Casting Director Group Probes Pay-to-Play Workshops Amid Controversy

Casting Directors: Billy DaMota - H 2016
Photographed By Damon Casarez

Only weeks after claiming its hands were tied, the Casting Society of America acknowledges debate over potentially illegal workshops, establishing a committee to ensure members abide by the law.

With pressure rising on the entertainment industry's proliferating culture of pay-to-play auditions, the Casting Society of America has announced the establishment of a committee to study the issue. The issue has come into the public eye after The Hollywood Reporter published an investigation into workshop practices in late March.

The group (like the actors' union, SAG-AFTRA) positioned itself as powerless to effect change. "We have been in communication with the city attorney's office as things come up," president Richard Hicks told THR. "At the end of the day, it's up to them to enforce."

Now, after fallout — including the high-profile dismissal of Criminal Minds casting director Scott David, one of the most prominent practitioners in the scene, as well as a petition urging action by the city attorney's office that, at press time, has topped 11,000 signatures — the CSA's perspective certainly appears to be evolving. While the statement does not explicitly acknowledge wrongdoing by some of its membership, Friday afternoon's announcement conveys an awareness of a genuine problem.  

Members of its freshly minted Workshop Committee include Hicks, along with Amanda Lenker Doyle (Black-ish) and Marci Liroff (Mean Girls). According to a release sent to CSA membership, it "will seek to preserve and enhance the educational value of casting workshops" taught by members, as well as "foster increased awareness and understanding" among them of legal guidelines put in place by the passage of California's Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act in 2009 that were meant to better rein in the practice. That legislation specifically outlaws workshops and casting directors from charging or attempting to charge an artist for an audition or employment opportunity. But since the law was enacted in 2010, there have been no prosecutions.

Dea Vise, a CSA member and one of the few casting directors who has been an outspoken critic against workshops, questioned the seriousness of the committee's intention for reform, noting that neither she nor her colleague Billy DaMota, also a CSA member and a leading and longstanding dissident on the issue, were invited to join. "If the CSA is looking for a way to continue the practice as it is now, this group will work perfectly," she says. "Some of the people on that list of the workshop committee do workshops." (Doyle, for instance, is a regular guest on the circuit in town; her most recent listed class was a $55 evening on March 28 at The Actor's Key.)

For his part, DaMota remains skeptical of a group that's long shied away from policing its members or aggressively lobbying the city attorney's office. "The idea of a committee to explore ways to stop the abuse is a good one — but means nothing if there's no way to enforce anything that comes out of the committee," he says.

Hicks did not respond to a request for an interview. But he did provide a statement published in the release.

"CSA casting directors and associates are among the industry's foremost authorities on the alchemic aspects of casting and acting," he said. "It's an expertise which they generously share in various educational settings. This newly established Workshop Committee intends to ensure that all CSA members fully understand and abide by the Casting Workshop Guidelines [of the Krekorian Act] wherever they happen to teach. We have begun to explore the creation of new, officially sanctioned CSA programs to broaden access to casting education, while upholding the highest standards of integrity and professionalism."