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By Brooke O'Neill

f you look at the American Idol contestants this year, there are four Latinos," said Fox Diversity Development consultant Janice Tanaka during Back Stage's Latino Actorfest on March 7. Her words reflect the growing visibility of Latinos in the media, a welcome fact for the 320 performers who attended the event in Dana Point, Calif.

Held as part of the ninth National Association of Latino Independent Producers annual conference, the daylong series of open calls brought together top casting directors and representation with Latino actors. More than a dozen industry professionals participated, including Mark Teschner, casting director of ABC's General Hospital; Anthony Krauss of CBS Diversity Casting; Rosalinda Morales of FarMore Casting; Jaime Ferrar of the Jaime Ferrar Agency; and Iván de Paz of DePaz Management.

Actors circulated among three ballrooms at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott, meeting in small groups for five minutes at a time with casting directors. In this mix of auditioning and speed dating, each performer handed over a headshot, gave a brief introduction, and answered questions until a five-minute bell chimed.

In addition to scoping out talent, many casting reps saw the event as an opportunity to advise less-experienced actors. "How many of you have experience auditioning for a movie or TV show?" Fox Diversity Development vice president Ron Taylor asked one group in order to identify the novices. Only one hand went up. Across the room, casting director Blanca Valdez advised a 20-something male actor with no formal training to enroll in a commercial acting class. "Rather than seeing what you've done," she said, "I'd rather see that you've taken classes."

"It's a chance to help guide people," said Taylor. "Maybe we'll find the diamond in the rough who's ready right now, but mostly this is a community of actors who will be ready in one to three years." Krauss agreed, saying he'd spoken with several promising performers. Still, Krauss added, regardless of the experience level, "it's great to meet new faces."

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