How To Get An Audition and Lose It

Some actors can win, and then lose auditions online as easily as Donald Trump insults via a tweet.

 

Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

Some actors can win, and then lose auditions online as easily as Donald Trump insults via a tweet.

While casting the AEA national tour of a popular musical, a non-union actor’s submission earned attention from among the slush pile of submissions from non-represented actors. The email rose above the first-class talent representation submissions by agencies and managers.

He began well in his initial email submission:

 

“Hello Paul! I’m reaching out to you about the production of
*****. I have done the show… as the male understudy for all roles…”

 

Great! I thought. Hiring one understudy for all five of the male roles was a challenge. Various musical instruments are required to be played among the characters. If the actor’s audition was spot-on there’s one major puzzle piece solved. Give him an audition ASAP! But…

The actor wasn’t available for a live audition. I requested he place himself on-camera. A deadline was given. The deadline passed. 9 days overdue. No e-audition received. I contacted the actor again with a reminder. I detailed that the producer and creative team were aware of his interest. There was serious interest on our part. The actor replied:

 

“Hey Paul! Thanks for following up. Can I ask you about the understudy position? Are there guaranteed performances?”

 

My response:

 

“Hello Dirk,

The understudies presently under contract are not guaranteed performances. The contract offers paid weeks, per diem, travel, and hotel accommodations. My discussing more than what the contract presents is premature without first having audition material from the actor.”

 

His response?

 

“Hey Paul! Sorry if I have not been forthcoming with the specific tapes. I didn’t want to send it until I was sure I would take the job (if offered). Since there are no promised performances at this time I cannot take an understudy position.”

My initial reaction was, why did you submit for the position?! But, I restrained. I made aware the producer and creative team of the actor passing on the audition, and his reason.

Several days later an additional date was added to the production which precluded a signed principal from performing that added performance. I reached out to the producer to ask if I should inquire of the actor who passed on auditioning because there was no guarantee of a performance but now there was. The producer’s reply? A single sentence:

 

“I’m totally turned off by the email response.”

 

Don’t submit for an audition and then try to negotiate the contract prior to your audition. You’ll lose as did this actor. He lost the producer. He lost the director. He lost the musical director. He lost this casting office. He lost potential work that would have kept him employed for 7 months. Next.

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over 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 taught master classes at dozens of acting programs at universities including Hofstra, Elon, Wright State University, and Rutgers. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information on Paul’s projects, visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

Love Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!

“Humorous and witty…
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”
BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA
(The InternHamiltonNBC’s The Wiz – LIVE!, Wicked)
“All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderUnforgettable)
“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates
“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress
“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”
KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.
“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING:AMIYB_Amazon Make It Your Business!

 

“Scam” Paid Auditions vs. Legitimate Acting Classes

There is truth versus perception. SAG-AFTRA, the largest union representing screen actors, may have unintentionally caused confusion in truth versus perception for what is a legitimate class for actors, as opposed to what is a questionable workshop. Bewildered actors, both union and non-union, potentially suffer from the lack of career expansion misunderstanding what is a legitimate educational acting resource versus what is in SAG-AFTRA’s assessment, “a scam.”

ScamVsLegit

Paul Russell_Headshot

Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

 

There is truth versus perception. SAG-AFTRA, the largest union representing screen actors, may have unintentionally caused confusion in truth versus perception for what is a legitimate class for actors, as opposed to what is a questionable workshop. Bewildered actors, both union and non-union, potentially suffer from the lack of career expansion misunderstanding what is a legitimate educational acting resource versus what is in SAG-AFTRA’s assessment, “a scam.”

SAG-AFTRA recently warned its membership, via online media, that actors within its guild not participate in workshops attended by casting directors, agents, and/or managers in which actors pay to participate:

“It shall be deemed conduct unbecoming a member for any member of the union, directly or indirectly, to give or offer to give any money, gift, gratuity or other thing of value to an employer, or prospective employer, to any officer, agent, representative or employee of such employer or prospective employer, or to any employment or casting agency representing an employer, or prospective employer, or to any of their officers, agents, representatives or employees as an inducement to secure employment.”

