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A New World for Actors Post-COVID

We’re creative as f**k. We will figure out our new normal. We did post-9/11, and we will in a post-COVID world.

Answers For Actors guest columnist, Douglas Taurel: actor-playwright-producer.

Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Our artistic world today is, without a doubt, scary and a little depressing. It’s so hard to see the future optimistically as an actor. All the cornerstones that we have known as actors are disappearing. Businesses that were the center of our acting lives have closed. Rehearsal and casting studios across the U.S. are vanishing, and I don’t think they will ever come back. Bastions of the acting world, that I thought could never be touched, are beginning to crack. Broadway won’t even think about coming back until 2021, and when it does it won’t be at full capacity. Theater margins were already incredibly tight in a rational world but to be forced to 25 percent—or even 50 percent audience capacity?—fuhget about it. The shutdown will have a severe ripple effect on every aspect of the entertainment community worldwide. The entire acting eco-system that stretches from Los Angeles to New York to London and beyond and everywhere in between is dying. It’s like we’re a strapped-in audience of a horrific Broadway musical wrought with bad acting, atrocious singing, horrible costumes… and there’s still twenty-five acts to go. Make it stop!

I moved to New York City from Texas in January of 2000. I remember 9/11. As a young, green actor walking out of the Twin Towers when the second plane hit, I thought, ‘Hmmm, perhaps this was not the right move.’ Post-9/11 was just as scary. The entertainment industry took a massive economic blow across the U.S. Everything that we knew as actors was profoundly changing. And making acting careers more difficult was a writers’ strike compounding the economic woes for us as actors. Can you say, “Non-Union?”

But post-9/11 we found a way to get through challenges. Life and artistry is never easy. The ‘hard’ is what makes both so beautiful and amazing, plus why we live and create. Our happiness as actors will come from what we focus our energy on, and what we create. I began to write, and I found opportunities for myself. There will be plenty of opportunities for us all. We’re artists, We’re creative as fuck. We will figure out our new normal. We did post-9/11, and we will in a post-COVID world.

We are experiencing a seismic shift in our artistic world. But seismic shifts have always happened. Silent pictures became talkies. Radio dramas and variety shows found new life on live television. Black and white became color on TV and movie screens. Air-broadcast TV dominated by three major networks became a gluttony of programming with cable TV. Cable went to digital to streaming, and on and on. Think about all the artists who were left behind because they chose not to adapt to the technology of the day.

We’ve gone full circle to how acting used to be at the very beginning. We are going to have to become producer/writers like Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s day actors had to create, write, and produce their work, and then had to find an audience. Today, creating for and, reaching people is easier than it ever was. We will have to learn how to change, and that change will be through technology and creating new content.

However, the new world will ask that you tackle the beast that is technology. Technology will be the key to opening the doors to your future. You don’t have to master it. But you cannot run from it anymore. Not in a post-COVID world. Gone are the days when as actors can say, “I’m not good with technology” –those days are gone! Tackle a little bit of technology every day. That knowledge will build up over the week, months, and years.

Look for success in the things you can control, and the one thing we can all control is creating content. Self-creating content was the answer post-9/11, and it will be the answer for us in the afterlife of COVID. As actors, writers, casting directors, and artists, we can all have a podcast, have a YouTube channel, write, and all shoot a film or create a series with our iPhones. Our ability to create content today is endless, and it will open many doors for us in our new world.

I created and recently uploaded a film on Vimeo On Demand, and onto Amazon. I have a podcast. A blog. A YouTubechannel. I share my artistic thoughts. I own platforms, and distribution channels that I could have never dreamed of ten or fifteen years ago. I create characters, record monologues, and share them with producers, directors, and casting directors. When I was studying with Wynn Handman twenty years ago at Carnegie Hall, if I wanted to be in a movie or get that new credit on IMDB, I had to be cast by a gate-keeping casting director in something. Not today. I control the gate.

The most genuine truism of all is, work will always beget work. It was true in Shakespeare’s days, the Golden Era of Television, post-9/11, and will be true post-COVID.  Focus on what you can do, what you can control, and what you can create. ‘What’ is up to you, not someone else. That is all that matters. It’s all that ever mattered. It’s what our identity should be and where our happiness lies.

We all can do this. You can do this!

(P.S. – If you need help or have any questions: Please feel free to reach out to me at www.DouglasTaurel.com or via my social media platforms listed below.)

Coming Next Week…

Self-Care In Quarantine: Conquer Stress. Relieve Anxiety.
From guest columnist, Jeanine Flynn.

