was still very much a new and controversial topic.  And rightly so. There were some vehement protestations from actors and casting directors alike that this cheapened the game, and, once again, gave a leg up to those more well-off, but not necessarily more talented.  What separated these blossoming businesses from scams?  And would you get any kind of assurance that your investment would have any kind of return?  Was this any different than paying for a class with an industry player?  Who were these casting directors and how much were they getting paid?  And what happened to the old way of doing business in show business, where you auditioned, you sent mailings, you met casting associates through hard work and pluck?

All good questions, and most still being answered. Eventually, there were some laws set down to make sure that these workshops & seminars stayed on the right side of the scam tracks, as they were in California in 2002, when casting workshops were limited to clarify to their clients upon signing up that they were aware that workshops were not “…a job interview or audition…the presence of a casting director is absolutely not a guarantee or promise of employment…and that the intent of this class is solely educational.” Granted, the actor scams that have been around as long as Mickey Rooney has are still around, but fine-tuning the legality of the gray area has been an immense boon to all of us.

So, why do a workshop at all?  The real goal is simply to be called in to a casting office and to have the opportunity to audition.  The benefit to paying for a lower-stress environment in a third-party location is that you are getting to work with and in front of a casting director who you wouldn’t have the chance to meet any other way.  Some casting directors don’t go to see showcases or theater, and some only meet new, fresh faces in workshop settings.  Sometimes, it’s just a great way to remind a CD who you might have met with before what you look like and what you can do. Some would even argue that the “pay to play” levels the playing field a bit, and some actors say that the idea of paying for an audition is really no different than paying for an agent’s cold-reading class or coughing up membership dough to join a theater company.  It’s all and always been about the money.

When I was accepted to One on One, I started signing up for time slots for only those casting directors and agents I was already targeting.  (At $35 a pop for one 10 minute slot, I had to.)  Often, I’d just do a monologue, and then chat with them for the rest of the time after they gave some redirects.  Sometimes it was sides.  And while it was only 10 minutes, I was (heh heh) one on one with that CD for the entire time, and it gave me a chance to show off all the research I’d done about what they were casting.  I got some great feedback, made some dumb mistakes I hope to never make again, started freelancing with an agent I’d met with who I really liked, and got some pretty consistent calls to do background after meeting with the casting director for “One Life to Live.”  Because I kept getting called in for soap work, I had to join AFTRA, which I’m now grateful to have done at the time.  I worked with some other casting workshops with very different rules and setups once I moved to Los Angeles, including Act Now! and the Actor’s Co-Op, and have not only gotten fantastic lessons from working commercial and theatrical CD’s, I’ve also been called in several times by one of the casting directors I’d seen, and got my voiceover agent using the demo I made in a voiceover workshop.  But, really, if nothing else, it buoys my confidence doing workshops.  It is one more positive thing I can do for my career, gets me on my feet, and makes me focus.  It’s exciting getting to read for a new casting director, even if you’re the one who orchestrated the deal!

So.  How do you pick a good casting workshop?  Well, once again, it boils down to simply using your good sense and, again, spending your money as wisely as humanly possible.  Do your research on what current TV shows are casting, and who is casting for your type.  Create an outline for yourself about what you care about in a casting workshop, plug in your target casting directors and agents, and see where they are doing workshops.  As you research, give yourself some guideline questions before you start spending all your hard-earned cash:

-    Do they audition?  Is there a fee just to belong to the workshop company?
-    How do they pick their guests?  Are guests required to be actively working on a project at the time of the workshop? Here’s another research moment.  What have their guests worked on in the past?  Do they tend to teach a specific technique in their workshops, or is it a general “pre-read”?
-   Is it a one-night workshop? If it is, how many times do you get up and work in front of the guest?
-    Is the guest a casting associate or a casting director? I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing if it’s an associate, as those associates are working hard too on various projects; furthermore, they will climb their way up the ladder, so getting to know them while they’re still building their roster can be awesome.
-   If the guest has previously done workshops before, how often do they call actors in from the workshops?  What other workshop companies do they work with and is the price comparable?
-    Does the workshop have guests who primarily use union actors?  Do they ever call in non-union?  Do they ever Taft-Hartley?

As you can tell, these guidelines are entirely based on your own current goals for your career.  Don’t be afraid to ask too many questions.  Make sure you use these opportunities wisely and for your best interest.  If you just want to show up and slop out some acting and hope it gets you something in exchange for a fifty, then don’t bother.  Prepare.  Make yourself look good.  Know what you want from the guest.  Make your workshops specific to your business goals.  Make yourself look great.  Stay after the workshop and ask questions of the casting director.  Know who you’re talking to, and make sure you find out how to best stay in touch with them.

Work it, actors.  After all, you’re paying for this playing field, so it’s your game to win.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Wendy Alane Smith March 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Great article. This is precisely what I teach my management clients at WAW ENTERTAINMENT in Los Angeles.

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