Deeper in SAG-AFTRA’s declaration is a passing disclaimer potentially overlooked or misinterpreted by actors:

“This includes workshop-style situations where a casting director watches your scene or monologue, offers no meaningful critique or feedback, and is presented as someone looking for actors for ‘current and upcoming projects.’ This becomes a paid audition, which is against SAG-AFTRA rules.”

The phrase, “offers no meaningful critique or feedback” is the foundation to understanding what SAG-AFTRA considers a ‘class’ versus a ‘paid audition.’ Thoughtful advisement for bettering the actor’s craft, plus actionable constructive criticism is apparently in SAG-AFTRA’s view the keystone to a casting director, talent agent or manager participating in a educational resource for actors. But actors quickly scanning SAG-AFTRA’s membership directive, or non-union actors encountering similar discussion through the nefarious actor grapevine, potentially lump all educational actor workshops and classes together with the shove-actors-through-the-door, paid audition scenarios.

The Confusion

When actors mistakenly interpret from a union, or a colleague, that the vernacular of ‘workshops,’ ‘seminars,’ or ‘classes’ are pay-to-play scams then those actors assume that all actor-focused classes of which industry attend are illegitimate. A self-destructive disservice to the actor wishing to expand their career skills, and resumé.

A growing percentage of acting studio educational classes have their roots in the collegiate world. Annually, universities with esteemed acting programs bring to their campuses entertainment executives who share valuable experience with student actors via master classes. These casting directors, directors, and talent representatives leading collegiate master classes then offer the same insights expressed at universities in private acting studios of New York City, Los Angeles, and/or Chicago.

Differences Between Paid Classes With Industry vs. Paid Auditions

Classes / Workshops:

A class for actors is one that is either held over an extended period of time (several weeks or several months) or in an evening. Beneficial acting-career skills are taught to the actor, and during that learning process constructive feedback is given to the actor by the instructor and/or invited entertainment executive(s). Entertainment executives may include: casting directors, talent agents and managers, directors, or actors with well-established careers.

Paid Auditions:

Actors pay a fee to be seen by an entertainment executive or panel via a monologue, or a hurriedly put-together scene. No feedback to the actors is offered. The session for each actor lasts several minutes. The session for the executive(s) is a duration of several hours as the actors are presented like cattle at an auction. These studios often herald in their advertising, or via email blasts, that the studio is responsible for every career advancement made by each actor who shuffled through their system no matter how long ago the actor was herded through the studio’s chute. Often the studio has no association with, or influence on, the actor’s toil in procuring the booking(s). Some of these studios now advertise “exclusive rights” to a casting director or talent agent as attending only that studio’s sessions. “Tisn’t morals, ’tis money that saves…”

Are Paid Auditions Valuable?

A good number of actors have formed professional relationships with agents and/or casting directors from these scenarios. More actors though have found the one-night stand paid auditions to be a frustration. The feeling disenfranchised actors are the most vocal in opposition to what is perceived as a paid audition.

Why Paid Auditions Are Popular

The digital revolution has changed how casting and representation meet talent. Too many actors have mistakenly given-up on the snail mail method of marketing themselves. While the majority of entertainment industry players delete, unopened, unsolicited email from actors. The paid audition, for better or worse, has replaced how first introductions are made.

Actors drive the market for the one-night stands. Actors also drive the market for the legitimate classes, and workshops. Of each, the actor will pay their monies for the value of who is participating. Classes without prominent industry participation don’t sell well; often forcing respected teachers to cancel classes.

Classes for Actors vs. Paid Auditions

Benefits of the paid audition is a questionable gamble that places opportunity in the hands of the attending entertainment executive(s). Classes attended or led by entertainment executives can offer growth from which the actor creates opportunities.

What is truth of legitimate versus the perception of a scam? The answer is within what the seller honestly offers, and the results an actor realistically anticipates.

My best,
Paul

Paul Russell’s 5-Star, Best Selling Book on Acting including Hollywood & Broadway Actors & Agents!

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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.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors
Love Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”
BERNARD TELSEY, casting director, CSA
(Hamilton, The Intern, NBC’s The Wiz – LIVE!, Into The Woods – The Movie, Wicked)
All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderUnforgettable)
“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates
“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress
“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”
KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.
“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING:AMIYB_Amazon Make It Your Bu

 

 

Top 10 Email Mistakes Actors Make

Email marketing by actors is fraught with career-hobbling traps. The following email blunders are the most often used career-stopping snares by which actors maim opportunities.

