Actor Angst – Getting Seen

This week: Barbarians at The Gates

I recently received a missive of misery from a reader. It’s not that he/she was whining in woe. No. The misery was more germane to just how the game of getting past or to the gate-keepers (re: casting personnel and/or agents) is often as frustrating as getting a NY subway train that doesn’t reek of urine or be the one-man-tour coach for someone loudly singing a capella and then haranguing you to fund their “art”.

The reader’s query of grief began:

“Hey Paul,

Why is it that it’s practically impossible for non-represented actors to get seen for roles they could be exquisitely appropriate for?”

Well there are a number of rea-… oh you have another question. Please go on.

“Is it because no casting director wants to be the first to take a chance on a self-submitting actor and possibly be proven wrong?”

Man, you give most casting directors way too much credit for having synapses that don’t constantly misfire. But in answer to your questions… oh, sorry… you’ve got more quandaries:

“Is it because a represented actor has some sort of “seal-of-approval” which makes him less of a risk?”

Short answer Yes. Long answer is that ris…

“Is it because this whole casting director/agent thing is like a high school clique…you have to be popular to get to play?

Is it because a resume full of respectable productions, directors and training doesn’t mean diddly if the casting director hasn’t seen you in anything?”

Well as I was about to…

“Is it because calling in the familiar represented faces induces a comfort level that can’t be beat?”

Is it because casting directors are too busy to waste time on an actor without a represented seal-of-approval?

Is it because “long walks on the beach” is in the Special Skills section?”

I happen to enjoy long…

“Or is it just because that’s just the way it is?

Pray tell, Paul”

Uhm. Is it my turn now…….?

O.K. Let’s get started.

In answer to your questions, starting with number two through eight:

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And…… yepper “that’s the way it is”.

Now for some detail.

The unrepresented actor — particularly the non-union, non-championed actor — has the highest wall to scale in getting up and over the gate-keepers to the auditions. It’s as if you live on Long Island and want to get anywhere else in the world (or the remaining U.S.). You have to break through the forbidding chaos of congestion and construction that is New York City.

Each casting director is different as to whether or not they are open to considering non-represented actors who submit themselves for projects. That’s even IF the casting director has had the time to review the multitudes of mailings that come in daily. Which is very doubtful (that’s why folks I put in my book that little trick to help getting your envelopes open).

We all (and by “we” I’m including you and me) go for the path of least resistance in our labors. For casting directors that’s agents. They act as our filter. We know that a number of them will have talent that has, for lack of a better cliché; “cream that has risen to the top”. Now hold back your anger on that statement. You may well be cream but unfortunately timing, numbers and luck have prevented your rising. Nothing is overnight.

The path of least resistance for doing a job quicker is also made easier by calling in actors familiar, plus giving appointments to actors who have a track record represented on their resume that matches the casting person’s tastes and/or project’s requirements. As to the high school clique? Uhmm… this may be hard to believe but we casting directors don’t talk to each other that much. We communicate the most with talent reps. If we do reach out to another casting director it’s because we’re having a tough time finding a solution to a casting problem.

To the reader who sent me the questions. They were smart inquiries. But they were mostly rhetorical for you are intelligent to know how the game of life is played. As a director, author, teacher and casting director; I myself face many of the same challenges of getting attention for potential work. Your frustrations apply to any industry. We just believe it’s harder in ours to get to and past the gate-keepers because for better or worse; our hearts lead us in our careers. We’re ever hopeful and almost always altruistic.

My best advice? Never give up. Network as if your life depended on each connection. Keep banging at the barbarians at the gates.

And speaking of getting seen:

SINGERS & MUSICAL THEATER PERFORMERS! (The last of PRCs ’09 offerings)

Teresa Wolf (Co-owner of Schiowitz, Connor, Ankrum, Wolf, Inc
– A Bi-Coastal Agency
), David Krasner (Owner of The Mine Talent) and Michael Goddard (Legit Agent for Nicolosi & Company) are my guests on the agent panel for a special (and last of ’09) musical theater acting career advancement intensive; Access to Agents.

During this four week intensive I’ll prepare you to audition for the panel of talent agents who cover film, TV and Broadway using your best song AND scenes from current and recent film, television and theatrical projects. And in addition to personally introducing you to the agents I will assist you in a make-over for your marketing materials, refine audition technique and develop interview strategies for when you meet with the agents and with future casting personnel and directors. Career counseling is also provided.

I only accept 10, talented, proactive performers per series.  ONE position remains open.

For details on all of the above visit our site

I look forward to helping you reach your goals.

My Best,

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly 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 spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit


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