Industry showcases range from the outstandingly good to the embarrassingly bad. You hear all the time that you need to be a part of some active showcase of your talent as an actor, but how do you land in one of the “good ones” (and how do you know which ones the industry considers the “good ones” if no one will ever tell you the sometimes-ugly truth)? Anyone who saw the brilliant Beverly Winwood Presents the Actor’s Showcase a couple of years ago knows the world of the industry showcase is filled with Waiting for Guffman moments. Ask anyone who has been to more than a handful of showcases. We know which showcases stink.
So, how do you get to know which showcases we’re more likely to love? That’s tough information to get, but it’s not impossible to sort out what you do hear. Begin by asking agents, managers, and casting directors which showcases top their lists. Hundreds of showcases per year compete for our time and attention, so we all have cultivated a short list of favorite showcases (and we’re far more likely to tell you about the good than the bad).
Types of Showcases
Some showcases are outright pay-to-participate events. Your money goes toward rental of the facility, catering, bartending (supplies and staff), industry kits, promotional materials (flyers, letters, postcards, listings in trades, website), and tech crew. These showcases go on all the time, it seems, with a rush just before the major television seasons, in an attempt to get actors seen before casting lists get made.
Other showcases are the final event after participation in an ongoing class or program (where your tuition covers the above-mentioned costs, although I have been to some “graduation showcases” for which the actors paid an additional fee). These types of events tend to be heavily attended by friends and family, with some industry sprinkled within the audience.
There are showcases produced by management companies in an attempt to promote an entire client roster (some managers lay out the funds do this in order to improve the likelihood that their clients will book work on which they will earn a commission, others require their clients to pay for this service). Again, these will happen just before peak casting seasons.
Theatre companies occasionally produce member showcases to the industry (and your membership dues go toward this benefit). Timing of these showcases tends to vary based on the membership’s composition and needs, as well as the production schedule for the mainstage.
Some regularly-produced plays or sketch shows will culminate in an industry night when the cast will present a version of the show that has been cut to a more showcase-friendly run-time and serve food and drinks to invitation-only guests Whether actors chip in for this special production’s extra costs or the theatre itself covers this sort of thing varies. These productions can be very successful if the show itself has been getting a lot of buzz.
Actors’ unions, television networks, and production companies frequently offer casting incentive showcases for under-represented performers (people of color, senior citizens, actors with physical disabilities). These are almost always mounted as a service to the industry as a whole for no charge to the participants. I have found these showcases to be very well-attended and generally inspiring.
While the above paragraphs describe several major categories of industry showcases, some events actually fall into two or three categories at once. Be sure you do your homework on any showcase you’re thinking of becoming a part of, in order to know what you’re getting into and what the industry’s perception may be.
The Cost of Showcasing
As for what actors spend in order to be involved in a showcase, the dollar amount seems to range from $35 to $600 per actor, depending on many factors. Ask a few key questions, before you fork over the dough.
Am I already paying for this showcase, as a part of my class, company membership, or commissionable work to the producer? If the answer is yes, your fee for participation in the showcase had better be very low. Remember, you are not showcasing in order to line the pockets of the showcase producers. You are presenting your talent to the industry.
Is the quality of the food and drink items available to the industry in-line with the amount of money I’m being asked to spend? If you’re considering a showcase that costs you $600 but the “catering” is a tray of Costco cookies and plastic cups of Two Buck Chuck, something is amiss. You want your industry guests well-fed and enjoyably toasted (should they be the imbibing type). Feed them well, they notice the acting. Feed them poorly, they complain about the food, the drink, and then the talent.
Does the industry turn out for this showcase? Is the location easily-accessible and parking-friendly? Is the promotional presentation professional? Are the other actors involved as talented as (or more talented than) I am? Is there a showcase director who will be working with me in order to develop my best, most accurately-marketed work? A “yes” answer to these questions shouldn’t indicate that you need to spend more money, but it certainly makes the experience a little less painful. If the showcase is mounted for a series of nights (instead of one) in a “standard” showcase location (instead of in an out-of-the-way alley-entrance black box space) with consistently talented actors directed in short scenes that best showcase their strengths (and the promotional push for the showcase is both accurate and professional), the likelihood that industry will turn out is high. And isn’t that the point?
A theory, which I’m not sure I believe, is that a more expensive showcase prevents less-serious actors from participating. While I will acknowledge that a $125 showcase that was a one-time class-graduation show was less-impressive (in terms of talent) than the $600 four-night produced showcase event, I will also tell you that the most exciting talent I’ve seen at a showcase was in a $35-per-actor chip-in production from a group of actors all on the same manager’s client roster. So, I don’t necessarily believe that the dollar amount and talent among the participants directly relates. Of course, being on the industry side, I may not be exposed to issues of commitment: last-minute drop-outs, flakey actors who never hand over headshots for the kit, constant mind-changing about which scene to do, and other issues that would grate on a producer’s nerves.
To see a sampling of showcase invitations (regularly-updated), visit the “Special Invitations” page at Breakdown Services. Begin your quest for the best-fit showcase by taking a look at what’s “out there.” Talk to actors who participate in the showcases for an idea of performer-end perception, then check with your friends in the industry in order to balance any hype you may hear. If at all possible, attend a showcase before participating. Are the agents, managers, and casting directors happily schmoozing after the show? Are the actors talented and happy? Are there business cards being swapped? Did everyone leave satisfied with the experience? That’s a good showcase.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000197.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.