Don’t Call Us. We’ll Call You. (Really) | Answers for Actors

Why do some actors feel that because they are “artistes” they deserve recognition for everything thing they do from bowel movements to sending out job inquiries? A reader sent me the following:

Why do some actors feel that because they are “artistes” they deserve recognition for everything thing they do from bowel movements to sending out job inquiries?

A reader sent me the following:

“Hi Paul,

a month ago i sent my cv & pics & clip scenes to a castingagent [sic] for a movie project in London & asked if there’s still a possibility to do audition- the shooting will start somewhere in fall-i didn’t yet received an answer-yesterday i ‘ve mailed him again to let me know if audition is still possible-no reply- If a castingagent doesn’t reply does this mean that the actor/actress doesn’t match totally & thinks it isn’t worth to let him/her do an audition? Is it better to call him personnaly [sic] & ask him the reason? I am afraid i will come over as a jerk (you know)-Or should i let it this way? A Castingagent is supposed to help advancing an actor & i notice i get stuck (& in my case it’s dubble [sic] hard work to achieve my goal)-feel free to comment- Have a nice day Peter”

My reply:

“Hello Peter,

Thank you for the note.

Having once been an actor myself I understand your frustration. But that must be tempered with reality.

Casting directors are no different than human resources. Just as employers in the civilian world receive hundreds of applications and resumes from job seekers so do casting directors from actors. Not every inquiry can be answered.

When employers receive resumes they respond only to those they feel meet their expectations for the job opening(s). It’s no different in casting. As much as everyone would like to be recognized a response to each individual would be poor time management and counterproductive.

The best answer is an analogy I offer you by asking; do you respond to all ads and marketing you receive either via land or e-mail that doesn’t interest you? Of course not.

Move forward and look to other opportunities.

My Best,
Paul”

That was my polite, I-just-woke-up-and-have-yet-to-munch my morning muffin-happy reply. Here’s the candor.

To those actors out there that think that every inquiry for work or audition by them merits a thumbs-up or down response; get a reality check. It’s not going to happen. If you keep waiting for replies from all you contact you’ll eventually drive yourself mad and be one of those scary people on a subway platform who reek of a sour milk stench and mumble incoherently that Disney — in collaboration with the government — is tracking brain waves.

Recently I encountered another cry for ‘answer me damn it’ within the following Facebook status of an actress:

Seting up interviews with agents next week in New York. Have 2 appointments already…does anyone have an agent they like or that they have heard is good? I don’t want to work with an agent who doesn’t have time to take a phone call, I want someone who can give me advice and who will steer my career in the right direction. NO SNOBS!!!!

“NO SNOBS!!!” ? Honey you’re the snob of reality for not understanding how life works.

I wonder how many times this actress receives telemarketing calls from strangers and gets cozy will the uninvited intruder selling their wares? Actors cold calling agents is no different than a telemarketer calling you. Just as your life and/or work is being interrupted so too are agents who are trying to serve their clients being pulled at by interloping, uninvited actors calling on the phone.

In my diversified work as a casting director, director, teacher and writer I send out multitudes of inquiries for employ. Is it realistic for me to expect a response from each individual? Do I really want hundreds upon hundreds of ‘thanks but no thanks’ responses from producers, university theater department chairs and/or publishers? Would you? How fucking depressing. Why ask for the rejection to be voiced? Why are some actors masochists and demand to hear a reply – even if it’s a ‘no’ — from whomever they contact for a job? Is it because they enjoy wallowing in woe? Or is it because their labors are creative and the muse-afflicted believe themselves elevated above all others on our humble spinning rock in space?

The tired but worn phrase “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” is not a suggestion. It’s reality. An instructive that is telling you (and Sondheim appreciators) to move on…

To the actors who expect a nod and bow to every resume they submit for potential employ:

– Stop focusing on a single submission. Look to other opportunities.

– Stop bitching, blaming and bemoaning that you’re not hearing back from people who hire. Look at what you have on paper to offer; could it be improved? If all is well with the resume, cover letter and headshot then pursue others with a first approach.

– Stop thinking that because some God or deity has sparked your soul to be an actor this makes you ‘special’ above all others on this planet. You’re not. You’re an individual among many, all of whom are also asking to be heard. Everyone can not answer everyone. (If you come up with a telepathic invention to make this happen universally; I’m outta here.)

Keep marketing yourself. Go after new opportunities. Take classes to improve your abilities. And please, stop waiting for responses. You’re wasting valuable time getting mired in melancholy while others are moving past you as they focus on what’s next.

Move on.

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My Best,
Paul

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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 www.PaulRussell.net.

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(Part 2) Getting Stage Work Before Other Artists

STOP!

If you missed Part One of Getting Stage Work Before Other Artists then the next installment below, Part 2 , will make no sense to you. Go to the link below for Part One.

(And while you’re here you should freely subscribe to get these posts delivered directly to you so that you don’t let your competition get all the info while you’re being left behind. Three subscription choices to the right at the bottom.)

Getting $tage Work Before Other Artists (Part 1)

Getting $tage Work Before Other Artists (Part 2) – Read on below…

Welcome back.

Last we left off we were in the middle of Project: Target Regions (If you need a refresher go back to Post 1 and return… I’ll wait.)

Project Target Regions Step 4

Timing is everything to winning work.

With regional and summer stock theaters you must always think beyond the present and to the future in terms of seeking work. Meaning; plan your visits to be when the theaters are planning their next season. If you’re wondering when that is for each individual target theater you could call and ask the assistant to the producing artistic director. But generally a regional stage begins planning the next season in the middle or near the end of their present season. That’s when you have to be like a laser guided missile and hit your targets.

Now, you may have noticed I chose a month in my cover letter example (Part One of this post) to Mr. Rose: July. I picked that purposely because I know that the Barter annually begins formulating their next season (which begins the following January) in July.

You can choose any general time period that your little wordsmith heart and digital calendar desires, as long as the theater is in operation during that proposed time slot. Emphasis on “proposed”. You don’t have to actually have a trip planned for the period you forecast.

‘Huh?’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘Do you mean lie about being in the area?’, you may be bantering about in your brain. No! You’re not truly fibbing in font. You’re planning. (Sometimes too much honesty can hurt your career, remember that).

After you get your first bite for a meeting/audition with a regional producing entity (Ya-hoo!), then you begin the actual planning for your journey to jobs. And that’s when you begin pushing harder to get more appointments at other theaters in the same region.

You can choose a day, week, or month of your liking but you’d be better off timing your “planned trip” to match a time when the people you need to put your face in front of are most accessible.

As for day of the week, Monday is always best as that’s the traditional dark day of theater. At union theaters there are usually no rehearsals, the administrative and tech staff are beginning the week anew without pressure (unless it’s a tech week of which you should always avoid for visiting a theater). Non-union theater schedules? Anything goes. There are no rules for them.

 

Project Target Regions Step 5

O.K. you got one appointment. Now get more within the region. Economize and make the most of your venture. Push for appointments at other theaters within the region. Let others know that a neighbor of theirs has taken an interest in you. Ever notice how someone with a partner is sometimes more attractive and desirable than those who are single? Same rules of want apply to work. Re-target. Again. With an e-mail and/or post-card.

Recommended E-mail Format for Follow-up:

Project Target Region Step 6

Once you have appointments at your theater(s) budget your trip as cheaply as is possible. If you have friends and family within a comfortable driving distance of your target(s); stay with them. The next best and cheapest accommodations of course are available by booking low-rate motel/hotels at discount hotel bookings sites online. Remember that you’re not taking the trip for the luxury of where you sleep but for gaining future opportunities to afford and enjoy four diamond accommodations.

If you don’t have relatives, friends, or friendly ex’s in the area(s) to be visited, or can’t afford a motel/hotel then weather permitting there is always camping (if you have a tent) or sleeping in your car. “Ew”, you may be thinking. But while the latter may seem really disgusting because you would awake with horrible morning breath (or worse yet, back-seat hair), you can always shower the skin, clean your enamels and style your do at truck stops, a local Y or health club (some have better facilities than four-star hotels). While sleeping in a tent or car is not the most glamorous of accommodations, they are the cheapest other than on couches of friends and relatives. And these two options (tent or car) can be done without long-lasting, emotional, debilitating affects. I’ve survived both without problem although my right-eye does twitch uncontrollably on occasion when passing by a Flying-J or TravelCenters of America.

