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Press & Blogs

The Actors’ Guild is often featured in industry publications and blogs. Recent press can be found below.

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Northern Soul

Andrew Urquhart looks at on-going training opportunities in the North of England and how The Actors’ Guild is making its mark.

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Applying for Bursaries

John Byrne interviews members of the Actors’ Guild for his weekly column in The Stage. Laura Miller, a founder member, and Philippa Howard, winner of the Actors’ Guild Bursary, offer top tips on applying for industry bursaries.

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Getting a Workout

By Gemma Barrett

My taller half is decidedly cynical with regards to those workshops and seminars that pop up on various casting sites and find their way into every actor’s inbox. His thinking is that for the acting graduate, the application of common sense will cover the most part of the content and the exorbitant fees capitalise on the naïveté of young actors who are willing to hand over their cash for a fast route to meeting those elusive CDs, who in reality are not too interested in scouting new talent but every interest in your wallet. Whilst they have their place, they are not it seems, for him.

To some extent I would agree with him; and so did Benjamin Warren, a well established actor and one of the founding members of The Actors’ Guild. Founded in November 2010 by a collective of like-minded actors determined to do things their way, the Guild describes itself as an organisation which provides actors with ‘access to the highest quality classes with key industry professionals…offering an antidote to the enterprises that might be out to take advantage of actors. Providing a haven, a support network and the opportunity to work with, and get feedback from, the very people you meet in the audition room.’ With no obligation to commit to a ‘block of six’, members are able to pick and choose which classes they feel would be of most use, and which industry professionals they may garner the most from working with.

I accepted the Guild’s invitation to attend a workshop on ‘Auditioning for TV’ with BBC TV director Terry Iland. In a one-to-one with each actor (there were about 12 of us over the three hour session), he went through CVs and headshots, flagging up anything that didn’t add up, restructuring them to make the pertinent information accessible and offering tips along the way. Terry’s approach was refreshingly straightforward.

[Terry then ran a mock audition scenario. Actors had been sent sides to prepare prior to the workshop from episodes of Doctors he had recently filmed for the BBC].

What made the class really worthwhile, was the individual feedback tailored to each participant, coming from an industry professional who, at the end of the day, is one of the decision makers in the audition room. A personal bugbear is translating a ‘stage’ performance to a performance for screen (one D.O.P recently likened me to a slightly more feminine Jim Carrey. Must stop gurning) and Terry’s redirection helped to find that ‘TV level performance’ without losing energy.

Ben and his colleagues have set up a truly supportive environment, and it was really great to walk into a room on an equal footing, with new graduates and jobbing actors alike, and ‘have a go’ without having to worry about ‘getting the job’. Upon graduating from drama schoo,l I swore I’d attend weekly classes in acting and sign up to a singing tutor and get ridiculously good at yoga etc, but life and well, poverty, does get in the way. The Actors Guild takes this into consideration, and I’m definitely keeping an eye out for what they have coming up.

It’s also worth mentioning that those of you who are yet to renew your Spotlight membership or considering new headshots, the Actors Guild are taking applications for their bursary this month.

Comment by Richard Evans (CDG)

“I second what Gemma says about The Actors’ Guild, a really concientious and well organised group. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop I did with them earlier in the year, which had a sparky group of intellegent actors in a nicely relaxed, supportive atmosphere. Long may they continue!”

Comment by Mollie Souza

“My first workshop with The Actors’ Guild, Terry Iland’s – TV Auditions – Through the Eyes of the Director, was practical, informative and inspiring. I agree with Gemma’s comments on Terry’s ‘refreshingly straightforward approach’ and the supportive environment of The Actors’ Guild.”

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Casting Workshops: are you paying to audition?

By Michael Wharley

Have the increasing array of paid-for actors’ workshops, often offering the chance to get up-close-and-personal with casting professionals, replaced the general audition and monetised the casting process, asks Michael Wharley, as he talks to Benjamin Warren, co-founder of thriving actor-led organisation The Actors’ Guild of Great Britain?

6pm on a wet Monday evening just off the Strand, and instead of rushing home like most of the rest of London, a small group of actors are putting in an extra shift. Gathering round for a 3 hour workshop with a well-known casting director, organised by The Actors’ Guild of Great Britian, they’re seeking professional development.

A recent NCDT graduate hopes to learn how to better approach screen auditions; a more seasoned colleague wants tips on turning a series ‘almosts’ into jobs, and an experienced commercials actor needs advice on changing casting types.

It’s a telling scene, speaking not just of the pressures facing the modern actor in creating and sustaining a career, but of the increasing ubiquity of workshops in the modern profession.

And what’s not to like about them? They seem a total no-brainer for actors in what can be a capricious and isolating business: you maintain battle-readiness for auditions, you develop professional skillsets to enhance employability, learn tricks of the trade and access a community of like-minded practitioners to add a little zest to life. And whether in work or temping, focusing on more creative topics can nurture enjoyment and a sense of play, the sort of acting sensitivity that gets trampled upon by working life.

