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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Actor Sexuality – A career impediment?

This week: Picking at Entertainment’s Gay Scab

Homosexuals can be the biggest homophobes in our industry.

Several weeks ago I received a disturbing note from a reader:

“I’ve heard that sexuality can keep you from getting represented and/or cast. One of the friends I was talking [to] told me he was going for theatrical representation and the lady didn’t want to rep him because she heard he was gay. So, his team had to cast doubts on what she heard and she ended up taking him. He has a boyfriend, but now he is staying out of the gay scene and trying to put out the “sex symbol-type image” for the females.

This wears me out.”

It wears you out? As an openly gay man I can’t believe that a community in which we work and share our lives — which is supposedly progressive on issues such as sexuality — can still behave like the near adolescent mind-set on Fox News. But we’re enablers. And by “we” I include the entire entertainment industry from actor to producer and every job in-between. We’re fine with sexuality assignment within our ranks but often try to mask or discourage on-screen and stage talent from openly having an offstage life so as to appease an insecure segment of society that hastily bangs the Bible to bash the GLBT community. Because we all know that seeing a known homosexual is a threat to continuing the populace; an asinine thought process of course. But people who follow that line of thinking conveniently overlook that in their daily lives; they meet homosexuals everywhere they go. They’re just not aware of the pink in the air. It’s not like we glow with a lavender or green aura (although I’d prefer navy blue myself).

So to placate this segment of small mindedness we ourselves have that same brain shrinkage when we toil at our labors in entertainment. God forbid little Jimmy or Jane see a man or woman happily confess their love for someone of the same gender. (Oh horror. Catastrophe appalling. Call Sarah Palin’s witch doctor!)

But we do, many of us, hide what is native to us and transform instinctive yearnings into a learned shame. Too many in our populace have been taught to hate and fear that which is different. And sometimes if that difference is within ourselves then we self-deprecate which then gets transferred into our lives and work.

Long ago I worked for a casting director who was (and remains) a big ‘ole… oh hell let me unfortunately give voice to stereo-type; ‘Nelly-girl’. As he would often make comments about his desire for me (sexual harassment, holding on line one) he would in the same breath deny consideration of a gay actor for a role citing that the actor was “too much of a big fag.” Even though the actor could play ‘straight’. (And just what the hell is the breakdown for ‘straight’? ‘Likes country music, sports bars and Kevin Spacey?’ – And yes, there is a contradiction in that description. [cough]).

Another casting director in that office – now operating his own casting agency – would rebuff hiring gay actors for straight roles despite when after meeting Harry Hamlin he rushed to Mr. Hamlin’s canvass director chair, picked it up, inhaled deeply and announced to the rest of us with vigor that he loved the smell he sniffed. Uhm, hello pig this is the monkey’s ass. You’re pink.

It’s not so much that there is a self loathing alone that prevents gay casting directors, directors, writers, producers or our heterosexual counterparts from hiring gay actors for straight roles; it’s audience reaction. If the audience knows an actor to be gay and the actor is portraying a heterosexual more often than not a portion of the audience can not disconnect that the actor is playing a role and not the actor’s real life sexuality. Those viewers believe that to play straight one must be straight. But then comes a hypocrisy with those same audience members who view a known straight actor playing a gay role; they can accept that. Why? Because in the back of their mind they know that when the actor goes home he’s not facing another man on his back who has his legs up to heaven. (Although for me, when Keanu Reeves played the ambiguous gay drifter in My Private Idaho I was praying that his off-screen heterosexuality was just myth.)

As an audience member I find myself sometimes shamefully falling into this heterosexual mind trap of “I can’t believe he’s not buttah”. Since Neil Patrick Harris came out (bravo Mr. Harris!) my head does tilt to one side when I see teases on CBS — for How I Met Your Mother — with him making straight overtures. When I viewed Anne Heche on HBO’s Hung I just kept thinking, What the hell is up with that girl? Was Ellen DeGeneres a phase or is James Tupper partner-du jour? What business is it of mine? None. Where do these thoughts originate? Societal instruction. Once again we’re back to the learned behavior of fearing what is different. (And by-the-by… for a number of us in the GLBT community heterosexuals are different. The street of what’s ‘normal’ and what is ‘not’ can be traversed in both directions.)

The industry can — at times — be very back-room-whispering quiet about its gay membership (which is very large). When writing ACTING: Make It Your Business one of The Group of Eight I interviewed began talking about what he/she termed as ‘The Gay Mafia’. A creative-coterie behind the scenes he/she believed to be comprised of influential same gender-groping-groupies (producers, directors, casting directors, agents, et. al.) that control many aspects of the industry. The conversation was very insightful, controversial and one good for debate. But the person I was interviewing asked that none of it be attributed to him/her. So in the end I had to cover up by cutting out several pages of contentious material.

Another section of the letter from the reader which prompted this mussing also represents this hush-hush mentality within our ranks:

“I’m not the ‘out type of guy’, but I do go to the bars and clubs on the weekends. I also have a few friends up-and-coming who were told recently to stop going to the bars and clubs and stop having pictures taken with other men… in that way. These guys are in their mid-20s. Hell, I’m 37 now and I know there are pics out there with ex’s and others so me trying to “change” how I am seems a little late unless I try to play that I am bi-sexual (even though I haven’t been with a female since high school).

I don’t like to advertise and don’t want folks to know my business, but I’ve heard that sexuality can keep you from getting represented and/or cast.”

I hadn’t an instant reply. But then I thought, as long as members of the GLBT community hide behind masks of heterosexuality, others who fear us will continue to think our born sexual identity to be something strange, different or an immoral choice. And that pronoun ‘us’ bothers me. We are of the same species but segmented. How much of that do we bring upon ourselves?