Borrow transportation if you can. If not, rent as low as is possible without having to hitch a horse to the front bumper. If you don’t have a driver’s license (as an adult you really should grow-up and have one) bus or train your way to the jobs.

Keep the trip simple as far as expenses are concerned. And remember: All expenses for finding work are tax-deductable. That includes; gas, mileage, rentals, accommodations and meals while away from your home base. Keep your receipts!

Project Target Regions Step 7

Once you’re on the road that doesn’t mean you stop targeting theaters in the region you’re visiting. With mobile devices keeping us in constant contact almost anywhere at anytime, you can e-mail or call prospective employers. Simply be direct and say/write/text, “I’m in your neck of the woods this week visiting [insert theater/producer name]. I would love just fifteen minutes of your schedule and introduce myself to you. Thanks!”

There’s no shame in seeking employment. So if you’re reticent about this “aggressive” marketing of your product that is you either get over yourself or get into a new, more secure, career where you are not a professional job seeker. (Armed forces anyone?)

Target Regions via Vacations:

A student of mine and I were in a discussion about how he should be targeting theaters in the region of his residence, Greater Philadelphia a.k.a. The Delaware Valley. I was giving him some homework to do for the next class when he casually mentioned that he was taking his son to Pittsburgh to scope out colleges. Before he finished the sentence I stopped him.

“Did you contact any of the theaters in Pittsburgh to let them know you’ll be in the area?”

He knew I had caught him at missing an opportunity. The forty-year plus old man sheepishly looked down at the floor like an adolescent caught breaking curfew and mumbled that he didn’t but should have. Duh! Yes. The trip had already been planned. Hotel and travel arraignments made. If he had contacted the thriving theater market in and around the Steel City he could have written his family’s school-scoping-excursion off as a business expense! He also would have been creating new contacts that would have possibly led to a job that would help pay for his son’s costly secondary education! This guy lost an opportunity. Life 1. Student 0.

If you’re planning a vacation, a weekend road trip or any journey to areas where there are live theaters (or theme park entertainment if you’re so inclined to toiling in that trade) within a two hour driving distance from your destination don’t forget to pack some appointments into your schedule. Follow the previous Target Regions steps for getting yourself in front of people who can provide you with potential paychecks. One of the perks to taking meetings (or auditioning) while on a personal pleasure peregrination is that you can leverage that expense of luxury into a business deduction. I’m often amazed when I talk to theatrical friends and students who tell me they went to the Gold Coast of Florida or to the Berkshires (both cornucopias of regional theater) for a recent vacation and upon my asking, “Did you meet with any theaters while there?” and they look at me as if I just said something immoral about their mother. Then they realize the opportunities lost and ask me, “Should I have made contact with the theaters in the area?” What do you think? Life 2. Friends & Students 0.

And don’t overlook visiting college theater programs. Academia does occasionally hire guest artists, directors, choreographers and designers. The educational institutions also bring in professionals to teach or lecture. You might be able to pick-up a future guest lecture gig and enrich the knowledge of aspiring theater professionals (you were once one yourself, time to give back a little of what you’ve learned).

[End of Part 2. Next post includes what to take on your travels PLUS interview technique. If you’re not a subscriber to the the always free Answers for Actors I can guarantee that you’ll you’ll miss this important conclusion to this series and future posts. Several methods of getting the feed directly to you, at your convenience, are in the above, right column —–>. There’s one option below as well.]

My Best,
Paul

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 www.PaulRussell.net.

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Getting Stage Work Before Other Artists (Part 1)

There’s lots of work for theater artists. But are you correctly, with passion, going after the oodles of paychecks being offered? And how can you excel at being the first among your competition to getting offers? And where to go?

Actors, Directors, Designers & Stage Technicians – Journeys to Getting More Stage Work

There’s lots of work for theater artists. But are you correctly, with passion, going after the oodles of paychecks being offered? And how can you can excel at being the first among your competition to getting offers? And where to go? Answer: Out of town– and there’s a way to get that work before announced auditions and/or interviews are held.

