CD Workshops, Pro and Con
I am happy that Back Stage West remains vigilant regarding potential problems in what some people regard as "pay-for-play" casting director workshops. But the recent roundtable discussion ("Pay Your Money, Take Your Chances," BSW 6/28/01) was riddled with speculation and unsupported conclusions.
For example, manager Phil Brock stated flatly that "none" of the workshops screen the casting people they bring in. The casting workshop I attend as an actor does do screening. Maybe that is because it is run by and for actors, not by an agent, manager, or casting person. Unless Brock wants to present empirical evidence of all workshops, who runs them, and who from the casting community attends them, then his assertions sound like so much sour grapes.
Moreover, Roggie Cale states that there are "laws" against paying for an interview. This smacks of tremendous overstatement. While I dropped my law practice years ago to become an actor, if there is such a law, I would be glad to research it pro bono to see if such an uncited law has ever been applied in the casting context.
Of course, I am concerned about misuse of casting power. But rather than tar all workshops with a taint of improper conduct, it would be more useful to focus on casting people, agents, and managers who run their own classes as workshops. That should not be allowed. Their job is not to teach actors anything about any aspect of performance anytime anywhere. They are facilitators, not teachers.
The issue of casting directors taking money for workshops may have validity, but a discussion among actors is the wrong forum. If it has legal grounds, it should be addressed with the state government. Why, in your forum, was no specific law mentioned that would prevent this practice? If it has ethical grounds, then guidelines should be set by the best possible self-regulating agency, the Casting Society of America. Why has CSA not championed this cause? Our role as actors in this issue would best be to develop guidelines for determining if these CDs should be considered professionals who deserve a fee, in the vein of guest speakers receiving compensation for their time and expertise when speaking to a layman's group, or if these CDs are just receiving a "bribe" for auditioning. That is the most worthy topic of discussion for us actors. United, we then could provide our consensus of opinion through our unions to the CSA or state government.
Workshops are just another product that we can purchase to further our careers. As with any product in our free-enterprise system, "caveat emptor" applies. Spending money foolishly will bring dissatisfaction. Let's not concern ourselves with fly-by-night workshops, uninformed actors, or CDs interested solely in supplementing their income. All three will thrive on one another until they give up and leave the business. Our goal should be to gather intelligence and manage our acting business with savvy.
I just finished reading the roundtable discussion, and there are a couple of incorrect statements I wish to address.
First, there is the subject of how much money workshops make. Phil Brock gave an example using numbers that were not only very general but inaccurate. He spoke of 20-25 actors a night. I can only speak for my company, but we have a limit as to how many actors are allowed in a room—anywhere from 12 to 20. He goes on to list paying the casting director as the only expense. Again, I am only speaking for my company, but my expenses include but are not limited to paying the casting directors, the salaries for six full-time employees, a couple of part-time employees, rent for more than 2,000 square feet of space, 11 telephone lines, worker's comp, employee taxes, insurance, utilities, printing, postage, etc. I spend money on overhead to provide the best possible customer service. Perhaps other companies don't have so much overhead.
Second, Brock stated that "none of them screen anymore." Clearly he has never been to my company. I conduct a thorough pre-screening of all my guests to make sure they have the power to call someone in. I get assurance that they are interested in meeting new actors. We also require three cold readings from every actor who walks through our doors. We must assure our industry guests that every single actor is talented and ready to be booked.
This article seems to lump all workshop companies into one unseemly group. I do not appreciate how many of my competitors take advantage of actors. I take pride that my company is doing CD workshops differently. We are not perfect, but we are concerned, we do care, and we are constantly striving to offer a better service to actors.
Owner, Act Now!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Though there is some question about its application in this context, the law cited is State Labor Code 450, which forbids "instances where an employer (or an agent or officer thereof) requires the payment of a fee or consideration of any type from an applicant for employment."