Symposium Synopsis (Part 1)

This weekend I attended the "Hollywood Across America" Pilot Season Symposium in West LA. The Pilot Season Symposium is an all day workshop that features a couple industry speakers in the morning, some in the afternoon and then a few hours dedicated to showcasing every actors work. Every actor in attendance was able to get on stage perform either a scene (with a partner) or a monologue. The work is then evaluated by the 10-15 industry "experts" who happen to be casting directors, talent agents and managers. There were about 100 actors there on Saturday. You can probably imagine how long of a process THAT was.

It's been a while since I attended a workshop like this. Back in New York I hit the workshops regularly and aggressively. I took small workshops, big workshops. I took extended master classes that stretched across multiple weekends. In fact, at one point on my acting/workshop taking career,  I owned and operated a small business called "The Audition Experience" that offered workshops to actors on a daily basis. I ran that business for 3 years until I sold it off and stepped away. Moved to LA.

So, yeah, that was me... back in 2000-2003.

I learned SO much running that business. I learned a lot about small start ups. I learned a lot about the business of acting. I learned a lot of the audition process and the craft itself. I did get some work as a result of shmoozing the casting directors. Not a TON, but I got some work. There is no guarantee of work... ever. No matter what you do.

Like I said, it's been a while since I took a workshop like this... but I got an email from my agent Marlene a couple of moths ago, asking me to attend. She worked out a discount deal for me... and since its been so long since Ive taken any workshops, I thought it would be a good idea. Marlene was also a panelist at the symposium, so she wanted to have the chance to show off her clients and do some follow up afterwards.

These things can be a gamble. Its debatable as to whether it's a wise was to spend money and time. I used to have this conversation all the time when I was trying to convince actors to take my Audition Experience workshops. Attending a workshop is not a guarantee of employment. In fact it's not even an interview. It's not a real audition for a real role. The workshops, no matter WHO is hosting, is designed to be an educational opportunity... that's all.

BUT, taking these workshops can be incredibly beneficial if you play your cards right. True there are no guarantees but you get to meet A List casting directors face to face and perform for them. Then you have a toe in the door. One toe. If you follow up and stay in touch with that casting director via postcards. Send them stuff in the mail every time you book something or you appear in a play. The casting director gets your mail (no guarantees there either) and he or she is reminded of who you are and how you met. If you HAPPEN to bump into that CD at a restaurant or something, there is no reason why you can't say hello.

"Oh HI April Webster, how are you doing? This is a great restaurant. Have you ever eaten here before?"

She might say...

APRIL: Oh hi... yes... I love this place. I'm sorry, Ive forgotten your name.
YOU: Oh, it's (state your name), we met at a workshop last February.
APRIL: That's RIGHT! You did that Angelina Jolie monologue from GIRL INTERRUPTED.
YOU: Yes! Along with 4 other girls. You must have been so sick of hearing that monologue.
APRIL: No, it's fine. That happens a lot. You were the best though.
YOU: AW, you're so kind. Well, it was great seeing you. enjoy your dinner. Hopefully we will run into each other again soon.
APRIL: Have a great night (Whatever your name is)

AND scene. You disappear. short & sweet. Rekindle that connection and keep your fingers crossed.

That's just a random scenario, but the point is... the crux of your success... as it pertains to maximizing the value of these workshops... is in the follow up. It also helps to be a good actor and not a socially awkward pain in the ass.

PS: I saw 4 girls this weekend do the same monologue from GIRL INTERRUPTED. I wasn't just throwing that in there for no reason. Now, its very debatable whether that's a GOOD thing or a bad thing. One one hand, it shows that you are not being very original in your selection process when seeking out audition material... on the other hand... if 4 women do the same piece... and you ROCK IT.... then you win... the other 3 lose. But you better be DAMN sure you can rock it.

Which brings up a good point. Are you a good actor? What makes you think so? Are you booking stuff? Why? Or why not? You have to brutally honest. Not only is brutal honesty the key to becoming a great actor, but its also crucial to your mental and emotional health as you navigate the tough terrain known as your career in the entertainment industry.

So I got up nice and early on Saturday morning and I drove over to West LA, registered and took a seat in the audience. The morning session was a Q&A with casting director Ronnie Yeskel (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Dude Where's my Car?). She had some great stories about the casting process on Pulp Fiction. One story that stood out to me was that Samuel Jackson almost didnt get the part in Pulp Fiction because his audition was terrible. TERRIBLE, she said. Sam L Jackson read for Quentin Tarantino and he sucked. She said he was flat and auditioned like he just didn't care... didn't prepare. But I guess they gave him a second chance and he auditioned again and got the role.

Even someone like Samel Jackson... at that level... at that stage in career and artistic life... can have a crappy audition. I mean, your average person probably wouldn't get a 2nd chance after a really crappy performance, but it's somewhat encouraging to know that even a big time player like Samuel L can totally screw up an audition. It happens to the best of them.

Ronnie told stories and answered a ton of questions.... and this is where these workshops ca start to get on your nerves. 75% of the questions are stupid. People juts kept spouting off.... left and right.... actors who are either VERY VERY inexperienced or don't know what they want to ask but HAVE to say SOMETHING... so they end up saying something stupid.

(To be continued)


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