Most theater artists miss the obvious route to finding the open expressway for paying jobs out in the regions. They wait in the tedium that is the unemployed congestion of New York, Chicago, London or LA, idling among hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of similarly stalled peers awaiting for the theaters, auditions and interviews to high-speed towards them. Wrong! That’s bullshit. And it’s a lazy, passive aggressive choice of finding (more like wishing for) work in regional theater and summer stock that will place the artist among thousands of others in line for the precious few jobs available at each theater. For the theater artist to jump ahead of all others they have to go to where the expressway ends. At the theaters.

Often when I career coach my private students I ask them, “Do you have a car or access to one?” They then look at me with a cocked-head, like a dog hearing a new sound, wondering what the hell does my asking about their having a Civic or Rent-a-Wreck access have to do with being an actor (other than the too many actors who relentlessly list “owns/drives car” as a special skill… Don’t even get me started on that Legit resume blunder). Whatever the answer “Yes”, “No”, or “Only when my wife-partner-trick of the week isn’t looking” I tell them to get out of the city and into the regions. That’s where the work exists. That’s where the employers of regional art are at their most relaxed, open and willing to consider new possibilities, i.e. YOU.

I know many actors, directors, designers, choreographers, stage managers and technicians who have gotten more work, by adhering to the advice that follows than by sitting in a large city waiting for the regional theaters to come to them.

Going to the theaters directly is a billboard to the hirer that announces about you, “I’m available and extremely interested in your company. I’m willing to invest time and money to make myself accessible to you on your home turf.” In short, your stock rises with them because you took the time, incentive and expense to recognize them instead of them recognizing you. Plus you’re not one among hundreds of artists seeking employ among your bank-account-starved peers.  By going directly to where the work is (i.e. the theaters) you’ll get extended, quality face-to-face time with the theater’s artistic staff. Also it’s cheaper for a producer’s bottom-line budget if quality talent comes to them than for the producer to pay the expense of going to New York, Toronto or London for casting calls and interviews. Regional producers love, love, love when a good find lands on their door step. Wouldn’t you? Getting theatrical work in the regions can be this simple.

Now I’m not saying that you should hop into a car now and traverse the back roads of the country with your resume, cell phone, GPS and a smile. Hell no. Planning is needed first. And it doesn’t take much to begin the endeavor entitled: Project Target Regions.

Project Target Regions: Step 1

Pick a region. Any region depending upon your legal ability to work. Be it New England, Mid-Atlantic, the Northwest of America, the mountains of Manitoba or the Mid-lands of England. There’s work to be had everywhere. Then do one or both of two things. The first would be to get yourself a book which lists contacts for regional theaters (one great resource would be the Regional & Off-Broadway Theatre Guide published by ACL Books). Or go online to your favorite search engine and Google, Yahoo, Ask or Bing for regional and summer stock theaters in your region of choice.

An even better and swifter online resource of American regional theater would be LORT.org (the official web site for the League of Resident Theaters). On the member theater page are links to theater web sites. On each individual  theater’s web site sleuth who is the in-house staff member for casting (not the NYC, LA or other large city casting representative). The e-mail addresses for the artistic directors and/or casting person in charge are often found directly on theater web sites.

(Important: Get the most recent contact information for who hires for your field of proficiency. Turn-over in regional theater is sometimes higher than at your local Burger King (except the smiles are often more sincere). )

Project Target Regions: Step 2

Collect clusters of theaters within 100 – 200 miles/kilometers of each other. Get up-to date contacts including e-mail and brick-and-mortar addresses for each gatekeeper of employment at your desired theater(s).

Project Target Regions: Step 3

Sit yourself down with a keyboard and begin typing your way to finding jobs. Worried that you’re not a wise wordsmith? Don’t. Just be direct. No coy or creative collection of consonants and vowels that challenge the verbosity, ancient publishing practice of paid-by-the-word, excruciating length of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. (As an example of ‘don’t’; don’t be like that prior rambling sentence.) No inane stories of how “Dedicated I am… Excited by your season…, blah-blah-blah bullshit.” Do you know how many of those meandering missives arts-hiring personnel receive daily? I and my colleagues could wallpaper several McMansions multiple times over in a month. One to two paragraphs. Three to four short sentences per paragraph. Direct. To the point. Business format. Clean lines (reminiscent of an Apple Store). All as seen in the following example; simplicity is the rule.

