Casting Director Workshops: Are they a valuable place to study acting? Or just to meet casting directors?

Actors need to study to expand their instrument and the boundaries of their craft. That’s a given. Then, the question becomes where are the good, reliable sources for that training? A lot of casting directors like myself also teach! But is taking a casting director’s class a good idea?? Well, like any group, we’re all different and don’t deserve to be lumped into the same category by virtue of our profession. Many casting directors are REALLY good teachers and they make sure to separate the service and mentorship element of teaching from the part of their jobs exercising the scrutiny and objectivity required for their casting projects. But this situation is much more complicated than it appears at face value. Why? Because there are a ton of scams abounding where there have never been more people trying to take money from actors for all sorts of reasons and fewer and fewer of them provide any real value to the actors in exchange for that money. At least not as it involves actually “teaching” any acting. And frequently, casting directors are now some of the worst of these offenders because many take advantage of their dual roles as “gatekeepers” of who gets the work and who doesn’t…..and their role as a “teacher” by charging actors essentially to just meet them! It’s a requirement for actors to meet casting directors in the pursuit of their business as actors as much as it is to have a headshot. Too many CD’s take advantage of that requirement by not making themselves available to meet actors in free general interviews and by attending showcases the way they used to. They claim to have “no time” for these tried and true practices that were the standard pre-requisite for CD’s in the old days. And here’s the dirty little secret!! When CD’s go to interview for the productions they hope to be hired to cast, we’re required to list how we gain access to the talent that our competitors may not know about or have access to as an advantage to being hired! And CD’s all know this so they’re not doing actors any favors by meeting them and knowing their abilities. But now, far too many CD’s restrict access to their casting sessions and make themselves available ONLY to those actors who take their classes. You can read more about it Here and every actor should be aware of this situation. But this blog posting is about determining the value of a class taught by a casting director who teaches …………………….and that of a teacher who sometimes casts!!

So let’s look at situations in which people who cast also teach and vice versa. Do casting directors engage in legitimate teaching situations??? Absolutely!! Many of us roll up our sleeves, provide detailed syllabi and work our butts off, truly committed to advancing the students we face and who trust us to provide genuine value for them. But if you’re a “gatekeeper” it’s incumbent on you to make yourself available to legitimate actors for free beyond the limited scope of a class. And doubly so for those who are currently constricted to the money-funnels of the “workshop”/classes/consultancy scams! And if gatekeepers teach, we should be ABSOLUTELY held to the same standard of scrutiny to which someone who ONLY teaches and doesn’t cast, is also held. This should be even MORE required of casting people who end up spending WAY more time teaching than casting. People who in reality, should be really billing themselves as teachers who occasionally cast instead of casting directors who occasionally teach! Why? Because ANYTIME someone teaches who also casts, the separation of “church and state” about what’s really of value needs to be clearly imparted and separated from access to potential auditions. And this is especially true when when one spends less time casting and is supported primarily by their teaching fees…Many of these teacher/casting people post simplistic, un-supported opinions on social media and on-line forums that bereft of logical reasons, can mislead actors who give them more credibility than they frequently deserve. And when they’re called out for their lack of responsible, accompanying logic, they typically either ignore requests for it or attack you for asking for it! One such “Teacher-Casting Director” who’s regularly given me unsolicited career advice over the years, calls me out on my social media posts with a regularly-voiced differences of opinion. I certainly don’t mind a healthy exchange toward the debate that can frequently reveal a new and better way of doing things. But when I lay out my logic and reasons for my conflicting advice and ask for some kind of logic in support of hers, she dodges the issue and switches the subject to castigating me for the length and thoroughness of my writing, then ignores my request to offer anything whatsoever of value as rebuttal in support of her own opinion! As if everyone should just take her word for it! And it’s easy for such people to fill classes by tacit extortion from agents by restricting the granting of audition times to those only willing to take that Teacher/Casting Director’s classes. When they occasionally get a casting gig and an agent submits a talent to a teacher/casting director, some bait the hook by saying things like “Hmmm? I don’t know them. Have they taken my class yet?”  The meaning and inference is clear and before long, agents are talking their talent into taking these classes to make their jobs politically easier!

On the workshop that I sometimes teach called the “Empowered Actor Workshop,” I supply a syllabus and an enrollment form disclaimer that states the following where it can’t be missed in Bold Italic type in another color: “Disclaimer: This seminar is for actors who are serious about breaking through barriers and improving their audition technique. If you are considering this workshop because you would like to better acquaint me with your work, I would instead encourage you to contact me for a general interview which I do free of charge as my schedule permits.” No confusion there as to what’s going on and every student I take on has to go through a “pre-interview” where they’re asked the reason they’re wanting to enroll. If I’m not likely to address the area in which they want to improve, I don’t admit them as it would waste everyone’s time to have them there. And each student who makes it into the class explains their reasons to their fellow students all of whom are asked to support those individual endeavors for each other. And they each commit to maximum risk, involvement and support of each other as I limit the class to only 10 to maximize the individual focus on those endeavors. And that “risk” factor goes double for me! If I can’t stand there in my own underwear “figuratively” and risk falling on my own face, I can’t ask the students to do it. The class is two full, back-to-back days and each actor comes away with over an hour’s worth of their work on video working in front of the class.  And if the workshop doesn’t have specific value to the students, then the word of mouth is what makes future editions of it, potentially a victim of the afore-mentioned, natural selection! Just as it SHOULD be and just as it would be for a class run by someone who WASN’T a casting director. I do the class about 3 weekends a year so it’s definitely NOT my main line of work.

Lastly and most importantly, the first two things on which I engage my students when they come into the class are these:
1. “There are no absolutes except this one: There are no absolutes except that there are no absolutes!!! EVERYTHING is open to question!”
2. So Scrutinize EVERYTHING I tell you for veracity and hold EVERY teacher you hire to the same standard!”

If something doesn’t make sense to you after hearing that teacher’s reasons for it, then throw it out! There are many of us who disagree on things like the value of memorization for auditions, monologue use in on-camera auditions and union vs. non-union status, etc. So with so many opinions being expressed, who’s right?? Decide for yourself based on the logic of their explanation. If they don’t have one, then they shouldn’t be teaching. There was no giant meeting or memo sent out by the people who started this industry. Or as it’s changed over the years. The standards and practices being used in it were created over time and by loose consensus to solve problems and then handed down to the next wave as a natural consequence of training and doing business. A system  known as “apprenticeship.” And when those practices didn’t meet the needs of the situation, better ones started replacing them through the application of logic which attracted others who then adopted those same practices. But “better” was based on common sense, consensus. Not just because someone “said so” who was in some position of authority! When I first came to Seattle to cast from my native Los Angeles, agents and casting directors there were using “holds” to maintain an actor’s availability for a job pending final casting decisions by the producers. But those actors were expected to maintain that availability to the point of not auditioning for, or accepting work on other projects shooting at the same time lest they get booked our from under those asking for the “holds.” So I started asking agents for a “right of 1st refusal” for actors for specific dates on behalf of my clients, the way I was trained by my mentors. This preserves the actor’s right to pursue other paying work for the same dates and when offered a booking on the other job, the agent’s responsibility is to call me first to give my client the opportunity to book them first or release them to work for the other project. Whichever production asked first, had the 1st right to book or release. That way, the actor didn’t have someone “hold” them without paying them and just end up walking away after casting someone else, leaving the actor working for no one. Common sense?? Absolutely! But if it didn’t sound that way to the agents, they never would have accepted the policy which is now standard here. And this whole business was founded on this same process. But now that mere associates are now teaching for a fee and handing out unsupported advice, it’s even MORE important to scrutinize what actors are told for logic! And contrary to when I was an associate-level CD, they’re opining on social media pages, blogs and on-line articles besides the “workshops!” It’s a casting version of the “Emperor’s New Clothes!” So there’s more un-supported logic out there and more scams around than ever!

I hope actors can start to be as educated about the scams and resist them, as they are about learning acting technique and the creative process. They should also start to call upon SAG-AFTRA to put their clout behind making casting directors available to their membership through methods OTHER than through paid workshops! And actors have to also scrutinize and ask those claiming some authority on standards, practices and marketing, for logical reasons as to their stated opinions on social media, in classes and anywhere else! Reasons that should always be assessed by actors not by virtue of where they come from, but for their logical veracity, no matter WHO is saying it! And if a casting director spends more time teaching than casting, you should ESPECIALLY scrutinize their advice for accompanying logic! Those who really want to help actors and empower them, will welcome the questions!!!  Now more than ever for all these reason, actors should utilize that old latin phrase of consumer advocacy and “caveat emptor” or, “Buyer Beware!” And when actors get that they are truly the ONLY ones necessary to the process and that casting directors and agents only exist because of them, they’ll start to use their more educated clout to starve these scam situations back into the shadows where they belong. And as a natural and appropriate outcome of this process, natural selection will indeed thin out the herd of casting people to a meritocracy of those who engage in the highest artistic and ethical standards and we’ll all be better for it.

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About Stephen Salamunovich CSA

Stephen Salamunovich CSA is a 31-year veteran, award-winning casting director who cast somewhere around 4000 projects in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest before leaving the profession in 2016. You can find his biography in the "Stephen's Bio" tab of the "About" button of this website.

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