Little more in what follows than a PSA of sorts buried in a wraparound narrative.
Last weekend, we heard an ad on Detroit’s Hit Music Station 95.5FM about Disney Channel auditions coming up in the area, at the Romulus Marriott, specifically. Somebody was interested–interested enough to listen for another hour until the ad played again so as to take down the phone number.
We called and—how could we not?—booked an audition for 2 p.m. yesterday.
Typical Marriott conference room, for the most part, but crowded hallways with a long, snaking line, many families standing in it, the parent-types filling out an application and the children between 6-18 practicing audition lines from a handout. The setup seemed more or less legitimate, and since we hadn’t been to anything like this before, we went along, cool cool okay, filled out the paperwork, practiced the line (from a classic television commercial), and waited. Just before 2 o’clock, the line funneled into the room and everyone sat down more or less in the order they arrived, filling the room with ~300 people.
The first person to speak introduced a talent search guru, Mr. Steve(?) Hughes, who was born in London and who had played an important part in identifying many big name talents (so big, in fact, that I can’t recall any of them, but you get the general sense of this pitch, nevertheless). Hughes and two others would be involved in the screening interviews, and he introduced another actress (I’ve forgotten her name, but supposedly she is a business partner with Jamie Foxx, was in an ER episode with George Clooney, and has made untold thousands in the biz). She would be judging the auditions.
After almost 40 minutes—lots of “let’s hear you parents shout “YES!” if you support and we mean really support your child’s acting dream!”—we were called row by seated row to the back of the room for standing interviews. We happened to land at Table 2 with Mr. Hughes himself and he asked us a couple of questions, but the curious thing was that he didn’t take any notes. Just a few minutes earlier, he’d told us he and his colleagues would be screening 900 of Detroit’s top youth talent that day. No notes?
Next, we went to the front of the room and stood in line for the audition, a one-minute exchange with the celebrity whose name I’ve forgotten, and then we picked up a Kinkos-quality brochure, which explained in some detail (though not much!) the “The Exclusive Acting League TV and Film Program,” a five-day acting camp at Universal Studios, available for just $4500. They also peddle “Prep-coaching Workshops” described as “6 One hour sessions (SKYPE) and interview with an Agent” for just $600.
Basically, The Acting League seemed to be leveraging a bunch of kids’ show business dreams against a pricey and convoluted “audition” process that put parents on the spot to either opt in or appear unsupportive. If left us to wonder—and as parent’s talked in the audition line, this came up: Just how selective was this process, really?, especially when the interviewers didn’t write anything down? We would have to wait until the next day—today—before texting the applicant’s name to 347-919-9716 and, in response, we would receive a text message about whether or not the audition was successful.
Meanwhile, I fished around online for more perspective on The Acting League. What sort of company is this? And has it been as fortuitously and as long involved in talent vetting as its representatives claimed? First, take a look at the website. Sparse. The “Success Stories” aren’t especially built up with successes or stories. But there is a phone number and email address. I called the phone number—424-220-4002—and the message indicates reception for all of MK Business Centers in Manhattan Beach, Calif. The relatively recent domain registration for theactingleague.com (8-18-2013) seems curious, as does the thinness of their Twitter account. Still, all in all, there’s not a whole lot to point at here other than some weird and over-prompted insistence on parental support, the fact that nobody involved in screening appeared to take notes, a dang near six bitcoin acting “camp” at Universal Studios, a new and crappy website, and a Twitter account built on the faint, fading footprint of merely three tweets.
But is The Acting League legitimate? A bona fide, up-standing business? I don’t know. When I called the Romulus Marriott this afternoon to ask if TAL was still set up there, the receptionist told me they were. I asked whether they’d heard that The Acting League may be iffy, and she said they’d heard this from several people and were investigating it. Relatedly, there’s a news report expressing similar reservations felt by parents in McAllen, Texas, last September. The one source in the story mentioned that after getting a callback, they were pressured to plunk down a $1000 deposit almost immediately for the pricey camp at Universal Studios. Also, there’s quite a bit matching up between The Acting League and some of the characterizations about auditioning scams here and here.
Without moralizing (more than I have or more explicitly) or sounding off about the scruples of any talent search process, I suppose I can only end with a shrug. Credit to (by which I mean something more like “shame on”) The Acting Guild, their presenters were dynamic and almost convincing. They seemed to have many in the room—including many who would have to dig deep to find that $1000 deposit—convinced that this was a genuine opportunity, an authentic audition.
Another week in the desert would have been nice. Three days wasn’t enough even though I spent it well: keeping the time and announcing substitution intervals for 15-minute basketball games, noshing on Veggie Navajo tacos from Tuuvi Cafe, catching up with some of my oldest friends (also best-kept, considering I see them almost every year), and generally just soaking in Native Vision. I played basketball for the first time in eighteen months, first in Thursday’s “All-Star Game” and again the next day when Tuba City HS cafeteria lines were so long following the group photo at the football field that rather than wait and wait and wait in the crowd, I took to the gym next door, rebounded for shooters until they invited me to play 2-on-2. Telling time during the camp was its own puzzle: Tuba City doesn’t heed daylight savings, while Moenkopi (across the street) does. Suffice it to say that following the paper itinerary or arranging casual meet-ups (e.g., Let’s meet at 8) proved confounding. I still don’t know what time it was. Lost. And I wasn’t alone in this time warp, which was comforting but also added to the confusion. I went for a short run on Saturday morning. Aimed for just three miles round trip, but I turned back after I found myself attempting the third or fourth shoulderless curve along a canyon edge. Nah, not going out making a decision between the grill of an F-150 and a dive down a steep cliff. Such a slow jog, too. New shoes. Hills. Mile-high oxygen. Stopping to remember the views. But I picked up the pace when, on the return trip, Aggressive Alpha of the three scruffy dogs fenced in only by two strands of barbed wire slipped his loose yard and appeared genuinely interested in chewing whichever is the slower of my two legs (or claiming one of my fancy shoes as a new toy). Yeah, I ran faster then, ran into the road a bit, too. Dodged (“Don’t make me kick at you!”). And back in the hotel lobby, another time warp: mistimed breakfast, a bus driver asking me and only me if we were going to be ready at 8TubaCity when it was only 8Moenkopi. I might’ve felt reassured by a nearby wall clock, but there were who cares two of them side-by-side reporting different hours, a bi-temporal crevasse in spacetime.
Back in Phoenix, or Scottsdale, later Saturday watched the Heat top Boston in the ECF, again with friends who, before we witnessed a shouting match at the bar and went our separate ways for the next day’s early a.m. flights, reminded me that I have to go back again next year. For being, as always, energized and humbled by the event, I can’t wait to go back again next year. And the year after that.
Another week–another hour–in the desert would have been nice.
The 13th annual Native Vision camp concluded earlier today in Whiteriver, Ariz. I had a great time, all in all: a lot of fun working with the campers and catching up with the coaches and pros. I’d like to think I will have more to say about the camp in the next couple of days, but I have a busy week ahead, so we’ll see. Anyway, here’s a photograph of the basketball crew. Notice that there’s a hint of photobomb going on here in that the basketball campers are on the court in defensive position while we are posing for a group photo (this was possible because Coach Frost was leading the campers in the a.m. warm-up).