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Paid casting director workshops are dead. By now, you’ve probably already heard that the L.A. City Attorney’s Office has filed criminal charges against five prominent casting workshop providers and individuals. The aim is to shut down a practice SAG-AFTRA considers to be “preying on the hopes and dreams of artists.”
The practice—“pay-to-play,” as it’s many critics label it—charges actors money in return for an interview or audition. But one wouldn’t expect to pay for a job interview as, say, a plumber, so quite rightly actors shouldn’t have to pay to audition or for the privilege to meet with a CD in the hopes of landing a job. Casting directors and workshop providers may claim, and even prove their innocence of these specific charges, but the perception of paying for access is challenging to refute. And it’s my belief that for better or worse, these workshops will soon become a thing of the past.
In L.A., prominent venues have already shuttered, and I predict the rest across America follow in due time. Whether you believe these workshops offer handy advice on auditioning or you saw them as fleecing bright-eyed and bushy-tailed actors, rest assured it’s no longer a matter of if, but when they will all close.
By the same criteria used to decommission such workshops, it’s difficult to imagine how any kind of paid class for actors can be hosted by or with casting directors without the same conflict of interest. Seminars offering tips on headshots and resumes? Only if they’re free. Brilliant audition classes by someone with 25 years of casting experience? Only if they’re retired. Otherwise, the same underlying motivation for running (or attending) the classes will always be in question. Just because we clearly state we’re not interested in a relationship doesn’t mean we won’t go home together at the end of the date.
Some industry guests of these workshops are additionally looked upon unfavorably for charging people for the kind of access they’re already paid by their employers to facilitate—considered by many to be double-dipping. The counter to that is that it’s their free time and they’re simply offering tips and advice. But without any real way to prove it, they must shut up shop once and for all.
Does this mean that we’ll soon see casting directors offering a swathe of free classes in their spare time? Since a frequent criticism was that many of these workshops didn’t necessarily offer much in the way of detailed or useful feedback on performances, will SAG-AFTRA now offer similar, but guaranteed-to-be-educational, sessions instead? Or will these casting directors now spend extra hours scouring the Internet for demo reels and attending live performances and showcases? The casting directors in question would argue they’re already doing that, since the workshops (they would say) are not places to scout actors anyway.
Back and forth it can go in perpetuity.
My personal issue with the dialogue around paid casting workshops is that, like so many other stalled debates, it’s locked in binary terms. On or off. Right or wrong. Black or white. The actual discussion seems to have failed to move forward for well over a decade, and given the demonstrated demand for such access to casting directors’ attention, it would seem that holding abusers to account and ensuring open access to those of all financial means should be the only goal. We should be careful to not eradicate the access itself. In fact, access should be greatly expanded.
Whatever happens next, the industry would do well to find a mutually beneficial relationship with casting directors that is amenable to both the union and the law. As thousands of new actors flood the industry every year, the lack of access to casting directors is only going to get worse without a way to offer fair and open opportunities for all actors to hear how to improve their audition technique and be considered for roles, regardless of ability to pay.
If it is ultimately the right and just thing that casting workshops are to go the way of the Dodo, so be it. I hope though, that in the vacuum, discussion will be opened up about why they existed in the first place and alternatives that fulfill the needs of thousands of actors who legitimately wish to receive feedback from, and establish relationships with casting directors, but may have thought that paying was the only viable option.
In the meantime, actors might choose to spend their money on classes conducted by those of use whose sole dedication is to teach technique that makes them better actors, and therefore more employable when the auditions do come along.
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, author of “Choices,” and a Backstage Expert. Harry runs regular on-camera classes in Los Angeles and online around the world. For more information, check out Barry’s full bio!
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