Tue., Nov. 26, 2002

New state regs aim to end 'pay to audition'

New rules include disclaimers, educational instruction

The state of California has finalized new rules to clamp down on the controversial practice of "pay to audition" workshops, in which actors pay to be seen by casting directors.

California Labor Commissioner Arthur Lujan has received endorsement from the Los Angeles Actor Workshop Coalition on a final set of guidelines making operators liable for lawsuits if they are found to be taking unfair advantage of thesps.

Lujan announced last month he was moving toward tightened rules in the form of a stipulation for declaratory judgment, giving the regulations the weight of state law (Daily Variety, Oct. 14). Lujan had initially proposed that operators sign a consent decree, leading to violators being subject to contempt-of-court orders, but decided instead that the threat of a lawsuit would be a more effective resolution.

"The guidelines will ensure that actors can practice their cold reading skills and learn about current industry issues that affect auditions," said Jean St. James, spokeswoman for the coalition. "These guidelines will protect actors and prescribe procedures for workshop owners to ensure that workshops are not confused with the process of applying for employment."

Lujan's office stunned the industry in February by asserting that more than a dozen L.A. workshops were violating state laws banning payment to apply for employment. The office issued cease-and-desist orders to those operators.

The workshops complained loudly, asserting they provide insight into the audition process and proposing guidelines to spell out that the workshops operate for education only. But advocates of strict state enforcement have alleged the proposals did not go far enough in preventing the practice of charging actors for access to casting directors.

Two key new rules bar workshop providers from permitting casting directors to use material from roles they are currently casting; and from offering workshops consisting solely of cold readings.

Other new rules:

= Attendees must sign a disclaimer stating that workshops are not job interviews or auditions, and operators have to discuss the disclaimers at the start of each class.

= Workshops must provide instruction of an educational nature.

= If a cold reading is included in the workshop, critiques and other feedback must be provided.

= Instructors must be qualified either by being members of the Casting Society of America or by having 18 months experience as a casting director, associate or assistant.

= Instructors' qualifications must be listed.

= Actors will have the right to monitor one workshop per provider without payment.

= Operators may not use testimonials about the success of workshops in getting acting work. However, they may list former participants.

= Workshop providers will notify casting directors that they are not allowed to solicit actors to attend their paid workshops.

= Operators must return all headshots and resumes to participants at the end of the session.

= Operators must post the guidelines in plain view along with an explanation of how to find free workshops run by the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. SAG's representative gave his blessing to the new rules.

"SAG participated throughout all of these talks and, as one of the representatives from the guild, I am pleased with the results," said former SAG VP Paul Napier. "We have protected our members from possible abuses while still allowing them to partake of the wonderful learning opportunities that the workshops provide."

But casting director Billy DaMota, who has spearheaded the move to seek state intervention over the past few years, said he was skeptical -- "Guidelines schmeidlines" -- about the accord's effectiveness in preventing abuse.

"We suggested ongoing classes with qualified teachers and a real curriculum," he added. "What the state has come up with are guidelines which allow one-night, two hour events where as many as 24 actors pay to read for a casting assistant, whose only qualification must be that they are casting. You can dress these events up as 'classes' and 'education' -- but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand why actors pay to attend 'workshops' and read scenes and monologues for a casting assistant on a hot network TV show."