So, to the reader who came to me for an answer; I have none. The answer you’re seeking has to come from you. Are you going to allow others to marginalize your existence and keep you from being who you are? Will you let others change your behavior which does no harm and is part of your genetic make-up? Is not who you are more important than your choice of a career?

I give you and everyone else reading a question in return. When was the last time you ever heard of a 100% heterosexual having to come out of the closet announcing (not defending) they were straight? Or hide their assigned attraction of the opposite gender?

Oh the double standards of life than we sometimes kneel to.

My Best,
Paul

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SINGERS & MUSICAL THEATER PERFORMERS!

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), 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.

Registration ends soon. I only accept 10, talented, proactive performers per series. Four seats remain open.

For details on all of the above visit our site http://paulrussell.net/classes.html.

I look forward to helping you reach your goals.

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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Sex Behind The Scenes – Actors Dating Actors

Sex: It’s the entertainment of nearly anyone involved in entertainment. It’s our hobby. If you haven’t dabbled in the backstage intrigue that is showmance, you’re either smart, a reticent recluse, or harboring halitosis that steers colleagues a good 10 feet away from your path.

 sex behind the scenes

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Ssex and actors

Showmance.

It isn’t one’s love for the latest stage hit that has developed a cult-following accompanied by a marketing campaign that includes relentless merchandising of the show on T-shirts and towels. But it’s similar to what happens between two emotionally and romantically charged people involved in a show who are attracted and then collide. And sometimes even an airbag or condom can’t provide safety.

First of all, in full disclosure, I must admit that I am not unblemished when it comes to my past sex life (no comment on the present). So no morality play here. My last showmance was over 20 years ago. It has continued ever since with my partner who I met during a national tour of “Annie” (o.k. … stop the giggles).

Sex: It’s the entertainment of nearly anyone involved in entertainment. It’s our hobby. If you haven’t dabbled in the backstage intrigue that is showmance, you’re either smart, a reticent recluse, or harboring halitosis that steers colleagues a good 10 feet away from your path.

Now why, you may be pondering, am I writing here about a sometimes salacious subject when this column is about acting and casting? Because relationships — especially intimate, when mingled with business — matter. There’s great importance of image integrity needed over intimacy when engaging in, maintaining or separating from a showmance. Your career can be greatly affected.

There’s an anecdotal punchline that’s runs rampant and rings true in our business of show: “There are only six people working in this business.” Our community, while large in hopefuls, is very small when it comes to actual participants. Rumor and “adjusted facts” are spread in our club of creatives with as much ferocity as tabloids that target a celebrity for something salacious.

You have got to be mindful of how your romantic endeavors — either sincere or temporary — are seen by others with whom you work. As I’ve written in my book, this industry is all about image, image, and image. That goes for participants on both sides of the curtain.

And it’s not only image that one must be mindful of when courting a fellow company member. Take in account how your relationship will affect the project and your peers. I worked at one summer stock company where each season the less-than-reputable producer routinely chose a chorus girl to be his behind-the-scenes playmate. One of which he married and soon thereafter divorced. Others became pregnant out of wedlock. With each fling that was flung, the company focused on generating rumors about the relationship(s). Eventually the producer’s attention of amore was ostracized. Company cohesiveness exited stage right and never came back for a curtain call.

I’m not advocating for or against following the heart or libido while you work. That’s your path to follow or ignore. Just know that outside influences (co-workers and employers) can cause action that will inhibit your new partnering and, more importantly, the design of original intent: work.

Showmance Caveats

1. Gossip

Apart from politics and tabloids, nowhere else other than in entertainment is rumor ravaging of others a joyful pursuit for those who have little substance in their own lives. If you begin any relationship, sexual or romantic (and yes there are differences between the two), you and your partner(s) would do best to keep the relationship out of sight from others. As a director, casting director and former actor, I have seen many, many companies become divided because of inter-cast/staff romances. Jealousies and alliances form. Be discrete for the success of both the relationship (or tryst) and the project.

2. Producers

Some producers, particularly among the non-union theaters, have an unspoken “morality meter” they mentally mind for their employees. They prefer that the people in their hire not utilize the workplace provided as a supermarket for sex. Keep your intimate relations far from producers. At least until a wedding or commitment ceremony; then hit them with your registry list. Producers tend to have more money than you and your out-of-suitcase peers.

Even if you believe your mating manners in a company are not excessive or are above honor, still keep it from producers and creatives who hire. At least those who are not close friends of yours. If the intimate mingling is with a producer or creative, then you really want to keep your relationship quiet. At least until you have to invite guests to the wedding/commitment ceremony. We can be jealous, bitter bitches when snubbed.

3. The Heart

For the newbies to the business and the veteran idealists (both of which I was long ago), ground yourself. Sex does not equal love. Love does not equal sex.

What intimate relations that may develop in the heightened emotional state of collaboration may not have happened elsewhere. The atmosphere of working and/or living close under stresses and adrenaline may spur attractions and situations that you would not normally follow in the “real world.”

From long ago I recall sitting in the living room of Shawnee Playhouse’s cast house as two infatuates of each other were snuggling on a couch across from me. The young lady was very much enthralled with her new beau. Then came the cold water statement from him to her: “Don’t get too cozy, honey. I’m not here for long.” Ouch. That romantically reticent actor later got his own TV series and several Spielberg films. The actress? A lost casualty of the business.

Sometimes show romances live beyond the show. Often they’re just that: show romances. Either way, go with some common sense, respect for others, and discretion. Enjoy discoveries. Carry condoms. (Some folks have on-hand assorted-sized engagement rings.)

My best,
Paul

PaulRussell.net

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned 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 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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