Proper Format for a Hard Copy Cover Letter

It’s that simple. But! You don’t just send off a missive and hope for a return. Expect the response to be similar to the cold rebuff given Rosie O’Donnell’s “Rosie”. (Don’t recall that one-night song-n-dance debacle? Point made. Game over.)

You have to follow-up. With a phone-call. Scary as that might be in the age of keyboard courage where we text and type without direct contact, it’s that one-on-one that pushes you past the delete button or trash bin.

O.K. now I can imagine a few reticent readers out there thinking, ‘But I’ve been told never to contact someone by phone.’ Oh puh-lease. Screw what those blathering boobs babble. Especially if they are unemployed which gives them plenty of time to give others bone-headed advice! Look at what being passive has done for their near-empty bank account and career. The other argument I can forecast from frightened readers of this font is, “They’ll hate me for calling them.” Really? You think that a single phone call will cause a stranger to despise you for seeking work? If so, then you had better get yourself into another career where marketing yourself daily one-on-one with the living is not an option. (When’s the last time you met an embalmer pushing their trade with a business card at a party, hmmm?).

[End Part 1 of This Post. Click Here For Part 2]

My Best,
Paul

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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 www.PaulRussell.net.

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The Casting Couch – Sex as a Stepping Stone

Nearly a year has passed since… the incident. Can I now relay the event without the urge to vomit? Or disclose without demanding a power spray of bleach? Possibly. I don’t know. Pass me the Lysol.

This week: It’s All Fun-n-Games Until Someone Loses Their Dinner

More than  a year has passed since… the incident. Can I now relay the event without the urge to vomit? Or disclose without demanding a power spray of bleach? Possibly. I don’t know. Pass me the Lysol.

A ways back I met a Broadway power-player at an event in which we were both invited as guests. He with his Tonys in his back pocket. Me, with a book and blog upfront to plug. Neither of us spoke much to the other that evening. Our focus was on business with others in the room.

The next morning I received an e-mail via my web site.

“Great meeting you last night. I’d like to continue our conversation.

Q.Z.”

Q.Z was the impresario I met the evening prior. Our conversation? I didn’t know that we had had one. Beyond speculating the hits of the next season our ‘conversation’ was limited and brief.

I replied to Q.Z. in font. He then volleyed back with an invite to dinner and a show(case). Attending one of New York’s versions of possibly bad community theater was not the most promising of business evenings but I was game for building a new bridge. As the night neared of our networking a sense of dread dominated my demeanor. The cause I reasoned to be my usual case of jitters I suffer when venturing into unknown situations with strangers. Or possibly my trepidations were caused by the prospect of the showcase. Neither scenario sent me into a fevered frivolity.

The night came. We met at one of New York’s theater industry white table-cloth eateries. We spoke of our lives in the business and our professional journeys. Detailing how each of us got to be sitting at that table that summer’s eve in a room whose exposed brick walls were lined with posters from Broadway’s greatest bombs. Then came the missile.

“Do you and your partner ever play together?” he lobbed.

Huh? I must have missed a segue somewhere. Possibly between the wilted salad and buttering my dinner bun. Play? As in what? Jacks? Mario Cart Wii? Pinochle? Of course I knew what he meant. He was asking if I and the Gemini who gets lost trying to find home using his GPS ever intersected with singles or doubles.

Looking at the posters that lined the walls I shifted the conversation to something harmless and benign; Lestat – The Musical! (Bad choice. Damn Anne Rice and her homoerotic overtones.) My dinner partner – now an unexpected and unwelcome date — returned the conversation to sexual exploits. His. Not mine. I wasn’t looking forward to the next two-and-a-half hours I had remaining with this man. My claiming a sudden case of food poisoning – without evidence — would have seemed terribly trite. If only there had been a suffering of gas to put him off the scent.

