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

AMIYB_AmazonRead advice from legendary talent agents,
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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The Casting Couch – Real & Virtual Foreplay

A reader recently reached out to me asking for guidance on a taboo subject that I idealistically would like to believe had perished coitus interruptus long ago. Banished to the age of film noir. Relegated to the sovereignty of sex films. What is it? The casting couch. The practice of demanding sexual favors in return for casting a performer in a theatrical, film, TV production, etc. A coy colloquialism in reference to the office couch of a casting director, director, producer talent rep. or any entertainment industry gate-keeper. (You won’t find this at your local Ikea.)

The reader’s detailing of requested debauchery from a professional began:

“I’m an actor and model based in NY. I find myself on the casting couch being propositioned over and over again. I recently made a friend request [on Facebook] to a manager with, ‘How r u? I’m [name withheld].’ That led them to believe that I was interested in them sexually and when I turned down their advances (because this is not what I am about) they got mad and said that I was leading them on.”

O.K. let’s stop here first.

Not knowing either individual I cannot make a fully informed response. I have no idea if the manager is reputable or one of the many cockroach-like “I’m a play-ah in da game” shysters with a tiny cell phone and an enormous ego. (Far too many of these in our business.) I also don’t know if the reader has in his Facebook profile; pictures and information that would cause a visitor to his page to make assumptions of amorous availability. But there are some red flags in the actor’s accounting of unwanted accosting.

Mistakes were made. On both side of the accept/ignore button of Facebook friendship. The reader erred by not stating immediately his intent of the friend request. The manager fouled by assuming any contact is fair game for foreplay. First let’s address the actor; being that he initiated the dialogue between himself and the manager.

The actor stated “I find myself on the casting couch being propositioned over and over again.” If this history is true then he should have known one of two things. First; he’s going to have this happen to him (unfortunately) again if the past persists in repeating itself. We can not change the behavior of those around us. We can only prescribe our own choices and actions.

Second; if the actor’s professional history routinely replicates then maybe he should be looking at his own actions (or inactions) which may be inadvertently causing others to believe him to be a viable option for their romantic advances. I am not doing a blame-the-victim here. My viewpoint is far from that potential mistaken assumption of some who read this.

I question why this continues to happen in this man’s life. What are the influences apart from the people he encounters who know not professional and personal boundaries? Is he an affable guy with a killer smile? Does he possess an infectious, inviting charm that others mistake as a dinner bell being rung for random randiness? Or is he just too damn hot-n-sexy for the sidewalk that passers-by actually see him before crashing into while texting (a.k.a. crexting… you heard that one here first).

Whatever the case; his having knowledge of the past should have made him cautious of contacting a stranger (i.e. the manager) for a friend request. Also the person he was reaching out to did not know why the actor was making the connection. Reason of motivation should have been made clear from the start. But the actor erred and only after he got an inappropriate response did the actor inform the person he contacted with a friend request his true desire for doing so:

“I’m looking to further my career but not in this way. I asked [the manager], ‘If I was hitting on you then you would be interested but since I hit you up on professional business matters–now you’re not. Am I right?’”

“Professional business matters” that key phrase was missing from the actor’s earlier address to the manager; the “How r u? I’m [name withheld].” Had the actor first written, “Hello. I’m [name withheld]. I’m seeking representation….” then this treatise probably would never have been typed.

Now; the manager.

Again I do not know of this person’s position in our industry. The actor claimed the manager was “legit” but what may be viewed as “legit” by an actor may be from my side of the audition table someone with little credibility who is posing and pretending. If opposite of such — someone of experience with peer respectability — the allegation is deeply disturbing if the actor’s accounting is accurate. Either way – posing or legit — the manager should have checked him or herself by checking out the actor’s online profile before ignorantly responding to the friend request. If the word “actor” appeared anywhere on the actor’s page the manger had two choices. First; ignore. The friend request was unsolicited coming from a stranger (i.e. the actor). Second; inquire of the requester reason for the outreach.

I am not dismissing the actor’s claim. I do believe he has encountered unwanted requests for quid-pro-quo romantic entanglements during his career. Invitations to the antiquated and abusive casting couch, sadly, still exist. And it is sexual harassment. Plain and simple. Having been sexually harassed myself by a casting director I worked for long ago (the story is in ACTING: Make It Your Business) I know what it is like to be a passing interest of passion by someone who is focused more on seeking an immediate conquest than a establishing a long-term commitment.

Uninvited, continual flirtation by any auditor to an actor in any setting is understandably verboten. That same rules applies in reverse. I once received repeated letters of libidinous intent from an actor asking me for a more “personal relationship”. I answered suggesting that I would correspond with him regarding advice pertaining to business only. Dinner, movies and romance were not on my agenda. He pushed back harder his desire for passion. That left me with a residue of creepiness.

If you encounter unwanted solicitations for sex for professional advancement in return do not be shy about bringing to light the unprofessional behavior encountered. To avoid a situation similar to that which sparked this story communicate clearly your intent of outreach. Whether that contact is to network, get a job, or to be friends and nothing more.

The casting couch has no place in our industry except as a comfortable reception divan for anxious actors patiently awaiting their legitimate audition. Those who wish to exploit sexual favor for career progression often develop an unseemly reputation that trumps professionalism and outlasts the momentary passionate conquest.

Next.

My Best,
Paul

AMIYB_AmazonRead advice from legendary talent agents,
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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