Equally, workshops offer many benefits for those who lead them: casting professionals, directors, writers, singing, movement or dialect coaches and other industry experts. The chance to share accrued knowledge and inside-the-business perspectives, the chance to engage with actors in a less-pressured environment than normal, the chance to explore ideas with willing participants, and of course the opportunity to convert a specific skillset into income via attendance fees – something the  majority do responsibly.

No surprise then, that with an ever-swelling UK acting population, the provision of workshops has become almost an industry in itself. Just in London, it’s barely scratching the surface to name check: The Actors Centre; Associated Studios; Casting Workshops (started by Casting Director Annalie Powell and now run by actors Oliver Powell & Emily Chase); The Workshop (run by casting director Janis Jaffa and agent Natasha Stevenson), Fuse London, Actors Platform and Spotlight’s practical sessions, not forgetting any number of one-off sessions by casting professionals.

And, as with any industry, an eye on the profit line and institutional mission-creep can sneak in over time, which is where The Actors’ Guild of Great Britain (TAG) comes in.

Founded in 2010 by Benjamin Warren and Laura Miller, and now with a membership of over 3,000 professional actors, TAG was in Warren’s words, “born out of necessity, an antidote to those who seemed to put profit before the needs of the actor.” But more than that “to give actors the choice… to provide them with the control and swing the power back to them. We offer an alternative to the many sideline business models that have evolved over the last few years as well as ‘larger’ established organisations where actors tell us membership fees are too high and quality inconsistent.

So TAG, which is run by a central committee of actors, aims to put its members first and “do none of the things we disliked when attending other workshops.

That means “offering workshops that people can dip in and out of a bit more.”  Says Warren, “We’ve nothing against people requiring block booking – as long as the actor has the choice to book as many or as few workshops they want without incurring a financial penalty. Likewise, at the other end of the scale, a high membership fee is not often compatible with the modern actors life-style. It is very important to us that an actor returning from a six month tour, who wants to take one class before they return to the road, can do so affordably. Having a low membership fee means actors can pick up and put down the workshop program as and when they need to. From the very outset we must reflect the needs of the professional.” 

As Warren admits “Quality is also central. Those who work, teach. Some classes, especially practical TV or film ones, where we hire camera operators and offer ‘playback’, can even make a loss because we keep the numbers low.” TAG is a not-for-profit company so “as long as we make enough to cover our out-goings across the whole program, it works.”

The range of workshops offered – from screen audition technique to character creation to industry advice – is both an important TAG principal and a testament to the broad tastes of the Guild’s membership, who play a key role in programming through a feedback and suggestion dialog through their online accounts. “Our program is essentially designed by the membership. We booked a Complicite workshop from a single member’s suggestion – it was such a hit that we went on to run a Complicite residency at The Guild.” says Warren.

But of course, here as across the industry, it’s workshops offering close-up contact with, and direct feedback from active casting directors that also attract attention.

After all, what working actor wouldn’t want to get tips from TAG contributors like Hannah Miller (Head of Casting at the RSC),  or US casting director Toby Guidry, whose has worked on feature films including The Hobbit trilogy and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, as well as television shows such as Rewind and The Gilmore Girls?

But aren’t workshops effectively replacing general castings – which are anecdotally ever-rarer – and monetising the casting process? Making actors pay to be seen by casting directors away from the time-pressured audition room?

It’s a grey area recognised by the Casting Directors’ Guild (www.thecdg.co.uk) in its published workshop guidelines, which trouble to state explicitly: “The intent of workshops are educational and should not be considered a job interview or audition. Attending workshops is not a way to obtain employment as an actor.

Warren is adamant, “You’re not paying to audition. It’s a chance to practice what we do in a supportive environment and receive honest feedback – to hone technique.” As Casting Director Sue Jones explains in her workshop brief to members, “The purpose of my workshop is to improve and refine actors’ audition, interview and reading/performance technique, identifying and eliminating bad habits. To examine the difference between a good performance and the successful performance.”

Given this fact of modern casting, the educational value of workshops with casting professionals can’t be underplayed. Particularly not the example of one TAG workshop provider, an active casting director who “films you on the day, watches it in her own time then contacts you one-by-one to give personalised feedback and advice.

Finally, there will always be a slight grey area in the overlap between practical workshops and the world-of-work, but as long as the organisation you’ve trusted yourself to is ethically run, you should be able to get both the benefit of insights beyond your experience and the opportunity to engage with a broad spectrum of arts professionals.

TAG certainly seems to be such an organisation, and in the words of Phillippa Howard – recipient of the inaugural TAG bursary and regular workshop attendee: “it doesn’t feel like you’re there to be made money from, you feel like [the workshop leaders] care about knowledge being imparted and you come out positive and passionate.”

Workshops: what to watch out for:

–         Check if casting professionals are CDG affiliated (some very good ones are not, but those who are abide by the CDG workshop code)

–         Look for feedback from previous participants.

–         Check the terms of block booking (ie. refund policies, swapping workshops, cancellations).

–         Remember the membership costs that might be associated with booking a workshop.

–         Trust your ‘feel’ before you book – don’t if the outfit seems overly entrepreneurial.

–         Never pay to audition, or trust a provider who’s advertising on the basis that you might get work from their workshop.

 




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