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The Working Actor

How Unrepresented Talent Can Get Seen

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How Unrepresented Talent Can Get Seen
Dear Jackie:

I know neither you nor Michael is a big fan of the whole paid CD workshop epidemic. Honestly, I'm not either, because I've spent tons of money with not the slightest payoff. So my question is, What are the options for unrepresented talent, if not CD workshops? How do we get agents to look at us without a referral? How do we get CDs to look at us without a representative? How can we meet and get in front of people without having to pay them?
Tired of Dishing Out

Dear Tired:

You're right that Michael and I suggest alternatives to paid workshops, but that doesn't mean we eschew training with working professionals. There are casting directors and other industry professionals who also teach, and studying with them can be highly beneficial.

I suggest you avoid thinly veiled paid auditions, where casting assistants or associates see actors read scenes and give little to no feedback, taking headshots and resumes out in the parking lot (since they can't legally take them in class). Sadly, this kind of "workshop" is not only common; it's despicable. People should not have to pay for job interviews. Performers should not have to pay for auditions. Hard-working actors struggling to make rent so they can afford new headshots shouldn't be asked to dish out $50 to read in front of an inexperienced casting assistant for the shot at a one-liner on a crime show spinoff.

Yes, I know. Some readers are taking to their computers as you read this to slam what I just wrote - telling stories of job bookings and agent signings gained through the paid-audition situation. We could indulge in a long back-and-forth about whether the fact that it sometimes works makes the wrongness of it right. But let's not get swallowed in that argument today. Let me jump instead to the kinds of workshops and classes I do recommend.

Search out classes - whether one day or ongoing - that give you the skills needed for auditioning and working professionally. The instructor - whether a working CD, an agent, or just a plain old teacher - should offer thoughtful feedback and present well-developed ideas about how to improve a performance. A sentence or two of critique does not a teacher make. If you can study with working professionals who are also great instructors, so much the better.

While paid workshops are the easiest way to access certain industry types - you plop down your money, waltz in, and occasionally stand a chance of being noticed - there are many other ways to network and find a representative, referral, or job. This is a small industry, and while you can't ask a new acquaintance to cast you in his next film, or a fellow screening attendee for her agent's unlisted phone number, the more people you get to know, the smaller the industry will become. Every event you attend, every fellow actor you take the time to get to know, will pay off in the future—often in unexpected ways. This industry is a community. Get out and meet your neighbors.

Here are a few free or very cheap ways to get into the mix.

All of the actors unions host free workshops and events for members. Screen Actors Guild's SAG Foundation has the Casting Access Project, which offers to SAG members in New York and Los Angeles free workshop sessions with casting professionals. Complete the CAP orientation process to become eligible.

SAG Foundation boasts numerous other programs, many also open to American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Actors' Equity Association members. Check out its speaker series, "Conversations," and its acting business series, dubbed "LifeRaft," as well as occasional screenings and Q&As. You can also network while doing a good deed by volunteering with its children's literacy program, BookPALS. For more details visit the SAG Foundation website at www.sagfoundation.org. While you're there, check the press releases for a list of current and recent special events. Finally, the "SAG Foundation Short Film Showcase" will be held in late May in New York. The deadline for submissions is April 27. Email shortsny@sagfoundation.org for more information.

AEA also hosts member events. On the AEA website, the "member workshop and seminars" link seemed to show only a few of the offerings. Try the news index, which gives events by region. Just as an example, the "6th Annual Off-Broadway Stage Managers Networking Event" is coming up March 23 in New York.

AFTRA also hosts events and offers scholarships through its foundation, and Actors Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the welfare of entertainment professionals, hosts many offerings. Eligibility requirements may apply (although union membership is not necessary), and orientations are required for some events. Check www.actorsfund.org for more information.

Los Angeles and New York actors should check out theater company Naked Angels' writers' program, "Tuesdays@9." Writers bring in work for cold readings, and actors are cast on the spot. Hang out, make friends, and see exciting new work come to life.

Kindred spirits might also be found at an Actors Tweetup - a free networking event for actors, writers, directors, producers, and other artists in the social media sphere. The New York and Los Angeles events provide opportunities for online friends to get to know each other in person. Check the links for more information.

Though it's not free, L.A.-based The Actors' Network is a great resource for performers looking to meet other professionals and learn more about the industry. Attend a free orientation, and see if it's for you. There's one March 15 and another April 9.

To come full circle, keep in mind that some casting directors and teachers offer free workshops. While their end goal may be to sign up more students, there's no reason not to learn what you can while finding that perfect fit. L.A.-based commercial CD Chris Game is offering a free "Full Exposure" class April 14 in Hollywood. Email cgcastingassistant@gmail.com for more information and to sign up. Mike Pointer, of Hey, I Saw Your Commercial, offers free monthly workshops, and Actors Connection offers occasional free seminars in both L.A. and New York.

A final thought: The list I just gave was pulled together in a week through asking around and searching the web. I can only imagine what you can find when you reach out to your connections and search your own region. Remember, networking isn't hanging out with the famous and powerful. Networking is meeting your peers. Volunteering to usher for your local theater company may help you as much as opening envelopes at CAA. A successful acting career is a long road, so get out of your car and meet your fellow drivers.

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