Email Mistakes_a4a

actor email

Paul Russell_HeadshotPaul Russell
PaulRussell.net

Email marketing by actors is fraught with career-hobbling traps. Convenience and speed lull actors in to a false sense of accomplishment in their marketing outreach to entertainment professionals who hire or represent actors. The following email blunders are the most often used career-stopping snares by which actors maim opportunities.

1. Forwards

Actors forwarding their prior sent email(s) to industry by sending as ‘new’ old correspondence to other industry contacts advertises that the actor is lazy.

email

 

Recipients see in an email’s subject the abbreviation ‘FWD.’ When a FWD recipient sees the abbreviation a red flag is signaled that the sending actor is complacent, and sloppy with their marketing which further translates into an image that the actor is likely just as much an unprepared sloth regarding their acting skills.

Actors who wish that consideration of their career be taken seriously as a professional must approach each professional as an individual—not as a check-mark accomplished in the actor’s marketing whoredom.

 

2. Email Addresses that are Tinder or Grndr Bound

How serious of casting or representation consideration of an actor is an entertainment gatekeeper to pursue when an inquiring actor has an email address beginning with ‘SexyStarr@,’ ‘MyOscarAwaits@,’ or similar correspondence handles? About as seriously as an actor shouldn’t consider a director, agent, or casting director if any of those acting job enablers has an email address that is MakeYouFamous@hotmail.com.

An actor’s email address is a reflection of their professionalism. An actor’s work email address is to begin with a derivation of the actor’s name, followed by the email carrier that the actor utilizes.

 

3. Dear Mr./Mrs. as Greetings

I’ll never be a Mrs. or a Mr. (my testicles don’t respond to either greeting).

As unprofessional and crass is my prior commentary so too are generic openers. If an actor wishes to be treated as an individual, then the actor must give the same desired respect to all entertainment professionals encountered.

We are given names—identities. We are not pronouns but nouns. An actor sending an email blast to 10 or 10,000 individuals may either copy-n-paste the body of the email into each individual message, and then manually type in the recipient’s name. Or, the actor could save time and hours of tedium by learning what is a database and how a ‘field’ inserts an individual’s name or other content into a mass email blast.

Yours Sincerely,
Mr./Mrs./Ms./It

 

4. Begin with Positive not Negative

From a recent actor’s email:

 

“As a casting director you may literally go through thousand [SIC] of cover letters and resume [SIC] every day,”

 

First impression upon reading the actor’s opener is, “This isn’t going to go well for the actor.” And I’m correct. The remainder of the opening sentence in the email continues:

“…and most of the time you wind most of these letters in the trash can.”

 

The email is on a laptop screen, not on paper in my hand.

Plus, there seems to be a verb or two missing in the statement. Or maybe the writer envisions that like a clock’s cogs I wind trashed paper counterclockwise in my trashcan. Or possibly I pass wind on letters in my trashcan.

What an actor writes—and how—presents a perceived value by the reader on the actor’s acting skills. The actor mistakenly continues…

“I would like to tell you unlike most of the stars, I have taken this career seriously. I have converted this profession into my work ethic.”

Next.

 

5. Incorrect Capitalization

From an actor’s email to casting:

“Being a Film Actor who has been an Actor for many years I know your office to be the best Casting Office with many Casting Directors who work on Stage and Screen Projects. My Acting Training is extensive at many Performing Arts Schools…”

If you cannot detect the 15 capitalization errors in the prior sentences, get thee to an unpretentious ghostwriter to write your correspondence.

 

6. Attaching (multiple) Headshots, Resume(s), or Reel(s)

An actor’s resume is to be placed within the body of an email (See here).

Attachments slow the incoming email program of your target, which in turn doesn’t endear the actor to the entertainment professional.

Attachments also signal to email providers that an incoming email with a single or multiple attachments is potentially SPAM.

Attachments are also suspect. A large percentage of people using email will not open attachments from an unknown sender.

Include, along with your formatted resume in the email body, a thumbnail of one headshot. Also include a link to your website.