After finishing our burgers and fries we walked to the theater. We were standing at the corner of Ninth and Forty-Second streets when I mentioned the name of a casting director I once worked for. As the light changed and we crossed south across Boulevard de Disney that’s when Q.Z. casually mentioned that he had had sex with my former employer. Ew. Ick. Yuck. I really didn’t want to know this. But when it came to my ex-boss and entertainment professionals I now encounter it would seem he has been as fruitful as Johnny Appleseed with regard to spreading his seed about New York. A past agent of mine informed me he performed on said same casting director fellatio in the back of a cab. And this I learned at the same restaurant from which I just left. (I try not to go back there.)

Back to Q.Z. I was, as I am oft to do when uncomfortable in social situations that are unpleasant, pulling back on chatter and becoming silent. We watched the show. Why he had chosen for us to attend this particular showcase which was a plot-less musical from the 90s, I had no idea… yet. I would soon discover the answer as the ‘curtain’ came down.

“I’m going upstairs to my office,” he began. “Care to come up?”

O.K. maybe I’m just being overly cynical. But I doubt that it was just coincidence that the showcase and his office happened to be at the same address.

I declined. Went home. For days I was a mixture of disgust, confusion, anger and sadness.

I never heard from Q.Z. again. Fine by me.

I’ve written here prior about the casting couch. And I’m sure you’re not surprised that gratuitous sex is a viral hobby in all sectors of our game that is entertainment (and life). What an odd and powerful tool that aphrodisiac of near anonymous amour.

If I were single would I have joined him upstairs? No.

If my libido were of a voracious appetite and he were remotely an enticing entrée upon my extensive buffet table of tastes would I have sampled his serving? No. Not even if he were a strawberry-n-butterscotch Oreo cookie cheesesteak. Some things are just never meant to be swallowed.

I have never and hope to never cross that threshold which is an exit from professionalism. And if a similar situation is presented to you; I would hope you have more respect for yourself than to let sex be a stepping stone for your career.

Next.

My Best,
Paul

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plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

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 www.PaulRussell.net.

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Actors Generating Jobs Via The New Producers

Players change fast in our industry. And the player that was once thought of as having longevity, the sole producer, is near extinct.

(Author’s Note: Did you miss Actor Hits & Misses part 1, or not discover Things That Should Never Be Said in An Audition, or perhaps you didn’t catch Agent Ready or Not? If you missed the prior or any other postings then you’re letting other actors — who freely subscribe to this blog — get the jump on you by being informed. Subscribe and never miss a blog. Three options to the right.)

This Week: Where’s New Work for Actors?

Nearly gone are the days of the sole producer who stumbles upon or nurtures an obscure project with an inevitable eye towards commercial presentation. The heady and sometimes contentious days of Merrick, Prince, Mssrs. Shubert and yes, even Roth, are hazy memories to be recounted with a mixture of contempt, awe and sadness. In our current state of stars for the stage both in front and behind the curtain, actors are wondering where’s the work for newcomers (or unknowns) when Disney and DreamWorks bring in Oscar and Emmy winners to revivals or screen sensations turned sourly to stage adaptations? The answer came from industry professionals during a recent dinner discussion while savoring shrimp scampi pizza on a warm summer’s eve.

Recently a trio of behind the audition table comrades met for a casual dinner; I, a talent agency owner and a fellow casting director. We each began our talent championing journey after jumping over the audition table during the days of Johnson/Liff, Hughes/Moss and J. Michael Bloom (if you’re lost as to those identities they were major industry players equal to today’s Telsey & Co., Tara Rubin and Gersh.) Players change quickly in our industry. And the player that was once thought of as having longevity, the sole producer, is now near extinct.

Our stalwart trio discussed the swift current of continual change in our industry. My colleague in casting and I in the past would approach producers for our employ.  Not so any more. The individual who now shepherds a piece to production often belongs to one once shunned from visible participation; the writer.

Writers (along with directors) are now spearheading the producing of new stage and screen works. One could contribute that this came about because of the influence of the festivals (NYMF, inde film festivals and alike). Young writers newly indoctrinated with degrees from NYU, Yale and numerous respected institutions of higher education are emboldened with a euphoric sense of ‘anything is possible’. This, accompanied by the low-cost overhead of festivals that display and nurture new works, has put the once powerful, sole producer as the industry follower not the explorer.

So how does this current shift in dynamics affect you?

