Pay-to-Play Audition Critic Kicked Out of Casting Group

Courtesy of Dea Vise
Dea Vise

The Casting Society of America has revoked the membership of whistleblower Dea Vise as her indicted colleagues stand trial for labor violations. “I wanted to help the CSA from the inside,” she says, “but I was pushed away.”

Outspoken casting director Dea Vise, a vocal critic of her field’s alleged epidemic of pay-to-play auditioning, the predatory labor practice that in February resulted in misdemeanor charges against more than two dozen practitioners, has had her membership in the Casting Society of America revoked by its executive board. She claims the expulsion is baseless and comes as retaliation for her whistleblowing efforts, while the professional organization has asserted to her that she’s engaged in conduct unbecoming of a member on multiple occasions.

CSA publicist Brandon Shaw disputes any notion that Vise’s removal was vengeful, remarking that she was simply in violation of the organization’s bylaws. “We wish Ms. Vise the best with her future endeavors,” he says.

Since the CSA’s decision came down May 10, L.A. Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Lui has set pre-trial hearings in all of the cases, which concern potential violations of the state's Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act. While the organization’s bylaws state that casting directors who run afoul of the law face revocation of membership, no move has so far been made against them; instead, the CSA has promoted a fundraiser to help raise money to pay for the defendants’ legal fees. (City Attorney Mike Feuer is prosecuting nine CSA members.)

“I wanted to help the CSA from the inside, but I was pushed away,” says Vise, who believes it’s more than coincidental that the majority of the CSA’s current 12-member National Board of Directors has participated in workshops in recent years. The organization’s president, Matthew Lessall, repeatedly led classes at The Actor’s Key, one of the indicted firms, which recently shut down, while vice president Russell Boast has run nearly 100 classes during a span of four and a half years, including at The Actor’s Key as well as two other charged firms, Your Studio Productions (also shuttered post-indictment) and The Actors Link (since rebranded as ACE Studios).

In online postings Vise had sharply criticized the organization’s fundraising support for the indicted colleagues, inquired about the legitimacy of a fellow member’s charity auction of an audition and called out another for an apparent office policy against “general meetings” with actors. (The overall decline of such meetings is believed to have propelled the pay-to-play sector.) In an Apr. 26 declaration filed through her attorney at a CSA hearing held to determine her status (and later shared with The Hollywood Reporter), Vise acknowledged the furor surrounding some of her incendiary postings, and in regard to the casting director with the charity auction, Sheila Jaffe (Ted, The Fighter), she explained, “unfortunately, the CSA conversation with other members became heated and contentious, but it was never my intention to question Ms. Jaffe’s integrity or honesty.”

In a Mar. 27 exchange on a Facebook message board called Casting Directors for Actors, after Vise noted she supports “casting directors who actually TEACH,” Boast stepped in to assert, “I am struggling to understand why dues-paying members of the CSA are literally destroying their peer[s] and community.” He added, “our community is falsely accused of taking advantage of others.”

In an interview 16 months earlier with THR for its examination of the pay-to-play audition issue, Boast ruminated that many actors’ self-delusion is the real predator. “The actors should take a step back and become informed,” he said. “If I’m running myself as a business, what’s my return on investment? What is going to three workshops a night helping my career? I don’t think that actors think about that, necessarily. I wish they would say, ‘OK, I’ve been to 57 workshops this month and I haven’t gotten a job. Maybe I should be focusing on something else.”