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About Douglas Taurel:

Taurel has been nominated for the United Kingdom Amnesty International Award for his play The American Soldier.  Taurel was twice invited to perform The American Soldier at the Kennedy Center. The Library of Congress commissioned Taurel to write and perform his follow-up play An American’s Soldier Journey Home. He’s appeared in numerous TV shows and films including his recently released TV series Landing Home which he wrote and directed. 

Douglas Taurel online:

www.DouglasTaurel.com
www.TheAmericanSoldierSoloshow.com
www.LandingHomeWebSeries.com 

Social Media:

Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube / LinkedIn

About Paul Russell – Paul Russell Casting

Paul Russell has been in the entertainment industry for over forty years as an award-winning casting director, director and the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business. He’s cast for 20th Century Fox, HBO, Broadway, and regional theater. Featured in American Theatre Magazine, Paul has directed premiers, and at the Tony-award recognized Barter Theatre. He teaches master classes at university BFA and MFA actor training programs, and privately online with actors globally. Paul began his career in entertainment as a successful working actor. Visit Paul & Paul Russell Casting @ PaulRussell.net.

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Talent Agencies Closing Offices Permanently?

With the entertainment industry indefinitely idled what future remains for talent representation offices?

As COVID-19 continues to destabilize life and business, will talent representation offices of the near-dormant entertainment industry indefinitely close their office space? Mirroring a swath of corporate America?

Surveying 517 IT decision makers from various industries, S & P Global Market Research discovered 67% polled expect the new norm of work-from-home to extend for the foreseeable future or remain permanent. Corporate America discovered employees working from home raised productivity rates. Some advantageous companies realized a path for survival in a diminished economy. Eliminate expenditures, and some staff, by eliminating part or all of the company’s brick-and-mortar presence.

A talent agency’s brick-and-mortar presence is largely funded by commission received from the agency’s working clients–mainly actors. But Broadway and regional theater remains shuttered until 2021, possibly 2022. TV and film production is curtailed. The majority of talent agencies are small businesses. Each with a handful of employees representing 50 – 150 actors. The larger, corporate-like, representation firms of CAA (Creative Artists Agency), ICM (International Creative Management), William Morris-Endeavor, and alike with global offices, extend representation beyond box-office stars and tabloid celebrities. The representation titans individually covet a vast and varied client roster that likely includes: estates of past clients, television news hosts/commentators, on-camera guests/experts (politicians, medical professionals, scientists, academics, activists), authors, journalists, athletes, musicians, tastemakers, speakers, designers (fashion, lifestyle, digital, production), models, artists, reality stars, screen writers, playwrights, producers, directors, choreographers, casting directors, production personnel, plus numerous stage and screen productions of past, present, and future. These bespoke behemoths continue to collect revenue from investments, royalties, production deals, commissions, client estates, and above and below line residuals. The average talent agency has none or few of these income cushions. As the revenue stream remains dry for the small business talent agency will they be permitted a similar survival tactic—abandon office space indefinitely—as have a growing number of U.S. companies large (Google) and small (Health Roster)?

Two potential roadblocks to talent agencies abandoning office space.

1. In New York, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs issues a license to a talent agency to operate as an “employment agency.” For a talent agency to be granted a license the agency must adhere to Article 11 of New York General Business Law, Article 11, Section 174 which states there must be a “public office” “used exclusively as an employment agency and for no other purpose.”

2. Actor unions require a franchised talent agency to have an office that conforms to multiple parameters.

The two, major, U.S. actors’ unions SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and AEA (Actors’ Equity Association) determined—and continue—rules enforced for the physical presence of a talent agency’s office. Depending on the talent agency’s union affiliation(s), and/or the region/city that the agency is located the guidelines vary. One rule remains constant: a union-franchised talent agency must have an office accessible to clients for visitation. Further defined by both unions to include an actor’s ability to pick-up scripts, audition material, and for the actor to drop-off headshots and related marketing assets at their agent’s office. The latter guideline is a twentieth century antique. Twenty-first century headshots, scripts, audition sides, and an actor’s video clips or reels are routinely exchanged digitally online by actor-to-representation-to-casting. But analogue mandates for where talent representation must have office space remain. In New York City an actors’ union once dictated that a talent agency had to be within the boundaries of particular blocks within the theater district so as to be of convenience to actors. Those boundaries have been lifted. But a New York City talent agency must still remain within Manhattan’s historically, skyrocketing, real estate market. A crashing market presently as Manhattan based businesses fold or flee.

In an industry not presently industrious at producing revenue from union-based employment talent agencies have furloughed, or laid-off, staff. Employees working from home during government stay-at-home mandates. But for most agencies there remains office rent due. There may be no office rent due of a talent manager or casting director. Neither entity is governed by actor unions, or if based in NY–New York State Business Law Article 11, Section 174. Their professions were among the first to work-from-home shortly after the digital revolution impersonalized the representation and casting process via email, self-tape, e-casting, and auditions/meetings via video platforms like Zoom. The digital revolution, and COVID-19 pandemic, has altered and questions our analogue perception of business: is a brick-and-mortar construct required to conduct the entirety of every business?