If you’re industrious you can now open more freely accessible pathways to the industry players who produce; the directors and writers. They are the new entertainment entrepreneurs in the trenches along side of you struggling and winning (at times) to have their voices heard. If you haven’t been getting cozy with those who actually create the words, along with the leaders who direct them, then you’re not paving an Interstate of interconnecting networks to create new journeys for your career. If all you’re focused on are the back roads of general managers, agents and casting you’re entering the freeway production route far too late. You need to get in at the ignition of creativity. At the table reading conception when a screen/playwright’s words are first spoken aloud by a grouping of actors in the writer’s walk-up studio.

You know already that the challenge to being employed as an actor grows tougher each day. Advances are not made as easily as they once were even a decade or two ago (and back then we veterans thought times then were tough… no… those were the salad days compared to this wilting present).

Get to know writers and directors on a personal and professional level. They are the new producers.

Embrace honestly as friends your writer and director colleagues.

Friends hire friends.

True friends remain loyal.

Eventually… loyalty produces.

Access to Agents - Success Stories HereActors (right) like Michael Sample, A’lisa Miles and more are among the successful actors who took control and got their careers moving forward via Access to Agents. Outcomes include; signing with agents, more & better paying audition opportunities, paid contracts and being better business-actors. Full details @ Access to Agents. (UPDATE: Seven actors were called back by agents in September. Only a few seats left for  THE LAST TV & Film Series of 2010.)

My Best,
Paul

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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 www.PaulRussell.net.

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Fair Wages? Are Actor Unions Fairly Serving All Actors?

“The only real way for us to lower costs is to pay artists less, but paying artists is part of the point of the Public,”

Oskar Eustis
Artistic Director – The Public
New York Times Interview – 4/15/2010

There’s been an alarming shift towards lower actor wages within the unions. And the membership of AEA and SAG have been complacent in letting their union reps negotiate less compensation in return for a producer’s promise of expanded employment opportunities. The sweet success winners are the producers. Actors oft remain holding the fuzzy end of the lollipop stick. It’s complacent thespians who are to blame for receivership of the less-than-attractive reward.

SAG began the trend of creating contracts with salary stipends that wouldn’t bust a producer’s budget; SAG Experimental, SAG Modified Low Budget and SAG Ultra-Low Budget. (You begin to wonder when comes the SAG Happy Meal Low Budget?) These contracts were intended for use by the indie film producer. But major studios could not resist the temptation of exploiting these contracts for their own best profitable interests. Paranormal Activity anyone? A mega-hit produced for about $10,000 and grossing for Paramount’s DreamWorks division $22 million (that’s box office alone… DVD and television air-sales not included). The actors’ miniscule salary in the shaking-cam screamer was a small, small percentage of that $10,000.

You do the math of fair and balanced.

Then not long ago AEA leadership in negotiations with producers began devising their own similar sounding paltry payouts; AEA Experimental and the new S.E.T. acronym. The latter contract of which is now being implemented by the theatrical titans; the Weisslers. What’s this new contract? It’s the Short Engagement Touring Agreement. Terms of which went into effect January 5, 2009. How does this new contract affect actors? Let’s take a gander… at an actual situation.

An actor (we’ll tag her as ‘Janice’) was touring as an ensemble member with the long-enduring tour of Chicago produced by National Artists Management Company (i.e. Fran & Barry Weissler). Under past tour contracts with Chicago Janice received a salary of $1,500 per week. The tour went well. Janice made a nice bit of cha-ching for her savings account as did the producers. Then the tour closed as scheduled. Not long after it was remounted to go out across the mountains and prairies once more but under the new S.E.T. contract. Janice was offered to return. Same duties. Salary, $850 per week.

Now, some may say this is not entirely fair. While others may view this as a way for actors and producers to keep producing art in an economy that, as past recessions have shown, is not favorable to the arts.

And it’s not just ‘the economy’ influencing earnings.

