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The Working Actor

In Defense of 'Workshops'

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In Defense of 'Workshops'
DEAR MICHAEL:

Your response to A Bit Tired Right Now's inquiry about casting director and agent workshops ("Thanks for Nothing," Oct. 7–13) caught my eye, mainly because I attend them frequently and have, over the last year, sorted out the information I've gathered from these experiences. I have very strong feelings and thoughts on the nature of these workshops and how they fit into an actor's pursuit of a professional career.

I know many actors who, based on principle, will not attend CD and agent workshops because they feel it is simply wrong to pay for an audition. This echoes your opinion that in paying for these sessions, you're paying to be seen as an actor who has to pay for connections. To these friends I say, "Okay, you have your dignity. Now what's your plan?" And to you I can only say that your comment doesn't acknowledge the reality of what most actors have to deal with now to get as much as a glance from an industry professional. Do I believe there is something inherently wrong with this practice? Yes. Do I think an actor who hasn't gone to a top-five BFA or MFA program (guaranteed decent representation out of the gate), or someone without connections, has a chance in hell of walking into a major CD's office and getting seen? No way.

I love acting, and continue to take classes, but in order to move ahead professionally, I've found workshops to be of great value. Through workshops, I've booked several TV roles and a supporting role in a major studio film, I've gotten two agents and my SAG and AFTRA memberships, and I've formed relationships that continue to provide opportunities. My point is this: In this reality, I wish I could claim that doing small, wonderful shows Off-Off-Broadway will get you seen by the right people who can springboard you to higher ground, but CDs rarely attend small shows anymore. I wish that by doing student films, you could speedily have your work viewed by people who could see your potential and help your career, but more than likely it won't happen. All of these things an actor should continue doing, but to deny this reality—as a business—is to dwell in naivety.

So I think there is nothing wrong with going to workshops. But I agree with what you said: Have a sense of your value, give what you get, and use these opportunities to show how wonderful you are in all your individuality. This means working to find the perfect sides or monologues and making them powerful tools, all your own. Research who's leading these workshops and use this research to guide you toward seeing the right people. Don't waste money by treating workshops as a ticket to Hollywood, but learn how to master their format, as you would any other audition, so you can shine as brightly as possible in the room.

This is a fact I've learned: Any casting director you blow away and win the heart of—one who really believes in your talent and passion—will want you to succeed and, given the opportunity, will try to help you. Someone like this won't come along every time, but CDs like this exist, and they won't care whether or not you paid. Their job is to fix a problem that you might be the solution for. Be a smart actor and a smart person and, like anything else, the work will yield its due results. I've experienced this first-hand.

An honest question: Can you honestly tell me there's any other way you know to get in front of major casting directors or casting associates for one-on-one face time, guaranteed?

—Gregory Lay

New York City



DEAR GREGORY:

Thanks for your intelligent counterpoint. I'm sharing it with our readers because I believe that issues this complex are worthy of multisided discussion and rational debate, and you make excellent points.

I get that the "workshop" racket (my word) has become an accepted norm. And I certainly don't deny that they're effective—that is, you can make contacts that may lead to jobs. So we agree there. We also agree that, as you yourself say, "there is something inherently wrong with this practice." That's why I'm still on this soapbox.

Call me an idealist, but I think it's worth maintaining our understanding of what's right and wrong, even when wrongdoing is the trend. For example, talking during movies and live theater is becoming more common. Do we therefore decide it's perfectly fine? Nope. That behavior remains inconsiderate and improper; I think we should keep objecting. Same with regard to the pay-to-meet system. As an advice columnist, I urge actors to look at the bigger picture, beyond immediate opportunity, beyond desperation, even beyond their chosen profession, and ask themselves: Do I want to participate in something that's "inherently wrong"?

I'm glad for the fantastic results you've had from attending "workshops." If one is going to pay for meetings, one would hope those meetings lead to employment. I assume that's the goal of every actor who signs up. Indeed, it's my wish that all who choose that path get great results. And I like your thoughts on how to approach them.

But by their very participation, actors contribute to the disappointing trend you describe. It used to be that showbiz professionals—as part of their work—sought out talent by seeing performances. Now, thanks to "workshops," there's far less impetus to do that. Many still attend showcases and small productions (and, in fact, some still won't charge for meetings), but the trend is clear, as you note. And actors are supporting it.

As to your last question, I would hope my career, for one, offers evidence that actors can work without workshops. I attended a few, very early on, until a casting director asked an actor she recognized, "What are you doing here? You're a good actor." That told me everything I needed to know. I built my career without them. There are lots of working actors who did the same.

Still, I acknowledge the sense of your letter. It's hard to resist the possibility of results like yours. And while I'd love to see these pay-to-meets banned entirely, it's more likely they'll outlast my current career trajectory and I'll feel tempted to take the seat next to you…. But I won't. Rather than accepting the "workshop" system as inevitable, I think we should continue the debate and, as we've both said, regardless of our position, carry ourselves with dignity.

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