First I must say THANK YOU LISHA RIGNEY. Last week, I was a "VIP judge" at the preliminary and semi-finals of the vaunted World Championships of Performing Arts, held at the Bonaventure Hotel July 21-25, in downtown Los Angeles (4th and Figueroa to be exact). My area of concentration was in the junior acting competition, so my call time to downtown LA was 8 AM (for the scrumptious "continental breakfast" provided for the judges in their "hospitality room" - the Hollywood Ballroom on the 3rd floor). Since I had to give a ride to my agent and friend, Rod Seagal of Exposure Actors and Models, who lives in Culver City (whereas I live in Santa Monica), all this backtiming required me to arise at the ungodly hour of 6 AM. This is where my thanks to Lisha comes in. Since she regularly arises at 5 or thereabouts, she would give me the daily wake up call. What a sweet way to wake up - her smiling voice. Lisha is a video editor, a mom, and a dear friend.
Rod Seagal is a good friend, and fine agent. But extraordinarily high maintenance. He doesn't drive, but he was happy to buy me gas. This we did each day before we left for downtown. But he two days in a row forgot his valued cellphone (requiring a backtrack to his office!). That, coupled with being late in the first place (7:15 departure became 8:10), prevented my damn Original Pantry breakfast, as promised. (Eventually, on Thursday morning, we DID got to the Pantry - more on that later).
A bit of a background about the World Championships. This annual event is the brainchild of Griff O'Neil. I'm not sure of Griff's background, but I am sure it is illustrious. Talent from around the world is invited (for a fee) to be part of the competition. Regional auditions are held, worldwide. About 1000 individuals from all over the world participated. These include actors, dancers, singers, and models. About 50% come from the United States, and few of them reside in the Los Angeles area. And most are under 25. I met kids from Arizona Michigan, Ohio, Washington state, Utah, and Idaho. Many of the remaining contestants are from Canada. Also represented were large contingents from South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the former Soviet Union. Also represented were Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, and the Philippines. O'Neil complained at the finals that hundreds of kids from other countries were denied visas by their own state departments. So there seems to be some controversy.
The first part of the process (Monday thru Wednesday) is that of winnowing down contestants for the semi-final and finals, sort of like the Olympics. The judging process, for me, was arduous. We (myself and about five other judges - the show business credentials of whom I am not sure) sat down on Monday at around 9:30 AM to judge child actors ages 11-15. This took the better part of four hours. Many of the contestants performed in up to six different scenes (limited to one minute) - comic acting, dramatic acting, classical acting, "open" acting (which was usually a commercial), and even combined acting (duos, trios and larger groups). Almost every child had at least a modicum of talent, and a few were truly gifted.
But what they are really looking for at this competition are the "go-sees", aka callbacks, which were held on Thursday afternoon. These are the performers selected by judges (who are generally agents, producers and casting agents) for one-on-one meetings. The performers want to get their feet in the door, and that is through agents or producers. The World Championships itself offers no such education, or information. It simply puts on a competition, and hands out trophies (and some scholarships to something called the New York Acting Conservancy). So at these preliminary judging sessions, I would fill out "go see" slips for various actors I thought my agent friend might want to work with.
But the elephant in the room for these competitors, of course, is that many do not live in Los Angeles, or even close. And additionally, for the foreign competitors, they would require work visas for any sort of extended stay. So that is the first thing these folks had to know, if they didn't know already. You gotta be where the action is!
That is why I wonder of the true value of this institution. But Rod happens to be a wizard at acquiring visas, and has signed a number of these contestants to his stable. One of the guys I discovered myself last year - who happened to live in Orange County - is currently up for a leading part in the stage presentation of Disney's "Aladdin". Rod will have to pay be 5% of the commission for that.