 

7. Using Vocabulary that Doesn’t Match Your Speaking Voice

8. Using lots of Vocabulary to Say Nothing of Substance

9. Not Having a Proof Reader

10. Telling the Reader You’re Serious About being an Actor

In the following excerpt of an actor’s email all blunders, 7-10, happen simultaneously:

“I would appreciate if you see my resume wherein I have mentioned my experience and knowledge. If your watched my reel you can see how seriously I have taken this profession.”

For a guide on how to write effective actor marketing emails, and cover letters get the best-selling acting book that the casting director for HAMILTON calls, “the actor’s roadmap!” Read ACTING: Make It Your Business.

And… take control of your career in the acting master class that I teach at dozens of universities across the U.S. A 4-week intensive covering actor marketing, audition technique improvement, finding your brand/voice, and how to take control of an audition, and gain more work. 3 industry executives join me in guiding your work. Details @ http://paulrussell.net/AMIYB_MasterClass.html

My best,
Paul

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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.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

Love Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”
BERNARD TELSEY, casting director, CSA
(Hamilton, The Intern, NBC’s The Wiz – LIVE!, Into The Woods – The Movie, Wicked)
All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderUnforgettable)
“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates
“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress
“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”
KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.
“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING:AMIYB_Amazon Make It Your Bu

Black-market Breakdown Theft Catches Actors

Sellers and conduits of black-market breakdowns and their customers—actors—infringing on Breakdown Services’ subscription copy write are being found, prosecuted, and fined. An actor need not participate with dollars in the subversive selling/buying of breakdowns to be caught in an attorney’s cross-hairs.

black market breakdowns

black market breakdowns

Paul Russell_Headshot

Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

black market breakdowns

Sellers and conduits of black-market breakdowns and their customers—actors—infringing on Breakdown Services’ subscription copy write are being found, prosecuted, and fined. The dark shadows of online black-market breakdowns for casting of major studio films, network television, Broadway and prominent regional theater digitally dots a trail to the sellers who profit on the desperation of actors. A digital marker is also placed on the hopeful actors illicitly paying for casting breakdowns that only franchised talent agents and Breakdown Services vetted managers receive.

The trail begins simply. Actors receive an email from a supposed seller or conduit:

“Hello bd friends,

“Big apologies if you’re receiving this message more than once! It’s AVP Wilson (also known as Music Staff or XBD Henry), back once more with some very good news about the bd’s. The supplier I told you about a while ago has now cut their charge in half…

“So, as before, if you’re interested, just send an e-mail to “********** [at] ******* [dot] com” and ask about the “recipes,” and please tell them AVP sent you. They are very security-conscious, so please do not use words like “bd,” or what that stands for, or “casting” or “actor” or anything like that. Just use the word “recipes” and they’ll know what you’re looking for.

“Feel free to pass this on to friends, but please, only people you know are trustworthy and serious about their acting careers! If you do pass this on to anyone, I’d prefer that you not forward this message, but put the essential info (e-mail, recipes, avp etc) in your own separate message.

“Thanks, have a wonderful spring, and break a leg! AVP”

Sent from several email addresses the connector, which in this case may also be the seller, sent a blast email previously this year to actors announcing:

“… as some of you may recall, someone “outed” me in early 2014 and I got into big trouble. So I’m staying out of the game. However, since a number of you have asked where you might find another “source,” there is one I can recommend…”

How was AVP and the management company caught leading to legal action taken against them? These emails are also sent to Breakdown Services, which then forwards them onto the IT department, and then legal counsel.

Email isn’t anonymous. Email leaves a digital trail between sender and recipient. The latter tracing should strike grave concern to the hopes of actors who buy black-market breakdowns. If an actor is traipsing in black-market breakdowns more than likely that actor’s identity is known to investigation, as is known the identity of sellers and intermediaries. To be identified an actor need not participate with dollars in the subversive selling/buying of breakdowns. Receiving the emails alone from black-market breakdown parasites leaves a digital trail crawling to the actor’s inbox and identity.

Big brother Breakdown Services is watching. Or, is big brother’s ‘watching’ an in-house drawing in of actors with the prior email pitch for actors to buy black-market breakdowns? The actor won’t know. But when an attorney for Breakdowns Services reaches out to the actor, the actor will know they’ve been caught. In this business of ‘show’ will the actor then be smiling when they are low?

