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Paulby Paul Russell

Director Demands Actors Pay-to-Play

An actor in my colleague-family wrote me of her being snared by a neophyte director pursuing questionable financial requests of the actors he casts:

“I was cast in a non-union production. I’m not sure whether I should continue forward with it.

The director initially said that we would build the show together in workshops and that it would be an exploratory process. I thought – sure, that’s cool. I’ve never done that before. It would really stretch my acting muscles and challenge me.

Then, after the callback, he had a meeting with all of the actors to discuss the process moving forward. He said that in order to continue working with us we would have to participate in four, three-hour acting classes a month (taught by him) and pay him $100 (per month) in addition to the rehearsals for the play. He claims that he’s worth a lot more than that and that he hates to bring up money, but his time is valuable.

I honestly don’t know what to do…. By the time the show goes up, I’ll probably have given him around $400. He’s also dangling this MTV pilot in front of us saying that he did a similar play in Boston and MTV filmed it. He says he’s trying to do the same thing with us and has been having meetings with producers and it could be life changing. I don’t want to drop out of the play and then miss a potentially great opportunity with not only the performances, but a possible MTV deal.

What’s your opinion on all of this?


I replied to Randy


The director’s premise and promises are bull.

Screw his MTV B.S. Even if a deal went through there is absolutely no guarantee of your continued participation. None. Zip. Nada. No contract—of which I doubt there was any presented—would bind a non-signatory, prospective producer to picking you up. I’ve witnessed many artists (actors, designers, directors, and writers) dumped during development.

In checking with my union (Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers), your director is not a member. And when I extensively searched online for his credits I found virtually nothing other than obscure acting credits over a decade ancient.

You’re being taken here. Please run.”

Randy ignored my opinion.

She and fellow actors each paid the director over $400 apiece to be in the production. The play opened to sparse attendance and quickly closed into obscurity. MTV never showed. The director fattened his savings.

Don’t pay to act before an audience. Unless the producing entity is a credible performing arts intuition with an educational series like the Williamstown Theatre Festival charging young, mostly inexperienced, non-union actors, a fee to participate as learning-interns working alongside established, industry and household name recognized and respected professionals from our industry. Classes are involved. Valuable experience and connections can be gained.

This travesty which Randy fell into is as far removed from Williamstown as is Gordon Ramsey from a Ninth Avenue hotdog cart.

Invest in yourself. Don’t subsidize other people’s schemes.

My best,

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit