Pay to play, it's a very controversial topic these days in the acting world. There are those who think of it as taking their career into their own hands, while others believe it is unfair and only allows those with money to access them. It's true that you can end up spending thousands on seminars and classes with casting directors with very little obvious yield wondering, what am I doing wrong? Am I a terrible actor? Is my look wrong? Am I not playing to my type? Do I want to be "pigeonholed" into a type?
Type aside, that's a topic for another day, what I loved about this particular pay to play opportunity is that you get to do the exact same scene on the same day for ten different agents and get written feedback from each one. They also give comments on your headshot and resume, and I know that actors tend to agonize over whether their resume is formatted properly, lines, no lines, how many credits should I have, etc.
The casting directors are split into two rooms and you are called in the order you checked in, so depending on whether you like to go right away and leave or if you like to see in the room and go over your materials a few times may influence where in the line to enter you want to attempt to place yourself. You work with a reader, and present a scene you have prepared from a recent film or tv script for a room of five agents. Then you go the next room and do the scene again for the other five. After this, you return to the holding room to await your feedback sheets. Once those are given to you, you are free to leave.
For my own personal evaluation, I know I did better in the second room because I had the first go around to really get into the scene. If I were to do this again I might ask a friend to come with me to do a practice run in the hall before going in the second room. As much as practicing on my own is good for lines and intent, it's not the same as reading off another person. I also noticed a drastic difference in the coaching session I had in my class on this scene versus the agent audition simply because the reader I worked with at my studio was much more giving and receptive than the reader at the audition. I'm absolutely glad I coached the scene, but if you are practicing with a scene partner, just don't expect that same quality of a reader in the room as it can be hit or miss.
Getting the feedback sheets back, you can see what the agents wrote in regards to your type, headshot, resume, age range, scene selection, and appearance. I know I don't come off as particularly edgy or rough, so I tend to pick material to fit that and go along with my type, which in terms of feedback I have heard is classic, best friend, and quirky leading lady. The scene I chose was Andy and Nate's break up scene from Devil Wears Prada. Number one, because I think it matches my type, and number two, because the material really interested me. (Always try to pick material that interests you if you are free to choose your own sides, because if it doesn't interest you, it's not likely to interest the person watching.) Back to the feedback portion of the experience, what I found amazing is that doing the same scene for ten different people resulted in drastically different options ranging from great scene choice, great emotional connection to not sure I like this scene for you. Other fun comments were for example I love the shoes (I also love those shoes) and not sure I like the color of that top for you (which is unfortunate because that is the same top I'm wearing in my commercial headshot.) Also, this comment is ironic because I picked that shirt at the recommendation of people who liked it specifically for my skin tone, so who really knows.
And that's just it! You never know what someone might think of your materials because so many people have so many different opinions about things. One person may not like your outfit and another person thinks it is perfect. One thing I did really agree with is a few agents comments that the scene was a little one note. You only get two pages of dialogue to bring in and while I do feel that I found the loss and regret of the character, I may have been missing notes of strength or anger, or possibly relief. Definitely try to show off a well rounded story in those two short pages you get. But no matter what, the most important thing to remember is that some people are going to like certain things better than others, and you just need to put forward what you feel is your best work and your best you. Don't agonize over the rest!
For more info on Pay to Play and the debate regarding it, check out these two interviews on InsideActing.net http://insideacting.net/episode-232-billy-damota-update-part-1/ and http://insideacting.net/episode-235-going-pro-workshop-david-h-lawrence-xvii/