Hi Bonnie!

So I am in need of guidance and advice, and you were the best person I could think of to ask.

I work for a quaint little restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory here in LA (The Grove, to be specific). As you can well imagine, a hefty portion of the serving and bartending staff is made up of aspiring actors. This past week, I was struck by an idea: What if we could get the restaurant (which is generally supportive, has money to spare, and is very popular) to help us sponsor a showcase? See if we can make that survival job aid our careers, y’know?

Part of my brain told me there was little chance of that happening, but the other part of my brain keeps nagging me to look into it more seriously. However, I have never participated in an industry showcase, so I don’t know where exactly is the best place to start, or what would turn it into something that people would actually WANT to attend, and would be mutually beneficial for all parties.

  • How many scenes/monologues should be presented, and in what format?
  • Is dramatic fare welcome, or should it be a lighter, more fun night?
  • Do they need to be thematically similar?
  • How do we effectively advertise?
  • How do we meet industry expectations in a positive way?
  • Budget?

Any pointers would be great. And I apologize in advance for all the follow-up questions I am bound to have.

Hilary Bryant

Ah, Hilary… you’ve SO come to the right person. Or the exact wrong person. 😉 Depends on what you were hoping to hear. Assuming you were hoping I’d lay it out to you straight, be totally honest about what you can expect, and the realities of producing a top-notch actor showcase in Los Angeles, I gotcha covered.

Let’s dive in!

So, once upon a time, I produced actor showcases. In fact, the whole history of the Cricket Feet Casting Actors Showcase is in this seriously amazing post (or maybe it’s just amazing because I’m in love with what we did and what we’re about to do).

Oh, on that last bit, *oy* I have to try and hide from Keith that I’m letting y’all in on something we’re not actually making public for months: We’re bringing back the Cricket Feet Casting Actors Showcase in 2016. Yup. We’ve been on hiatus since 2009 and — just like when a trend (the run of craptastic dream-killing overpriced showcases I detailed in the above-linked piece) launched the original in 2007 — the new trend (of CD workshop facilities paying the same dozen agents and managers to attend “showcases” for which actors pay $125 to get in front of people not actively looking to sign anyone at their tier) is bringing us back in 2016.

I’m not going to go deep into what we’re doing because that’s not what you asked and it’s not happening yet, but I love that you’re thinking about how you can make something happen! That was a huge part of our getting started and I commend you for digging in on this when other actors figure mailing postcards or doing endless CD workshops will give ’em “the edge.” As someone who produced 7 showcases in 27 months (4 of them in 268-seat venues) featuring the work of 211 actors, 71 writers, and 4 directors in front of a couple thousand industry buyers, here are my answers to your awesome questions!

I would stay away from monologues entirely, limit dramatic material to “dramedy” territory at most, and never NEVER let the actors involved choose their own material. Presenting actors *exactly* as the industry buyers could (and often would) hire them the following day is what made our showcase different. Many showcase producers believe if an actor spends money, he or she should get to choose his or her material. The truth is, it’s the producer’s expertise in identifying the buyers’ view of the actor that the actor is really paying for!

Number of scenes depends on number of participants and we never in the history of EVER with the Cricket Feet Casting Actors Showcase went over 75 minutes’ runtime, even when we had more than 35 actors participating! So, for us — even when we did two scenes PER ACTOR — we kept the actual scenes short (~2 minutes), because no one in the industry wants to commit to a two-hour show after a ten-hour day.

Advertising a good showcase is all about word-of-mouth, at some point, but for our first time out, we postcarded the crap out of this town! Many showcases will tell the participating actors that promotion is their job (y’know, like “bringer gigs” at stand-up comedy clubs) and while we certainly expected our actors to promote, we provided them with our professionally designed and branded postcards, and it was on them to put stamps on ’em. 😉 We, as producers, also sent out postcards to our industry contacts in addition to taking out ads with Breakdown Services and doing the good ol’ fashioned schmooze about it while we were out there networking, of course.