A talent agency finding affordable real estate that’ll be approved by actors’ unions, and if in New York meet state standards, has been a longstanding fiscal nightmare for these small businesses. An agency survives on 10% of what their working clients make. The number of working clients at any one time is usually a slim percentage of an agency’s roster. In some pricey real estate markets, a talent agency in order to fiscally survive, will often move chasing lower rent. Or like a growing number of agencies dissolve their franchise(s), and became management companies for which there is no actors’ union real estate mandate.

The majority of union, and non-union actors, with representation via a franchised talent agency are represented by a small business talent agency. Work for actors will resume in some form. Even when that happens, talent agencies currently working remotely will continue to be governed by actors’ unions, or by state/city ordinances, to occupy obsolete office space. But how many of the small business talent agencies can survive until then? How many agencies make the move to management? How many actors will find themselves without an agent?

Coming Next Week…

A New World For Actors Post-COVID
From guest columnist, Douglas Taurel.

– Subscribe for Free to Answers For Actors, and never miss a post!

About Paul Russell – Paul Russell Casting

Paul Russell has been in the entertainment industry for over forty years as an award-winning casting director, director and the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business. He’s cast for 20th Century Fox, HBO, Broadway, and regional theater. Featured in American Theatre Magazine, Paul has directed premiers, and at the Tony-award recognized Barter Theatre. He teaches master classes at university BFA and MFA actor training programs, and privately online with actors globally. Paul began his career in entertainment as a successful working actor. Visit Paul & Paul Russell Casting @ PaulRussell.net.

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Unheard Phyllis Somerville – Uncensored. Unscripted. Unmistakeable. Stage & Screen Star Speaks Candidly

Never before released, recorded candor of Broadway & screen actress Phyllis Somerville. Sharing hilarious anecdotes, acting career tips and cautions, plus a devastating casting demand made of her, culled from from her extraordinary career.

  • Forty-plus films to her credit including Stoker with Nicole Kidman. Nominated for a Best Actress Screen Actors Guild Award for her work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. TV regular and guest star on over thirty series including The Big C, Castle Rock, House of Cards, Third Watch, NYPD Blue, and The Sopranos. Last starred on Broadway in Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
About: Paul Russell

Paul Russell has been in the entertainment industry for over forty years as an award-winning casting director, director and the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business. He’s cast for 20th Century Fox, HBO, Broadway, and regional theater. Featured in American Theatre Magazine, Paul has directed premiers, and at the Tony-award recognized Barter Theatre. He teaches master classes at university BFA and MFA actor training programs, and privately online with actors globally. Paul began his career in entertainment as a successful working actor. Visit Paul & Paul Russell Casting @ PaulRussell.net.

PRE-ORDER (on sale) the EXPANDED & UPDATED 2nd Edition of ACTING: Make It Your Business from the publisher.

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Actors Beware of These “Manager” Contracts!

When it comes to the profession of representing talent the profession of personal manager is unfortunately the most fraught with shady characters. Individuals operating scams that at worst defraud actors. At best create a lopsided arrangement. One that is less an advisor-n-artist partnership but where the “manager” is a self-serving predator. Managers are not regulated by actor unions and/or local and state government oversight as are agents. Yes, there are reputable, respected managers. Their industrious support of actors is overshadowed by opportunists tagging themselves unjustly as a “personal manager.”

The largest red flag demarcating a “manager” of questionable integrity from a reputable personal manager is the ethically challenged “manager’s” manager-actor contract.

Answers for Actors reviewed one such eyebrow raising manager-actor contract littered with dubious clauses. Binding terms that are not in the best interest of the actor.

For identification purposes this management’s operation will be given hereinafter the fictitious moniker Management Extraordinaire: M.E. as an abbreviation.

Answers for Actors calls, B.S. on such a broad, and open clause.”


Actors beware of the following.

Commission:

First some good news. Some industry respected managers collect 10 percent commission on actor salaries derived from projects of which the actor participates as talent. It’s the same percentage that agents collect as regulated by performing artists’ unions. A larger number of managers collect 15 percent. Not so good news? Being that there is no government or union regulation or oversight of managers a manager can collect whatever percentage they choose, that an actor is willing to sign away. Management Extraordinaire collects 20 percent. Above the norm. An actor going into an agreement with a manager should not part with more than 10 – 15 percent commission.

To Management Extraordinaire’s credit—unlike one greedy “manager”—they don’t collect commission from the actor’s survival job(s).