As thespians, especially the musically-talented, know AEA employ on the road has been usurped by non-union tours. For awhile AEA appeared baffled for finding a way to stop the loss of employ for its members to the lower overhead, cost-attractive, non-union tours that producers like the Wiesslers licensed out to non-union touring companies. AEA was less-than-brilliant in defense by asking its members to include in their Playbill bios; “Proud member of Actors’ Equity Association”. If that was the best AEA leadership could do to battle, then those actors running the actor’s union don’t understand their audience. The people in the seats could care less about union affiliation. All they care about is what’s on stage before them and how much did it cost to sit and view. If the production and actors look like their interpretation of what a Broadway show on tour should be, and costs far, far, far less than a Broadway hundred-dollar plus ticket; they’re happy. And I’ve seen several of those non-union tours. If I weren’t the picky Virgo I am and was just your average Sagittarius from Scranton I wouldn’t know the difference — on stage — between union and non-union. The uneducated-in-the-arts would just know that they saw a great show that didn’t cost him this month’s car payment. And that he’d have money left over afterwards for wings and beer at Hooters.

So now AEA has found a way to combat the non-union tour at its heart; the bottom line. Who gets caught in the cross-fire? Actors. Both union and non-union. AEA members are now being paid less for the same work labored previously under higher wages. Non union actors may begin seeing less non-union tour opportunities. And this is a trend that began years ago with SAG. What can union actors unhappy do about the less-than-living wage wages? Get involved with your union. Voice your opinion. Get on the boards that negotiate contracts. Rally. Scream. Demand.

If you feel that these changes in contracts are necessary to ensure that there is some form of employ then do similar as those opposed to the wage and contract concessions. Be heard.

What does the non-union actor do? You demand from non-union producers the same earnings, treatment and contract perks (Per Diem, hours, etc) as given to your union card-carrying brethren. Will you get such? HA! (Good luck.) But the more non-union performers continue to ask for equality — the more the producer hears the same requests — then the more likely that the producer (if humane) may change their mind to remain contractually competitive in attracting quality, professional talent.

To all; your silence equals complicity. Be heard.

Upcoming Posts: Coming soon over the few weeks will be “How to Piss-off a Casting Director (Without Being Seen)”, “An Actor Derails Representation”, “Life Titles” and many more including a very personal post I wrote (but never published) back in the fall of ’09 entitled “?”.  If you’re a subscriber already to Answers for Actors you won’t miss a single post (unless abducted — or in Stephen Hawkins’ sci-fi scenario — eaten by aliens). If you’re not already a subscriber whata ya waitin’ for? Choose one of the three feed options on the upper right hand menu bar.

Next!

My Best,
Paul

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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 www.PaulRussell.net.

 

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F.U. Money

This week: F*ck-you money

If you watched Conan O’Brien and his very public reaction to the NBC late-night programming debacle then you’ve seen first hand what everyone in life would like to reach at some point before the casket comes calling. The ability to express and/or do (legally) that which is in your heart while knowing that the consequences will not affect your bank account. It’s that wealth that affords your well-being to be honest and it is called; f*ck-you money. For actors, this is something they dream of someday doing to producers when they believe themselves to have been wronged.

I first heard the expletive colloquialism when working on a film for 20th Century Fox. It was uttered from the casting director I was working alongside. She had mentioned in a conversation that another casting director she knew well had been very successful. Because of that success the colleague was able to retire at an early age because she had amassed her own holding of F.U. money.

Viewers of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien saw not only Conan cash in on his F.U. monies but also his final guests anted up as well. Robin Williams, Will Ferrell, Tom Hanks, Steve Carell and other guests on the last airings knew that they were in a position stronger than NBC/Universal. And with the sale of the mega-media conglomerate to Comcast, this provided an even a greater sense of safety for flipping the bird at the peacock.

Now we all, including me, can be premature at dipping into our F.U. savings. Actors while working regional theater, Broadway productions, as day players on episodics, supporting roles in film or similar often have the urge to burn a bridge when they believed to have been wrongly crossed. That folly must be avoided. Restraint is warranted. For if you feel that you can speak out against a perceived injustice against you every time you’ll be left with a bankrupt career.

Before making a withdrawal against your F.U. savings consider the long-term ramifications. Plus, are you able to knock over one domino without others falling? Conan and his compatriots could. The person at the start or middle of their career can not. Every connection is needed until there comes a time when security is firmly known for the remainder of your life. It’s only then that you can say to an employer, gate-keeper or fellow artist; f*ck you.

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My Best,
Paul

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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 www.PaulRussell.net.

 

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