Someone thought it would be great if actors could meet agents and managers without having an "in"—a referral of some kind. The only logical way was to give the industry person some incentive to meet more actors after normal business hours. Hence the 'pay-to-play' networking sessions began.
Now, they are as commonplace as insurance commercials.
Most actors have done at least one of these; some many more. This niche industry probably costs the community of actors many tens of thousands of dollars per year. (I wouldn't know how to do the math on it.)
While many actors have success stories from these networking sessions, I'd guess about 15 times as many have unsuccessful ones. And not for lack of talent (well, in some cases, maybe), but probably due more to the sheer number of actors that industry people see.
Some agents—a select few, I'm sure—attend with no motive of actually finding talent, but rather finding an extra one or two hundred dollars in their pocket. I was a reader for one in which the agent confessed afterwards that he was actually looking to "cut down" his roster. (I wondered what the 20 people who just paid $25 to meet him would say if they knew that.)
Whether you love them, are morally opposed to them, or see them somewhere in the middle—that's your call. Personally, I've had an inkling of success from them—just enough to make me occasionally sign up again if I think it's someone I should meet or have already been pursuing.
It is what it is. Like it or hate it, it's the game today.
Recently, Back Stage published a column by Secret Agent Man called "Deep Thoughts" in which the mystery talent agent graced us with his inner monologue at one of these showcase-type events.
I would like to do the same—from the actor's point of view.
6:42 p.m.: Check in with monitor, and choose when I go. Do I go early in the showcase, when the agent isn't tired of seeing people? Or do I go later, after many of these "actors" have made him so angry, and be that breath of fresh air that reaffirms his belief in the talent at [insert-networking-company name] here?
7:05 p.m.: This thing should've started five minutes ago, but 'he' called and says 'he' is stuck in traffic. It happens to us all, but I've only been late to one audition in the last 6 years. (I'm just saying.)
7:11 p.m.: Here he is, much younger than I thought. I bet he was an actor once. Ok, now the annoying Q&A where 'Musical Theater Gal' there will ask, "What's the best way to keep in touch?"
Don't you guys know about postcards, Call Sheet, Google? Hmmm, let's see. Do I have any questions that I haven't got the answer from the other 50 of these I've done? What can I ask that's new, fresh... oh damn, we're out of time for questions. Ok, now I have two hours till I meet him face-to-face.
7:27 p.m.: Ah Chipotle, you are too good to me, anyway...
7:28–8:36 p.m.: I check Back Stage for tomorrow's EPAs; Actors Access on my phone again; submit; pull out laptop and write a scene in my play; call Mom; find Starbucks, then decide it's too late for more coffee; head back to the waiting room.
8:37 p.m.: Notice that the guy going before me looks just like me—crap. That girl is cute, wonder if she's... ah, focus.
8:39 p.m.: Ok, ready to go. I've done this scene a million times, but I remind myself I've got to make it fresh, have an arc, be good.
8:42 p.m.: Begin to wonder if he'll recognize my headshot. After all, I've only sent it to him three times in the last six months, along with 12 postcards telling him about bookings and my career progress.
8:54 p.m.: Go over my sides with the reader. He's ok, not great, and that usually means he'll be worse when we get in there. Reader informs me the agent is "nice"—whatever that means.
8:56 p.m.: Make eye contact with the hot Asian girl. Wow, she is... focus!
8:57 p.m.: Ok, guy before me has been in there for 13 minutes, you're only supposed to get five. Monitor knocks for the third time, so now the agent's gonna feel rushed during my turn.
8:58 p.m.: What is so special about that guy in there? If he likes him so much, why doesn't he call him in the morning? Isn't that why he's here—to find people he likes, take note and call them?
9:01 p.m.: I'm finally going in! I can tell by the way he looks at my headshot, he's never even seen it before. Does the Post Office suck that bad? Or do some agents just not read their mail? Big surprise there—well, on both fronts.
9:03 p.m.: Doing my scene. I can tell he's reading my résumé, searching for something to talk about instead of paying attention to my acting.
9:04 p.m.: "Good job," he says insincerely. He asks where I'm from. "Long Island." He is too, yet no connection is made. "Really, where exactly?" he asks. I tell him, "I've been there blah blah blah."
Small talk, I get it, but I only have three minutes left. Why isn't he asking more pertinent questions? Like about that "Rescue Me" credit? I booked that on my own after meeting the casting director here! Or maybe he's curious about my six years of improv experience—nope!
He's trying to say those four magic words ("Nice to meet you"), which translates to "I'll be throwing your headshot out immediately." Maybe I should just tell him I booked two principal SAG films and three principal commercials in the last year all on my own. No, don't brag. But this is my career!
9:05 p.m.: Should I pull out the list of casting directors I know? Will that impress him? Why am I trying to impress him. He needs my 10 percent just as much as I need his submitting ability. Isn't that all he is—someone to submit me?
He doesn't seem human. Might as well just be a submitting robot. I can tell he hates me. Oh well. He's just here for the paycheck anyway. Imagine if I could charge agents to interview me?
9:06 p.m.: This was a waste of a night, at least I DVR'd "30 Rock." Should I ask for my headshot back? No, take the high road. Forget the $22 "Special Fall Deal" you got on the session and all the postage you've bought so he could tell you "I got a lot of clients right now and I'm not really looking for new talent."
So why the hell did he bother to come? Oh right, for the $150 and that hot Asian girl in the lobby. Maybe the next session will be fruitful.
This guy is so not getting another postcard in the mail...
Tim Intravia is a (sometimes) working actor, comedian and writer living in NY. For five years he's avoided typical survival jobs by working as a robot/mime street performer; his one-man show about that experience is currently in rehearsal.
He is a member of SAG and AEA and has appeared in commercials for the NY Mets, the Tribeca Film Fest (with Bobby De Niro) and Mayor Bloomberg, amongst others. For more info, visit timintravia.com.