Bilking the Actor:

Slipped slyly into Management Extraordinaire’s terms for commission is this:

“Artist agrees to pay or reimburse Manager for all out-of-pocket expenses which Manager incurs from time to time on behalf of Artist.”

Answers for Actors calls, B.S. on such a broad, and open clause. The “manager” could claim anything as “out-of-pocket expenses.” Agents are not permitted to invoke such a swindle.

Later in the contract Management Extraordinaire hits the artist again for reimbursement of operating expenses—which in any above-board representation firm are covered by the representation’s income that is earned commission. But M.E. is greedy:

“Pursuant to Manager’s Model’s Loan Agreement, Artist shall reimburse Manager for all costs incurred on behalf of Artist. Such costs, among others, include, messenger fees, comp cards, portfolios, web site charges and other such charges pertaining to the management and representation of a model.”

A franchised talent agent in Philadelphia had a similar scheme of charging actors for web site fees, office expenses and alike. Answers for Actors exposed the agent’s actions to Actors’ Equity Association, and SAG-AFTRA. The agent was instructed to cease and desist or lose their agent franchise agreement. Unfortunately with managers, no such Sword of Damocles can be held over the enterprise of the manager. If the actor signs a contract with a “manager” that has these types of soaking-the-actor-for-more-monies clauses—the actor is not the victim but the fool.

Fees:

Management Extraordinaire—like a bank manufacturing fees at whim—finds more ways to profit off of the actor with the following:

“Artist is aware and agrees that Manager is entitled to receive a service charge for any and all of the Clients who utilize Artist’s Services.”

Basically M.E. is attempting to additionally proffer with a service charge billed to producers who hire the actor. B.S. flag again. M.E. successfully asking for and receiving a service charge from producers is highly unlikely. Possibly, Management Extraordinaire negotiates a salary for the actor taking 20 percent commission plus an additional, undisclosed, amount from the salary as well earmarked as the “service charge.” How could they do this without the actor knowing more money has been deducted? The deception begins in an earlier clause in M.E.’s manager-actor contract.

M.E.’s contract gives the company power of attorney to “collect and receive monies on Artist’s behalf, to endorse Artist’s name upon and deposit same in Manager’s account with any bank, and to retain there from all sums due Manager at any time.”

The actor never receives monies directly from a producer. M.E. could be telling the actor that the producer has agreed to pay the actor $600 per week. But actually M.E. negotiated that the producer pay a higher amount. M.E. doesn’t disclose the higher amount to the actor, and since monies go directly to M.E.’s bank account, M.E. skims off the excess as the “service charge.” Plus, the 20 percent commission. The actor is never the wiser.

Manager as Loan Shark:

From M.E.’s manager-actor agreement:

“Artist hereby assigns to Manager the proceeds of all assignments performed by Artist, against which advance payment is made by Manager to Artist. Upon completion of this Agreement and pursuant to the terms of Manager’s Pay and Personal Loan Policy Agreement, advance payment is made if and only if vouchers are presented to Manager immediately after said assignments and are duly completed and signed by Client and Artist. If, in accordance with Manager’s voucher system, Manager does not receive a collection within three (3) months, Artist will upon request reimburse Manager for the sums advanced to Artist. Manager will take all reasonable steps to collect the amounts due with respect thereto. The risk of collection, in connection with Artist’s vouchers, and the legal costs thereto shall be borne entirely by Artist.”

Basically M.E. is loaning out to the actor the anticipated income from a booking. This should never be a consideration. With union projects, a bond is required of the producing organization. Some sum due to the actor is guaranteed. With M.E.’s inclusion of this clause it means that historically M.E. has booked their past or existing actors with likely non-union entities that stiffed talent on payment. And in those instances the actor paid to the manager the monies never received from the booking(s).

If I State in Writing I as Your Manager Can Not Manage or Negotiate Your Deals—But I Negotiate Anyway—I Can’t Be Violating the Law, Right?

M.E. is trying to be clever and coy stating in the contract they’re not really part of job procurement for the actor. But M.E. lacks grammatical dexterity to cover their ass that they are negotiating:

“Artist shall advise Manager of all offers of assignments submitted to Artist with respect to modeling and will refer any inquiries concerning Artist’s services to Manager. Artist acknowledges that Manager is not an “artist manager” under the labor code of New York or an employment agency in any jurisdiction, and Manager shall not be required or expected to obtain offers of employment for Artist.”

There are, reputable, transparent, well-regarded personal managers. The contractual abuses highlighted here should not deter actors from seeking a manager. If a contract—with these or similar terms—is presented the actor must heed caution before proceeding further.