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.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

Love Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!

 

Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”
BERNARD TELSEY, casting director, CSA
(Hamilton, The Intern, NBC’s The Wiz – LIVE!, Into The Woods – The Movie, Wicked)

 

All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderUnforgettable)

 

“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates

 

“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress

 

“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”
KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.
“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

 

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING:AMIYB_Amazon Make It Your Business!

Pay-to-play Auditions / Workshops: Who’s to Blame?

In the early 1990s an actress spotted an opportunity to exploit the industry guest portion of workshops without the educational value, and wham!: the first ‘pay-to-play’ studio was formed. [Read more…]

Couch_Money

Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

pay to play workshops / auditions

 

[Author’s Note: Pay-to-play workshops. With the recent report of casting director, Scott David, for ‘Criminal Minds’ being fired by CBS because of a conflict of interest with providing workshops to actors; an update from a prior Answers for Actors post on how the entertainment industry became entrenched in this scenario.]

An acting studio advertises: “Get seen by Agents and Casting!” In reaction do you as an actor picket as a dissenter? Or participate as a presenter? Are you an artist above self-advocacy? Or an actor trudging the self-promotion trenches? Whatever your action or inaction the bedrock has been set.

The sediment first formed as showcases at acting studios. Actors learned acting skills under the advisement of iconic acting teachers. At the end of the class semester, be it six months or a week, an agent or casting director was invited to view the progress of the actors.

In the early 1990s an actress spotted an opportunity to exploit the industry guest portion of workshops without the educational value, and wham!: the first ‘pay-to-play’ studio was formed.

A valuable asset of the class—an outside industry-insider’s eyes—was quickly bastardized by mom-n-pop one-night forums as the success of the first pay-to-play studio succeeded tremendously. Hosts set up shop in cheap real estate. They wrangle agents and casting directors to watch actors—no class for improvement—actors are herded as cattle, and shoved through a door to read before industry for either the modest price of a movie date night or an extortion of a month’s wages.

The pay-to-play ‘paid audition’ created discourse among actors, and worse blemished what respected acting studios had been for decades offering as a fringe-benefit: industry eyes. The  acting studios witnessed precipitous declines in enrollment. What to do? Include alongside of the traditional classes a one-nighter pay-to-be-seen by industry.

The paid audition scenario for actors to be seen and heard by industry flourished quickly like fro-yo stands. The market demanded more opportunities. The market being actors vying for visibility alternatives, and frustrated by a lack of career momentum.

In 2009, after having been offered to teach at NYU-Tisch, I thought I’d share with non-student actors my decades of knowledge culled as an actor, director, and casting director. I always wished to teach, why not offer publicly what I myself learned? I offered modern marketing make-overs, plus branding combined with audition technique study as a four-week class. Just actors and I working on how to improve actors getting more work for before, during, and after the audition.

Slight problem arose before my rose-spectacle intentions. I couldn’t sell the damned class at a price point of $94. Despite my being invited to university theater programs to teach the master class version of this offering plus my career history and authoring a popular book on acting I couldn’t sway actors towards my offer of assistance. I panicked. I lowered the registration fee cost further. The response? Frozen tundra.

After much hand wringing I added an agent panel. Sudden thaw! Actors rushed me. Wait lists formed and grew. I was ashamed, and somewhat disheartened. But I want to share what I’ve witnessed working well by successful actors. My shame vanished upon witnessing attending actors succeeding.

(Shame though on the agent at Gersh who informed she had a ‘quote.’ A fee much higher than what is standard. She’s not attending these seminars for the actors. She’s there for the money. I retracted my invite.)

I’m not naïve as to what some of my students seek in the seminar. I can’t fault their ambition for an opportunity to snag an agent’s attention because that’s partly what I’m teaching actors to do: how to effectively agent themselves to agents and casting. I repeatedly stress to the attending actors not to focus on the agent panel but to leverage knowledge gained during our time together. I ask at the beginning of each Access to Agents, “What other than the obvious do you hope to gain from this class?” I seek truthful responses. One once was overtly honest, “I want limousines,” he said.

