It goes without saying that every day I’m hustlin’ (Not right now at the moment, I’m currently laid up in a recliner since I just had surgery and I’m enjoying a nice wave of painkillers, but you know what I mean.) Being an actor who people “know” around town but you’re not a “Name” actor is probably the biggest pain in the butt because you still have to constantly pound the pavement, bang on a door, go to that mixer that ugh you really don’t wanna go to because you JUST discovered the magical treasure trove that is the Musicals section of Netflix, and of course….
Casting Director Workshops.
Ohhhhhhh man, have I been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and the souvenir mug MANY a time, and yet I’m still not 100% sure how useful they are, but they CAN work to your advantage. I started going to casting director workshops when I was about 15 or so. I worked with several coaches who, thankfully, believed in me and wanted me to meet as many people as I could, and I met some great casting directors who ultimately did bring me in for things (and some still do!) but even then, most of the casting directors who championed me as a kid I met in auditions because my representation pitched me to them.
Fast forward through college and post-grad. Sure I did some work here and there, like recur on Desperate Housewives and guest star on Greek, but I also was really focused on school, and my social life (you’re only in college once, although the facebook pictures live forever….miss you VoCaliente ’10 you were great ANYWAY) and I went through some major changes.
First, I was no longer blonde. I was burgundy, and then went to a black-brown color that would’ve made Elvira proud, and finally I settled into my hue spectrum of caramel-chocolate brown. And of course, even though I don’t talk about it, I was also x pounds lighter so basically, my fat teen girl niche was dunzo, but I looked like I was in High School (and still do). I had completely changed my aesthetic, which meant reintroduction to the business and to the people behind it. For many, this would probably be career suicide, especially when your former agency drops you in the middle of pilot season (I’ll spare the name but let me tell you, THAT was a fun time) and you switch management because you’re aging out of roster. However, I lucked out in having the best former and current managers I could ask for, and during the switch, my current manager (who used to be my television agent as a kid and is like my older sister I never had) began the spin machine and I did a few casting director workshops to help. Not two months after I rejoined my current manager and I started picking and choosing casting director workshops to ‘reintroduce’ myself, I booked a staged reading, but it wasn’t because of a class-it was because of a casting director who saw me in “Pizza,” and years later I auditioned for her for a random indie film and she tracked me down. No casting director workshop, no pitch, just a plain and simple “I love your work, would you like to do this?” And the ball started rolling from there.
Now, this is not to say casting director workshops are worthless, because in a few cases they have worked to my advantage (either in name recognition to bring me in later or remember when I came in numerous times as a kid or that I actually booked something from them or even the workshop itself) and you do learn a lot from them, but you have to be absolutely smart about them and do your research. One person’s workshop is different than the other, and some of the places are absolute scams and completely worthless. Although I am not the biggest fan of workshops, they are a necessary situation sometimes.
If I know of an associate or casting director who is doing a workshop or a seminar, and they have cast me in a project or I have been in their office several times, I’ll go and do my bit and chat with them. If it’s a new casting director, I look at what they cast and if they are a right fit for the kind of work I go in for, I also will heavily consider taking their workshop. A good rule of thumb for me is that I never “stack” workshops or do them more than a couple in a few months because frankly, they can suck the life out of you and you get pegged in a hole. If you think about it, casting director workshops are like the first few weeks in a new relationship: you think they’re great and helpful and you want to be near and dear and OMGZ so many new shiny things but if you’re too clingy and too chipper, you’re out. There are casting directors who do workshops that will see people constantly and know that they are “workshop co-stars” that they bring in and book a line or two and never go up the ladder, which while money is great, progression and advancement are always better, so don’t get trapped in that hole.
So basically, learn from my trial and error:
1. Research-when you know your type/what shows and networks you would be on, look at the casting directors and cross-reference them with workshops you’re interested in.
2. Investigate casting workshop ‘companies.’ Some are totally legit and membership based or invite-only, where you get a more hands-on approach (I am part of one that is HEAVILY filtered out to only be the best people with the best workshops. I actually booked a gig based on a reader that was at one of these, recently!) and some are a free-for-all where people who are starting out who don’t know how to audition/just got off the interstate show up and get sucked into a money trap. Some require membership fees on TOP of paying for workshops, which rubs me the wrong way personally, but at the end of the day, everyone is trying to make a buck.
3. Do a follow up. If you take a class with a casting director or associate, be sure to ask what their preferred method of correspondence is (snail mail? Email? Carrier Pigeon?) and within the week, send a thank you note. People like when they are appreciated for doing a workshop in the middle of their busy schedule, especially if they liked you and your work. Even a thank you email is a great token. DO NOT badger them though. They don’t have time and they’ll remember you as being that weird rando who kept sending cards and messages, which ick factor HIGH.
4. DO NOT EXPECT ANYTHING. If anything, this should be a workout for your skills to show to a casting director. Go in, have fun, send a thank you shortly after, and forget about it. If you have a project or a show you want someone to see, approach how they want you to update them, but let it go after, like an audition.
Casting director workshops can be ridiculous, but they can also open a door you may not have had in your saga of networking to climb up the entertainment ladder.
EDITORS NOTE: There has been alot of debate over casting director workshops in recent years. Another of one our “Ms. In the Biz” writers Jen Levin has some great info on why she doesn’t do paid workshops HERE. Do you do workshops? Do you find them useful, or do you think that Casting Directors shouldn’t be charging to meet with them? What are your thoughts? Let’s create a dialogue in the comments below!