There are several personal manager associations that managers can join which screen managers for legitimacy. Joining one of these associations is voluntary. Legitimate managers exist who are not members of manager associations. Self-regulating, the associations set professional operating standards for approved members. The U.S.’s prominent personal manager associations are the National Conference of Personal Managers, and The Talent Managers Association. Both have a Code of Ethics. The Talent Managers Association (TMA) has the more extensive Code of Ethics which includes limiting commission a manager may charge clients. TMA establishes limits on managers as to how long the manager represents an artist under a single-term contract. Plus TMA’s Code of Ethics expressly prohibits managers from charging clients fees for: coaching and acting classes, office expenses, and web site registration.

Both TMA and NCOPM have on their web sites their individual Code of Ethics, plus listings of current manager membership.

When signing with representation—agent or manager—bear in mind these guidelines:

  • Representation should only be collecting commission from the actor on projects from which commission collection is permitted.
  • Representation is not to be charging an actor fees for any operating expenses related to representing the actor.
  • No Advances. No Loans.

CASTING DIRECTORS, TALENT AGENTS, DIRECTORS & ACTORS

LOVE PAUL RUSSELL’S BEST-SELLING BOOK FOR ACTORS ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS!

“Humorous and witty…

Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”

— BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA (Mary Poppins ReturnsHamiltonThis Is Us,NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar – LIVE!Wicked)

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

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Elaine Stritch’s Obscure Video Revealing Behind-the-Scenes Blunt Tales of Working with Legends

Legendary for unbridled candor charged with more four-letter words in one sentence than in an entire Sam Shepard play. There never was, and likely never will be, a brass balls diva who was also a humble artist.

Answers for Actors continues its Meet the Legends series with an obscure video of the unrivaled Elaine Stritch letting loose her opinions on the entertainment industry while sharing colorful stories of working with Noel Coward, Ethel Merman, Agnes deMille and Stephen Sondheim. Taped in 1999, when I was an ambitious casting director daring the improbable.

I was casting a staged reading of an eyes-towards-Broadway play. There was a role I believed perfect for the Tony, Emmy, and Grammy awards winner Elaine Stritch. My creative team, and producer were enthusiastic. Not so enthusiastic? The paltry actor stipend of a hundred bucks.

Stritch roared into roles with fiery animalism. Yet she was simultaneously nuanced with cool, cunning wit. A Broadway and West End leading lady icon for Albee, Inge, Sondheim, Berlin, Rodgers, Hammerstein, Coward, Simon, and Williams. 4 Tony Award nominations. 4 Drama Desk nominations, 3 wins. An inductee into the American Theater Hall of Fame. A Tony snare for her one-woman autobiographical hit Elaine Stritch at Liberty.  Her filmography is robust. 8 Emmy nomination, 3 wins. British telly and radio audiences also embraced Stritch. A remarkable carrier that of which its early years had the Elaine Stritch understudying the Ethel Merman.

“’Artist’… I use that term loosely. It always scared me to death. That and ‘Star,’”

Elaine Stritch

Stritch in 1999, I discovered then, had no representation. AFTRA (long before marrying SAG) provided me with a Long Island phone number attributed to her attorney. I called. I knew I wouldn’t get past the receptionist. After several rings, a gravelly women’s voice answered with a scooping downward growl followed by an upward declaration of “Hell-loooo.” Introducing myself, I asked for Ms. Stritch’s attorney. The woman tartly answered, “She don’t have one. Whoooo are youuuu? Talk to me kiddo. I just got up. What do you want?” The gravelly, impatient voice belonged to the Elaine f-ing Stritch! Despite my being awestruck I was quick and brief with my reply informing Ms. Stritch about the play and my intent.  Stritch answered she “loved the idea” and I should send her a script to her home in Sag Harbor which is to where I was calling. I mentioned I’d been looking for her rep to send a script to her through normal protocol. She fired back a very candid, R-rating exceeding opinion of agents. That turned into a 20 minute Elaine Stritch-Paul Russell mutual adoration of every four letter word shooting the sh*t chat. Unfortunately, the casting of Ms. Stritch didn’t work out. Schedule conflict.

This obscure video tapped around the time of my call to Stritch includes clips from the 1970 D.A. Pennebaker documentary Company: Original Cast Album. Enjoy.

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Sir Derek Jacobi on Stage vs. Screen – Meet The Legends series

In the first of an ongoing series Meet The Legends at Answers for Actors is featured Sir Derek Jacobi. He appears in a Q&A 2017 interview at Oxford Union. An international star, Jacobi offers actors insight on the differences and challenges an actor faces working the mediums of both stage and screen.

Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

“Laurence Olivier? Richard Burton? Elizabeth Taylor? Yvonne DeCarlo? These aren’t real people! You’re making them up!” Often I heard this aggravated accusation, and alike, from collegiate acting training program seniors soon to graduate as professional actors. The frustrated wails would come when playing Celebrity. (I had names of famous actors in a hat. A team leader would pull a name from the bowl and have to describe the actor by career, or otherwise, without mentioning the actor’s name to teammates who had to guess who was the actor being described.)  University after university the same accusations of my creating fictional actors was hurled at me. I quickly discovered that many soon to be professional actors were ignoring who came before them at an alarming epidemic rate.

To better understand who we are, and what we desire, we must know who and what came before us.

In the first of an ongoing series Meet The Legends at Answers for Actors is featured Sir Derek Jacobi. He appears in a Q&A 2017 interview at Oxford Union. An international star, Jacobi offers actors insight on the differences and challenges an actor faces working the mediums of both stage and screen.

Knighted in 1994. Nominated for nearly every major performance award internationally. Jacobi is the winner of Emmys, the Tony Award, Laurence Olivier Award, British Academy Television awards, Screen Actors Guild Award, and a many more prestigious honors. Starting as a stage actor Jacobi was hand picked by Laurence Olivier to join England’s National Theater. He later starred often on both West End and Broadway stages. With over 150 screen credits both in the U.S. and U.K.  he’s most modernly recognizable to broader audiences for his roles in Vicious, Tomb Raider, Murder on The Orient Express,  and I, Claudius. 

“Television makes you famous. Movies make you rich. But, the theater is what it’s all about.” Sir Derek Jacobi

Sir Derek Jacobi | Oxford Union

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has taught master classes at acting programs at over two dozen universities including Hofstra, Elon, Yale, Temple, LSU, Wright State University, and Rutgers. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.

For more information on Paul’s projects, visit www.PaulRussell.net

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18 Tips from Your Audition Reader


Actors tend not to believe the feedback of casting. Actors think we’re jaded in our candor. What those disbelieving actors don’t realize is that our feedback comes from a position of caring, and of experience from witnessing from behind the audition table. So then will those same dismissive actors reject one of their own?

Actor Chris Richrads was recently a reader for several casting offices. He posted his observations on Facebook. When I asked if he would share those insights with Answers for Actors, he was very gracious in doing so.


Chris Richards

Each time, I get in as a reader everyone — everyone — behind the table is warm and kind and welcoming. Pleasant.

I sit at my music stand and review my sides. I scan the list of the day, looking for friends, looking for agents. Just looking to see. See something. I don’t know.

It’s usually 7-8 pages of actors. 5 minutes each appointment. 6 straight hours of appointments. Almost 100 actors in a day, all day, every day. Holy hell. Wow. Exciting. Terrifying. And these are the ones who got to this point. I hope I brought enough water for all this talking I’m about to do.

I see who has reps. Nearly everyone. Everyone. Gulp. And this actor? Oh yeah, they have *that* agent. I’ve reached out to that agent. No response. Oh and *that* actor? Yeah, they have *this* agent. I’ve met with this agent. This agent seemed pleasant enough. But bored. “We like your talent, but have your type.” Gulp, gulp, gulp. Sigh. Damn it. The 2 dreaded-celebrated defining T’s of our craft who can never seem to work together. Fraternal evil twins. Ugh.

Simultaneously I gently eavesdrop on the powers behind the table. “Oh *this actor* is coming in and they went to ***THAT school*** and **got their MFA** and *worked with* **that person** on **this project**.” The Actor Lizard Brain kicks in on your end. You’re honored to be a reader. Delighted. Truly. Adore it. You’re proud to be here in this capacity. You fully understand it’s a position of trust. But that tiny voice in you whispers, “Damn, damn, damn. Sigh. No wonder I’m The Reader. No wonder I’m not being asked to audition for this. No wonder. Welp. Maybe I can learn a thing or two? Or maybe I should just hand in my card and go find another career. Maybe I should say fuck this and go home and write the best damn script anyone’s ever seen. That’ll show ’em. And then they’ll wish they asked me in. Sigh.”

And then the day starts and casting begins to usher in the actors. And learn I do. Well. Re-learn. It’s nothing new, but the reminders are good. It always comes down to this:

  • Comprehension is king. 
    Comprehension. Is. King.  You need to understand the language. The style. The period. The piece. You may bend and push and deliver the text how you want and in any way that’s honest to you–but understand what you’re saying, why, and the dramatic function within the script. It’s even ok if you’re not pitch perfect on your memorization. Hell, it’s ok if you’re not fully memorized and just a stellar, kick-ass reader. As long as you COMPREHEND.
  • Do not try too hard or get too personal.
    Don’t bring up your therapy. Don’t ingratiate yourself to those behind the table. Don’t pitch yourself and give additional info as to why you’d be good for the role after you do your work. Don’t call the playwright a modern day Shaw. We can smell it. We can feel it. It feels like sales. It feels false. Fake. It feels like TMI. It feels uncomfortable. If you already have a relationship with the people behind the table that’s another thing, but don’t do the above. Don’t commit to a Leveraging Act.
  • Union or non?
    Does. Not. Matter. It’s anybody’s ballgame at every single moment.
  • If you feel caught between a Creative choice and an Authentic choice, ALWAYS MAKE THE AUTHENTIC CHOICE.
    If you seek authenticity, you will find your creativity. If you seek creativity, you may never find authenticity. Your authenticity will never fail you. Your creativity might. Realize Your Authenticity IS your creativity.
  • Yes, a friend and/or spouse/partner of the director is already cast.
    Or they’ve written the piece. Sorry. But seriously don’t worry about it. Half the time I personally know them already. And I vouch for them. You’ll love them. Really, really. Allow this. Accept this. And you know what? The two of you were never even going to be in the same stratosphere of consideration for the same role to begin with so it’s one million percent out of your hands as it is. Embrace it. One day if you are lucky this will also work in your favor. So just be patient.
  • You will never, ever scroll through your iPad or iPhone sides as quickly or as smoothly as you can just flip a page.
  • Be.
    Don’t perform. BE. I cannot stress this enough.
  • Don’t do the prop thing. Really.
  • Out of 100 actors, only one will truly give you chills with the breathtaking caliber of their work.
    One. Maybe two. Maybe. But this is no cause for despair. It doesn’t rule out the rest of you. Because in my experiences I have yet to see this person get a callback. But it’s only —ONLY—because they do not fit what is sought. And this is no cause for despair for You Who Gives Us Chills, either. Because in this you have no control. Zero. None. Not a lick. And when you leave the room, the earth opens up and the ground has shifted, the needle has moved, and everyone behind the table whispers your name excitedly. They are committing this moment to memory because they know this will be a story they will gladly tell one day — that YOU auditioned for Them. They will remember your name. And then they say in the room that they can’t wait to see you on tv one day. So I hope you keep doing your work and doing it well. Your authenticity and honesty and vulnerability and energy shook us all. But you were too young or too old or too tall or too short or too blue-collar-looking or too-white-collar-looking for this piece and this moment in time. And that’s it. They know your name. They’ll keep you in mind for other things and call you in again. They think you’ll be on tv. And I do too. Lord knows I desperately hope you’ll remember the kind/good reader from XYZ auditions when we cross paths again one day — maybe on set together? (of course that’s absurd). But for now, please know, you have literally burned yourself into our minds, I swear to you. And it’s not fair that you’ll never hear it from this audition. But please. Please. Take that with you.
  • Typically getting an adjustment in the room is a good thing. But not getting one is not the end all and be all. Promise.
  • Oh yeah. And *that agent* and *that actor* and *that school*? It means jack.
    He/she/they/it got you in the room, sure. And that’s quite the battle, so snaps to ya. But better to not expect someone and be blown away than expect greatness and be let down.
  • Pretty Ain’t All. (Thank God).
  • It’s quite clear what certain agents are cultivating on their rosters.
    I know this because I’m clocking which agents are tied to which folks. It’s telling. I clearly need to find a way to get in front of the agents who are interested in people who look like people, and not only the hot, 20s-30s, 6-pack muscled guys. Or maybe I should hit the gym harder, try and catch up? …Nah you know what I’m sure I can Google the people agent person contact info.
  • All the tenors look like tenors.
  • Fellas. I get that your name might’ve been taken at the union. But does that really mean you need all 8 of your names on your resume?
    Also what was in the water that makes you all Jonathan Patrick Patrick Michael Shane-Lance Edward? The THIRD??
  • It’s ok to be nervous. It’s ok to not know something.
    But really, ask questions. Clarify.
  • You can be the most brilliant singer and an ok actor and still deserve a spot in the room. The inverse is also true.
  • Are you American? Don’t say “cheers” instead of “thanks.”
  • Don’t dismiss yourself, but also don’t linger.
    Auditions, after the work, should be a comfortable communication among colleagues.

Even some prominent New York casting directors and directors have side hustles in this fair city. This blows my mind but further evidence we really are all in this same shitty boat together. -The only thing to do is be you, and focus on and deliver the work. This entire thing is a game and a feat of engineering. Think of the whirring mechanisms of a clock. Of its guts. Wheel, cog, spokes, circle. That’s this. All the pieces are moving. All the time. All the pieces fit and don’t fit. Everyone does well and well enough, and one will give us chills. But to them, they are simply doing their own thing too. Every single person who walks in that door in every single 5 minute chunk will make you think of the role differently and the project differently, every single time.

