Casting Aspersions

Regarding your recent timely roundtable about fee-based casting workshops (Back Stage West, 6/28/01): After recent experiences with them, my opinion in one word is that they are an abomination. Perhaps people get seen through these workshops. However, my take on it is that casting directors and agents call in some of the people they see just to justify collecting money, and, yes, by luck of the draw, some people do get hired.

But you didn't even mention some of the harsher evils of these ersatz "workshops." One is that actors without many credits must initially audition for them—yes, audition. If you are a beginning actor, they will audition you (as they did me) and invariably tell you, "You're too green—you need to take a class"—mentioning that, yes, they offer such a class, which will prepare you perfectly for their "workshops." So you audition in front of the people who run these workshops—who happen to be actors, as well, and who also happen to participate in unlimited workshops themselves for free by virtue of running them—thereby creating an extremely uneasy atmosphere in which you are evaluated by these "actors in charge," who might resent you from the start for any number of reasons (you are their type; you are a more powerful actor), talent notwithstanding. I strongly advise all actors, beginning or otherwise, to avoid these casting workshops like the plague.

By contrast, I have heard many good things about the more in-depth casting workshops, at which actors pay a good deal more (hundreds of dollars more) but in return get to perform multiple nights in different scenarios before the same agents or casting directors with much better results. I believe one-night-stand, fee-based casting workshops are an outrage but will no doubt proliferate due to the desperation of actors. Thank you for at least continuing the dialogue on these offensive casting "cartels."

Matthew Schwartz

I think casting director Billy DaMota's crusade against paid CD workshops is absurd. If it wasn't for these events, I wouldn't have a career. Period. End of story.

What with the incredible number of actors here in L.A., and the extreme difficulty of landing a good agent, it would be virtually impossible to get to know casting people if it wasn't for these workshops. I thank the gods for them, and the opportunities and numerous jobs they've provided me with. The truth is, for better or worse: If not for paid CD workshops, I'd probably have left town a long time ago.

E. Grey

When actors participate in casting director workshops, they are basically paying for job interviews. It's like no other industry. If actors stop paying, casting directors will be forced to find an alternative. It's a CD's job to find talent. They would have to find a way without getting paid for it.

Barton Caplan

I am both a SAG and AEA member and I am a supporter of casting workshops until someone can identify and implement a better networking mechanism.

In New York, I freelanced with two commercial agencies and two theatrical agencies from casting workshops (and they did submit me and/or obtained auditions). I was also called in to audition for the head of casting at CBS primetime for a guest-star role on The Practice, and had an audition and callback for a national commercial campaign, all from workshops.

While I understand and agree with many of the concerns expressed regarding paying to meet casting directors, I do believe that the nature of this business necessitates this type of venture as a way for an actor to establish relationships with casting directors. It is particularly helpful when an actor may have the talent but no considerable amount of credits, may be new to a particular city, or credits are heavy in one area only (e.g., all theatre and little to no film or television).

I have also found that casting directors who are really looking for undiscovered talent know which casting workshops have a thorough auditioning process for their actors. I have no problem paying my $20-$30 to meet casting directors if I know they are seriously looking for actors from the workshop and not simply making extra money. And believe me, actors know which workshops are highly regarded.

I do agree with the comments that have been made about limiting the number and/or level of assistants who can conduct workshops. If the assistant has little or no influence on casting decisions, he or she should not be conducting workshops.

For now, I think the system works fairly well but certainly has its flaws. Until casting directors can be motivated to hold workshops/showcases gratis or see plays on a regular basis with an eye toward finding new talent, this is the most direct way for non-established actors to get their collective foot in the door.

Inger Tudor

Delayed Reaction

After reading (in a past issue) about other actors who have delivery problems, I wanted to let you know some important information I've learned from my post office's manager.

I receive my Back Stage West at my P.O. box at the Santa Monica/Fairfax post office. Over the past few years, I have experienced the paper not being there on Thursday, though sometimes when I go in the late afternoon and ask them to check the unsorted mail, there it is.

On several occasions I've spoken with the manager of that branch, who has informed me that they receive an afternoon delivery from their main distribution office (the Cherokee post office in Hollywood) but seldom have enough staff to stock the P.O. boxes that late in the day. And yet I continually see people with their copies of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in the morning. The manager explained that those are considered "trade" papers and are rushed into delivery. After I explained that Back Stage West is a trade paper, too—something the manager wasn't aware of—she called the Cherokee office and tried to explain this situation. That seems to work for a few months, and then it's right back to "iffy" deliveries.

I hope this information will help Back Stage West get the priority delivery it deserves. It's our only theatre trade, and we need it.

Jeff Scott

Retractable Things

As the publicist for Dan Gregory's play Talking Dicks, now at the Hudson Avenue Theatre in Hollywood, I was outraged by Wenzel Jones' recent "review" (BSW, 6/28/01). This was not a review but a subjective diatribe, lacking in constructive criticism and objectivity. Jones committed a great disservice to the playwright, theatregoers, and the play itself.

A playwright depends on the critic to constructively analyze his/her work and write an informed review. Jones managed to do neither. Never have I read a review in which the critic so severely lacked one of the primary tools of a theatregoer: suspension of disbelief. Yes, so the penises talk—does Jones have equal difficulty with lions singing in The Lion King?

"Lending credence to my firm belief that there is nothing you cannot talk an actor into doing in this town" is incredibly offensive to the actors of Talking Dicks. Also noting that the actors are "barely past the stage at which the lines could even be called memorized" is ridiculous. What actor has never forgotten a line or inverted a few words? Again, this is live theatre, not a film edited so that every line is letter-perfect.

"This thing is classically, bone-crushingly horrible" is a pretty strong statement. Could Jones find nothing positive about the play? No line was humorous? No character rang true? Jones ends his diatribe by insulting the play's audience, noting how surprising it was that everyone returned after intermission. Could it be that they, unlike Jones, actually enjoyed the play?

Certainly, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but Jones did not review the writing, acting, or staging of Talking Dicks. I am asking you for a retraction in the next issue of Back Stage West.

Amy Astley

Proven Guilty

I must comment about Laura Weinert's article ("The Strike Last Time," BSW, 7/5/01). As a member of the Member Application Review Committee at the Screen Actors Guild, I am distressed by the comments of commercial casting director Danny Goldman about the "witch trials" going on at SAG—distressed but not surprised, considering that Goldman, himself a SAG member, continued casting scab commercials all during last year's commercial strike. What he apparently doesn't understand is that if members and non-members alike thought there would be no repercussions to their working during a strike, what would keep them from doing scab work? We found out early that for Goldman and scab actors, honor and respect for their craft or fellow actors didn't enter into it.

As for the scab who complained that his punishment for four commercials was the same five-year suspension as someone who had done 18 spots during the strike: Both received the maximum punishment. I know the case you referenced, and no one told him he was a bad person, nor was he told he was at fault for Billy Embry's unfortunate death on a picket line. Decorum is strictly observed in the MARC meetings.

These people, including this scab, deliberately and knowingly crossed a picket line to take work away from good union members. He should just be glad we weren't Teamsters. The result might have been much worse.

Name withheld

WRITER'S NOTE: In my article, a non-union actor who had met with the Member Application Review Committee said committee members had blamed him for picketer William Embry's unfortunate death. While researching for the article, I asked SAG spokesman Greg Krizman whether this had been occurring. Krizman said he would look into it, but he said he had not heard of any such situation. Several days later, Krizman told me he had discovered that such accusations had indeed been made repeatedly by the committee, but that SAG has put a stop to it.

Laura Weinert

Staff writer