What’s the Deal With Pay-to-Play Workshops?

Photo Source: Illustration: Jordan Sondler; Taurel: Courtesy Douglas Taurel

Q: I want to know more about pay-to-play auditions. I’ve been to a number here in New York, yet they’re illegal in L.A. Can someone explain? —@SlyAugustus

Paying for legitimate and useful advice from an expert in his or her field is entirely fine (and legal), but “pay-to-play” (paying to interview or audition) is illegal regardless of the location or profession. (Although certain territories have differing opinions on how to define “useful.”)

If they are legal and accepted where you reside, and you honestly believe that the advice is worth the amount you pay, go for it. If, on the other hand, you believe that by paying a casting director you will reap some kind of benefit by them simply now knowing you, this is what’s considered illegal (or at least unethical). That’s where it also gets tricky.

Many would argue that the feedback in these workshops is generally not great, and therefore it’s not worth it. And those in the tiny percentage of participants who say they’ve been called in or cast from such workshop attendance are inadvertently proving that they’ve paid for an audition.

READ: Is There a Life After Casting Workshops?

The most contentious part of all of this is that most industries consider paying to receive advice from people they also wish to network with entirely acceptable. Not ideal, perhaps, but par for the course when it comes to progressing in one’s field. The advice from a speaker in Joe Schmoe’s field of paper manufacturing may ultimately prove less useful than the advice he could find for free online, but if the speaker is the CEO of Universal Paper Technologies and meets Bob and loves Bob’s passion for stationery, then perhaps she might wish to go into business with Bob. One could certainly debate the ethics of access for those with money versus those who can’t pay, but then again, the same is true of Disneyland.

It’s far from a black-and-white issue, but always act within the law, research the casting director, weigh the pros and cons of what they actually cast, and ultimately spend most of your time and money becoming a better actor. Legal casting workshops are one way to potentially find a path to success. The other way is to work incredibly hard on becoming the best actor you can be. The one path is a possible shortcut with extremely poor odds; the other is the longer way around, but with infinitely greater rewards.

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Paul Barry
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, author of “Choices,” and a Backstage Expert. Barry runs on-camera classes in Santa Monica as well as online worldwide and conducts a six-week program called Dreaming for a Living, coaching actors, writers, and filmmakers in how to generate online incomes to support their art.