Too often a percentage of actors complain about agents and casting directors receiving a professional stipend to attend non-instructive seminars. This mostly stems from a, “I didn’t get what I paid for” knee-jerk response. Meaning the self-denial actresses and actors, who willingly registered for what was basically a wham-bam-thank-you ma’am audition, expected their thirty-five to forty bucks pooled to a paid auditor would sway subjectivity. Now who’s sporting rose-colored Oakleys?

Each actor must assess realistically what their participation in a seminar attended by entertainment industry will do for their career. Is the offering educational with a focus on improving the actor’s career long-term? Or is the opportunity an education-free evening where the actor hops onto a conveyor belt of actors with a short-term gamble they’ll be picked, processed and packaged prettily?

There is no ‘blame’ to be assigned here. How can we fault our peers their desire to improve their position when our self-identified definition of success may mirror theirs? I could offer my master classes sans industry. I tried once, twice, and even thrice. Crickets. Actors desired agents and casting directors. Before pointing fingers at casting directors and agents for being paid for their professional time, ask yourself: “Who’s paying?”

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.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

Love Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”
BERNARD TELSEY, casting director, CSA
(Hamilton, The Intern, NBC’s The Wiz – LIVE!, Into The Woods – The Movie, Wicked)

 

All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderUnforgettable)

 

“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates

 

“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress

 

“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”
KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.

 

“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
Chapman University

 

Get smarter on the business of acting from legendary Hollywood & Broadway actors and talent agents in a casting director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING:AMIYB_Amazon Make It Your Business!

How Political Correctness Subverts Casting

HAMILTON wasn’t shot–the Broadway musical has been stabbed.

Hamilton

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HAMILTON wasn’t shot–the Broadway musical has been stabbed.

Political correctness is a polished saber slashing at honesty. Leaving behind truth bloodied on the ground. The overly zealous, speech-sanitizing kills slaughtering directness in the civilian world has too cozily crept into audition studios, rehearsal halls, and film locations where political correctness now claws at creative expression. The mega-hit HAMILTON is political correctness’ most recent felled victim.

HAMILTON is under fire from a black, civil rights attorney. He is offended by a casting notice put forth from the popular musical that dares to look beyond traditionally casting white actors to portray historical Caucasian characters. Before proceeding I suppose I must apologize for highlighting the gentleman’s skin pigmentation. But in context with HAMILTON’s alleged offense my honesty must breathe for I do not know if the offended lawyer is African-American, Haitian, of European, Caribbean, Brazilian, Canadian, or of Icelandic heritage. Perhaps he has some Asian or Native American ancestry? I cannot assume that a black man or woman in the U.S. is African-American, just as an African-American cannot be certain what my white skin tone represents of my heritage. (Dutch-French-Eastern European-Some Ancestral Background Unknown-American if it so matters to you.)

So what was so outrageous within HAMILTON’s open call casting notice? The notice included the phrase, ‘Non-white’ to winnow attendees. What the outraged civil rights attorney doesn’t understand is that actors will respond to almost every casting notice. When I cast the original New York production of COBB (Lee Blessing’s play about the racist ball player Ty Cobb) white actors submitted themselves to my office to be seen for the role of Oscar Charleston: a highly competitive baseball player of the Negro League who was saddled in life by white men as being ‘The Black Cobb.’  The casting notice included the historical slight but many white actors thought they could play disenfranchised ‘black.’ My casting colleagues experience similar with actors demanding to be seen for roles in which a director, playwright, or history does not desire the actor’s type (gender, skin-tone, height, or weight). So if the appalled attorney is to insist that casting notices not be specific in what creative teams are seeking of actors to portray characters—what does he suggest I and my colleagues write as descriptors for casting actors in FENCES, or THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES?

Casting directors are often riddled by worry for what vocabulary choices are to be implemented when issuing a casting notice for non-Caucasian actors. I’ve anxiously stared at my computer’s blank screen when about to write a breakdown seeking actors of any skin tone; especially when seeking a black actor and the phrase ‘African-American’ doesn’t apply to the character(s). ‘Black’ and ‘African-American’ are not the only vocabulary pitfalls stalling the writing of a casting notice. There are landmines with ‘Asian,’ ‘Latino,’ ‘Hispanic,’ plus other ancestral generalities, or gender, weight, height, or overall appearance. And now, ‘non-white’ to describe what is being sought for a character is maligned. Is ‘Caucasian’ the next offender?