As for industry expectations, this is where we’re actually in your shoes right now because we know what was expected when we were actively producing huge showcases but maybe that’s not what’s expected these days. Still, for us, the most important factor was showcasing actors *exactly* as buyers would want to cast or rep them the very next day. No question. No second banana in a leading man role just because he paid his money. No way. If you’re gonna be cast as the quirky best friend, I don’t care how much money you want to throw at it, *I* will never showcase you being anything other than the quirky best friend. And my colleagues in this industry appreciate my eye for that. And they’ll appreciate yours!

Budget? Back in 2009, our budget for a ten-week production period culminating in a two-night showcase at a 268-seat venue (filled, standing-room-only), food, booze, parking, programs, industry kits, director’s salary, insurance, postcards, postage, industry kits, demo reel compilation DVD, tech crew, security, and rental of space for auditions, rehearsals, and the showcase itself: $25,000.

Is it possible to produce a showcase for less? Sure. But back when we launched, we were looking at craptastic showcases charging actors $800 for four nights in 50-seat venues with about 3 industry buyers in-house per show and a tray of CostCo cookies and a bottle of Two Buck Chuck as the enticement. When I got pissed about where that meant actors’ money was *actually* going, I proved something *much better* could happen for *much less* money per actor.

But today, when agents and managers and casting directors are being paid to show up at workshop facilities to see actors do their favorite Beth Henley monologue or scene from Sports Night and everyone’s feeling really okay with all that, I’m not sure what to expect either. I do know — when it comes to your specific question about attracting corporate interest in helping you build your showcase — we spent a LOT of energy (and money) trying to attract a corporate sponsor (or three) in 2009 and maybe we can blame the economy and the timing (helloooo writers strike) but it just did NOT work to the extent we had hoped it would.

Corporations have very specific designations for most of their money and as *our* corporation builds, I GET that. So before you create a proposal for The Cheesecake Factory, get very specific about what type of showcase you’ll create, what you’ll offer to the actors and the industry and the corporation itself, the shape it’ll take, how it will reflect on the brand, and what each dollar level will “buy them” should they be able to kick in some cabbage to help you make this happen! Should you get more than a couple hundy, celebrate! And should you get more than a dozen industry out to see your first showcase, huzzah!

I know I’ve shared a lot o’ words here but if you’re more a vid person than a language person, do watch this quick vid.

As I said in my farewell to the Cricket Feet Casting Actors Showcase post at my personal blog back in the day, I’ll leave you with this: “Much love to you fine folks who are into doing rockstar showcases. Please, produce your own! Rent some space, choose some original material by great writers (please, don’t show folks the same old tired scenes we’ve seen a thousand times), hire a director, and make some noise! That’s how we started out, and we grew to the biggest, highest-attendance, most critically-acclaimed, results-getting showcase in town… in just over two years. Awesome!”

It is — without question — possible to do what you’re proposing. It requires more time than both your fulltime job *and* your fulltime acting pursuit COMBINED, but it’s do-able. Produce showcases because you’re passionate about creating something really wonderful for you, your fellow actors, and those you’ll invite to experience it — not because you hope the top commercial agency in town will want right of first refusal on taking meetings with all actors who showcase with you (yes, that happened) or because you hope you’ll make money or even break even producing ’em (you won’t).

Decide if you’re passionate about making this happen regardless of The Cheesecake Factory’s involvement because — unless lightning strikes — their involvement will be somewhere between zero and a couple grand in level, and unless you’re doing a super-small cast experience *at* the restaurant (for which you may expect even fewer industry attendees due to the low number of actors they’re there to check out), it’ll only make a dent in your costs to have them on board as a sponsor.

I know you’re gonna have follow-up questions so fire away, darlin’! I’m thrilled you’re looking into this because of course this is something I am also passionate about seeing happen in the best way possible!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001979.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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