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Secret Agent Man

Workshops: To Pay or Not to Pay

Workshops: To Pay or Not to Pay
I think we can all agree that becoming a working actor is a very difficult goal. So if you want to get anywhere, you have to embrace every option out there. One of those options is signing up for workshops. I'm talking about those companies where, for a fee, you perform scenes for agents and casting directors. Many actors, based on principle, will not attend workshops because they feel it's wrong to pay for an audition. I guess it's nice to have principles, but the way I see it, workshops are like any tool. When used correctly, they can be very effective.

First, let's take a close look at the workshops where actors pay to meet agents. Some of you believe that guys like me agree to be guests at these things because it's easy money. In the spirit of full disclosure, I receive 100 taxable dollars to show up and watch those scenes, most of which are a complete waste of time. Also, workshops are usually held on weekday evenings, right after a long day at the office. So if I weren't looking for talent, trust me, I'd rather pass on the hundred, go home, and see what's on my DVR.

Over the last two years, I've been a guest at 19 workshops and I've only signed one actor. She was 22 and gorgeous. Get the picture? Nine out of 10 times, agents are looking for hot, young talent. Another issue is that most actors who participate in workshops don't have a lot of credits. So even if they're talented, I only see someone who's going to need a lot of attention before I start to see a return. That's why I've always felt workshops aren't a very effective way to find representation.

On the other hand, they're an excellent way to create relationships with casting directors and their assistants. You just have to pick and choose your targets. If you're not funny, there's no point in paying to meet the guy casting "Modern Family," is there?

Here's something else to consider. In a workshop setting, agents have two choices if they like an actor: sign or don't sign. Casting directors aren't limited that way. Over the months that follow, they'll have tons of roles that need to be filled, especially if they're working on a series. So they can hold on to your headshot and call you in a week, a month, even a year later.

There's a trick to making workshops pay off that few actors use. Let's say you sign up at Reel Pros to meet the casting director from "Criminal Minds." You perform your scene and he goes out of his way to say you did a great job. That's an excellent outcome. So what's your next move? Most actors will send a follow-up postcard and then wait for the phone to ring. That's lazy. A more proactive choice would be to stalk the casting director—and I mean that in a good way. Wait a few weeks, then check around to see if he's doing another workshop. Good news! He's going to be at One on One. Pick up the phone and sign up. Yes, he'll be surprised to see you. Just say you enjoyed the last one so much you just had to see him again. Now rinse and repeat. Do the whole routine again in a month or two. Do it for every casting director who responds well to your work. Sooner or later, if you're really talented, someone's going to hire you.

The actors who call workshops a racket are the ones who didn't get anything out of them. So ignore those doomsayers and plan your own course. As far as I know, there's no easier way to get in front of casting directors for guaranteed one-on-one face time.

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