Sunday, October 3, 2010

Actor's Convention

"Mr. R----- has been in the business for years." The assistant next to the table told me. He was in his forties, dressed like he was trying to be in his twenties. The man next to him, clearly the higher-status gentleman of the stage and screen, in his sixties or so, stood in his fitted jacket and fixed silver hair, his attention on something else.

"His classes are the best," the assistant continued "but they're limited. We only have a few slots and we send them out by invitation only. I sent my daughter to him for-"

The assistant was cut off by Mr. R----- himself looking up from the last people he'd been talking to (without much enthusiasm) and lighting on me. I introduced myself. He asked me about myself. I stayed professional as I could. Relaxed, honest. Mr. R----- perked up visibly.

"Do you have a resume and headshot with you?"

I hesitated.

"Yes, I'm looking around for a more professional headshot, though."

"Well, well let's see it."

I handed it over.

"That's not bad, this is a good picture." They nodded seriously at the headshot, flipping it over to see my resume." Mr R----- leaned over and gestured me his way, pointing to his flyer.

"You have a good resume here. I'm very interested in you. I have this class that I'm offering, by invitation. It fills up fairly quickly..." And he went on to explain that, like many other such "classes" in his town, three casting directors would be there. And they would be looking for new talent. He had one class in November and one in December. He wanted to know if I was interested. He jotted down a quick note about December on my resume, and made sure I got the class description and his card. He nodded confidently.

"I've got a good feeling about you."

I thanked him, and walked past the table, squeezing through the crowd. Mr. R----- watched me and waved as I left, then he turned back to some of his notes, while his assistant handled the other actors that were lining up in front of their table.

Sometimes, I think my life would be happier or more interesting if I were just a little more gullible.

I pulled out another copy of my headshot and resume. The resume, aside from one small theater in Seattle, and a web exclusive show with NBC was almost all student plays. It's a beginning actor's resume. The headshot is a black and white job I got for free with a family friend. Until this Mr. R-----, every single person in New York who had seen it told me that I needed to get a color headshot instead.

One of the funny things about people is that we all know we're special. You especially. No I don't mean just anyone, I know who is reading this right now, and you're special. Seriously. Don't think I'd just write this to anybody. I know exactly who reads this, and I have good feeling about you. You're different.

...aren't you? Well, I'd like to think I am. and anyone who tells me that sure makes me want to trust them. And pay them hundreds of dollars to take a class from them.


I made my way around the end of the row, squeezing between the other headshot-toting actors on the floor of Backstage's Actorfest 2010 convention. The table I had just left was one among four rows of tables of acting coaches, studios, unions, websites, photographers, and agencies represented that day, all vying for actors' business. I took a u-turn and headed for a name I recognized: Actors Connection.

Actors Connection is one of a handful of recognized groups that specializes in the "classes" I'd just described. They technically do teach you things, but most people signing up for them don't sign up just to be taught. You see, in the United States of America, it is illegal to charge money for a job interview of any kind. This includes auditions. So, some people figured out that if you call something a "class" instead of an "interview" or "audition," you can get away with charging. So they get some interested casting directors and agents into a room, and charge actors a small fee to take a "class" with them that just happens to end in an audition in front of them. Some actors are above taking such "classes." Other actors happen to like getting cast.

I walked up to the table and started talking to one of the women there. She was short, several months pregnant, and didn't waste anybody's time.

"Let's see your headshot and resume."

I pulled mine out.

"Okay, first of all, you need a color headshot. You can't come take our classes with this." She flipped the black-and-white print over, "Don't put your address on your resume. It's dangerous. Can I write on this?" I agreed, and she quickly made three changes, calling what I had written "cute" but not what should be there. Then she went on to describe her class catalog.

While another actor asked her a bit more about details, I got the attention of a tall, male colleague of hers. I asked about Mr. R-----. He had never heard of him. I started describing what he had told me. He quickly adopted a forced, blank expression, and I could almost hear the inner mantra in his head of 'thou shalt not speak ill of anyone else presenting at Actorfest,'

But when I repeated the words 'I have a good feeling about you,' he winced and murmured "I'd turn and run as fast as I could." He backtracked a bit, looking over Mr. R-----'s flyer, but still concluded. "I've never heard of this guy. I don't mean he isn't for real but.... buyer beware. That's all I'm saying."

"That's what I needed to hear." I said, "Thanks."

I dropped my resume off in a few casting directors' drop boxes, and went back to mingling and picking up business cards and brochures.

Then, because this is New York, I ended up several hours later and ten blocks north, watching a crowd of 4,000 strangers calmly wrap each other in toilet paper and start dancing to music that only they could hear.

And then I was at an afterparty swapping zodiac and graffiti stories with a Brazilian dancer and a New York independent filmmaker. And then I was on the upper west side at a party in the nicest apartment I've yet seen in the city, hosted by a friend I had run into for the first time in almost three years hours previously. Followed the next morning by meeting the man responsible for my being an actor at all for brunch.

The problem with blogging in this town is that you get enough material to fill a book before you've spent two consecutive nights in your own bed.

1 comment:

  1. There are "modeling agencies" where one pays for classes toward the same purpose. I would bet in this economy that more "professions" especially in the arts have this as common practice. Would be interested in other readers experience with this.