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.)

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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.

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.