So have faith and keep chugging. Do your best. I promise you it’s enough. I promise you’re doing alright. Don’t get lost in the stupid trappings of the game.

And if you, dear reader, ever get the opportunity to be a reader — DO IT. Seriously. It’s such blessing and you’ll learn a ton and you won’t regret it.

 

‘Til then, keep breaking legs. See ya In ‘the room.’

Chris Richards is an actor with a deep love and respect for the entertainment community, and perhaps naïvely believes that this whole process is a better endeavor when we all work together and figure out ways to encourage and support one another.  If you feel so inclined, you may follow his actor Facebook page here and/or the Instagram handle @thisischrisrichards to stay in touch.

 

CASTING DIRECTORS, TALENT AGENTS, DIRECTORS & ACTORS

LOVE PAUL RUSSELL’S BEST-SELLING BOOK FOR ACTORS
ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS!

“Humorous and witty…
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”

— BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA
(Mary Poppins ReturnsHamiltonThis Is Us,NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar – LIVE!Wicked)

“All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”

— SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderDeception, 666 Park Ave., Unforgettable)

“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”

— DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agency Partner
Harden Curtis Kirsten Riley Agency

“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!’”

— KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress

“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”

— KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.

“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Businesscame out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!

— Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

AMIYB_Amazon

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

 

Featured

How Actors Successfully enter an Audition (EXCLUSIVE Video)

“Actors put us on pedestals as if we should be bowed to. No! Screw that!” says casting director, director, and author Paul Russell. Russell demonstrates how actors better their audition success within the first 5 to 10 seconds of enterting the audition. In this video he’s joined by Broadway and Off-Broadway producer Randall Wreghitt (multiple TONY & Drama Desk winner) and acclaimed director, writer and lyricist Bill Russell who wrote Side ShowPageant and The Texas Chainsaw Musical.

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has taught master classes at acting programs at over two dozen universities including Hofstra, Elon, Yale, Temple, LSU, Wright State University, and Rutgers. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.

For more information on Paul’s projects, visit www.PaulRussell.net. And scroll down below to see what A-lister casting directors like Bernie Telsey, esteemed talent reps, university programs, and actors are raving about Russell’s best-selling book for actors!te

Share this:

CASTING DIRECTORS, TALENT AGENTS, DIRECTORS & ACTORS

LOVE PAUL RUSSELL’S BEST-SELLING BOOK FOR ACTORS
ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS!

“Humorous and witty…
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”

— BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA
(Mary Poppins ReturnsHamiltonThis Is Us,NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar – LIVE!Wicked)

“All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”

— SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderDeception, 666 Park Ave., Unforgettable)

“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”

— DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agency Partner
Harden Curtis Kirsten Riley Agency

“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!’”

— KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress

“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”

— KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.

“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Businesscame out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!

— Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

AMIYB_Amazon

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Featured

Actors: Presenting thier Best Professional Image (EXCLUSIVE Video)

Casting director, director, and author Paul Russell in 2011 joined Broadway and Off-Broadway producer Randall Wreghitt (multiple TONY & Drama Desk winner) and acclaimed director, writer and lyricist Bill Russell who wrote Side ShowPageant and The Texas Chainsaw Musical. The powerhouse panel shared with actors industry insider’s tips for actors that are rarely spoken publicly beyond the closed doors of casting sessions. Combed from over 75 years of high profile experience in show business the trio was welcomed by an intimate sold-out gathering of artists. In this exclusive 90 second clip Paul Russell candidly devulges actor audacities that are leathal miscalculations that were killing several actor’s professional hopes.

Self-awareness as an actor is just as vital as is the actor’s skills, and business savy.

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has taught master classes at acting programs at over two dozen universities including Hofstra, Elon, Yale, Temple, LSU, Wright State University, and Rutgers. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.

For more information on Paul’s projects, visit www.PaulRussell.net. And scroll down below to see what A-lister casting directors like Bernie Telsey, esteemed talent reps, university programs, and actors are raving about Russell’s best-selling book for actors!

Share this:

CASTING DIRECTORS, TALENT AGENTS, DIRECTORS & ACTORS

LOVE PAUL RUSSELL’S BEST-SELLING BOOK FOR ACTORS
ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS!

“Humorous and witty…
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”

— BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA
(Mary Poppins Returns, Hamilton, This Is Us,NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar – LIVE!Wicked)

“All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”

— SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & Order, Deception, 666 Park Ave., Unforgettable)

“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”

— DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agency Partner
Harden Curtis Kirsten Riley Agency

“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!’”

— KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress

“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”

— KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.

“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Businesscame out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!

— Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

AMIYB_Amazon

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!