The quandary for what is socially acceptable remains when encountering a script in which physical attributes of the actor are pertinent to the character(s). I’ve shied away from stating ‘heavy-set’ in some casting notices to instead stating the vagary of ‘a person of weight’ (which will offend some actors).

I mentally wrestled with honesty in describing a person’s religiousness when the director for the ill-fated musical OY! insisted I bring in only, “Jewish actors.” The casting dilemma stemmed from a then popular NY theater critic who previously bashed the director’s prior play for having ‘non-Jews’ portray ‘Jewish characters.’ What of actors of Jewish faith portraying Christians? Or will that offend a Christian, theater critic?

I repeatedly witness an Asian actor cry foul on Facebook when racial lines are blurred as a casting necessity due in part because there were no viable actors of the heritage to portray the role of heritage required. Yet the actor had no problem being cast as a Native American character in one of my past projects when we couldn’t find an age-appropriate, Native American actor in New York available to work several months at a remote regional theater.

How, in an industry in which we are to reflect the human experience, can we be honest in describing the physical attributes without offending? Writing a character breakdown sometimes involves over examination of watchwords which unfortunately results in a casting notice leading many inappropriate actors falsely believing they can play a part that is not remotely within their type. Sit in a casting chair. How would you write the physical attributes of my skin tone that stems from my Dutch-French-Eastern European-Some Ancestral Background Unknown-American pigmentation? Don’t use ‘white.’ Don’t detail me ‘Caucasian.’

The answer to how we describe each other is that we allow ourselves honesty in our words while being respectful. We know the dog whistle watchwords, and the blatantly offensive language. We reject their use when implemented outside of historical context. But when do inoffensive words of ‘non-white,’ ‘white,’ and ‘black’ become as offensive as the name of a football team? What then becomes the acceptable vocabulary?

— Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over 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, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information visit www.PaulRussell.net.

Audition Successes & Failures: Actor Tell-All from The Casting Table

Greetings fellow artists. I recently had a great opportunity as an active auditioning NYC actor: to sit on the other side of the table. It was a three-day masterclass, and it changed the way I now audition.

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Welcome Guest Blogger, actress Holly Williams who recently jumped to behind the casting table. Oh–what she witnessed. Holly shares insight on how actors can soar with success. Or flame out in failure. Holly is an AEA actress, having recently returned from 5 continuous years of work at the TONY-recognized Barter Theatre.

Holly WilliamsHolly Williams
holly-williams.com

Guest Blogger

Greetings my fellow artists. Currently, I am writing this blog on my phone waiting to sign up for an EPA appointment. I recognize a lot of you. I see you almost every morning at the crack of dawn at AEA, Telsey, Pearl, Nola and/or Ripley. We stand in line together. Crowd around the mirrors and put on our makeup. Or stretch, and make small talk. Or do our best to silently hum vocal warm ups while we wait to snag a slot. 

 

A few weeks ago, I switched places. I had a great opportunity as an active, auditioning NYC actor: to sit on the other side of the casting table. This time I didn’t see you in your cute pajamas, lugging over-sized bags and winter coats. This time I was seeing bright-eyed and bushy tailed actors accomplish a savvy quick change into your audition-ready selves. I observed the notes casting director, and director, Paul Russell would write on your resumes to remember you by, the impression you gave when you walked into the room and when you left. In between auditions, he whispered what was working, what was not and why. I learned about the complications of solving the casting puzzle by listening to the creative team’s comments. It was a three-day masterclass, and it changed the way I now audition.

 

Look like your headshot:  

Like you, I have heard this a hundred times from various well-respected sources. One of those, “Duh- everyone knows that” truths, right? But more often than not, I wouldn’t recognize the person walking into the room based on your photo. Your headshot is the first thing I see. If your picture has a hair color/cut that changes your appearance, looks like you five or ten years ago (be honest with yourself about that) or is a super glamorous shot with makeup and hair fit for the cover of a magazine but not for the you walking into the room right now: I will not remember who you are at the end of the day. When all I have to look at and remember you by is your photo, let it look like you. So much of casting is outside your control. Looking like you headshot is not one of them..

 

Make your resumes easy to read:

I spent more time trying to hunt for information on your resume than I did watching your audition. Go to Paul Russell’s ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS book, turn to page 86 and follow the industry standard. I probably missed a marvelous part of your audition because I was searching for something that I should be able to find at a glance.

[As an aside: I thought my resume was FINE. I showed it to Paul on our break and he made all kinds of edits to it- and this is AFTER taking his class! So, for those of you like me who think, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me.”….maybe get a second opinion just to be safe. Again, this IS within your control.]

 

Keep your audition material up to date!:

Our artistic producer LOVED asking people for something contrasting. And then he would ask for another piece–and another! I know this is rare. Most of us are used to only having time for one monologue or one 16-32 bar cut, and then leaving. But what surprised me the most was watching you have a panic attack at these requests. Some of you did not have another contrasting piece, or you flipped through your book frantically trying to find something and couldn’t decide, or you walked around in circles trying to remember another monologue you haven’t done in years. And even though I was on the other side of the table, rooting for you to remember your other material because I wanted to see more of your magic, I got nervous for you. Really nervous. So make it a goal to keep your audition material polished and ready to go when unexpectedly requested. This is in your control (see the pattern here?).

 

Be yourself. Have fun:

Okay- this is the thing that clicked the most for me. Now, I’ve taken Paul Russell’s masterclass twice and have taken advantage of his private coaching sessions. With all the notes I’ve taken on the business, marketing and audition strategy…two phrases I wrote down the most: ‘Be yourself’ and ‘Have fun.’

 

Easy, right? “How can I be anything other than myself? I get the chance to act and sing today. That’s always fun! Easy.”  After about the 30th audition witnessed, the phrases ‘Be yourself’ and ‘Have fun’ I had written down over and over again in my notes took on a new meaning. 

 

I realized I wasn’t being myself or having that much fun. Why? Because I would walk into an audition as my guarded self: Don’t speak unless spoken to. Put your professional game face on. Live in the moment once your audition begins. Politely thank them for their time and leave. If they are interested in more they will ask.

 

Do these also sound like your thoughts? They may–because I saw about 350 of you do the same thing. And you know what the result was? I had no idea who you were at the end of the day. 

 

‘Being yourself,’ and ‘having fun’ means allowing your authentic personality, all your wonderful quirks; your natural disposition; your likable and unique individuality to come into the room with you come through in the pieces you’re doing and also through the clothes you choose to wear. This is another way we get a glimpse of who you are in the limited amount of time we have with you in the room.

 

Those of you who found opportunities to let your authenticity come through made me remember you at the end of the day because I got a glimpse of your specific personality and I wanted to know you more and work with you one day. Even if you did not fit our casting puzzle: I remembered you.

 

Paul tried to engage your authenticity when you walked into the room: He greeted you, he would ask questions about you, and compliment your work or attire. But like me, you gave a very short guarded answer, and then ended with “Thank you” and you left the room. It was a missed an opportunity to know you more!  I learned that asking you questions behind the table is to get an idea of who you are and imagine if we might like working with you. Don’t recite your resume to me- it’s right in front of me. Tell me something. A quick story about a unique experience you’ve had or enjoyed, and then let that personality fly!

 

And here’s the best part about being yourself: it’s so freeing. The nuances of your artistic gifts come through more which is a lot of fun!  Your energy changed mine. Watching you enjoy your audition resulted in my own enjoyment and I had fun with you. 

 

So drop that guard, find (appropriate) opportunities to have a quick conversation or a moment to potentially create relationships with someone on the other side of the table by being your authentic self. Because one day, for some project, your gifts, craft, particular attributes, and individualism will be the solution to a casting dilemma. And you will have the advantage of being someone that casting will remember who then say, “Oh, I like this person a lot. I’ve been wanting to work with them.”

 

So be yourself! Have fun!

_____

AMIYB_AmazonBernard Telsey, casting director for HAMILTON, The Intern, and The Wiz – Live! hails of Paul Russell’s book for actors, ACTING: Make It Your Business:

“Actors everywhere trying to succeed…

THIS IS YOUR ROADMAP!”

 Check out ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Share this:

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over 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, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information visit www.PaulRussell.net.