Monologue Blogger interviews Tom Lapke, founder of Actor’s Launchpad. Actor’s Launchpad is a new facility for actors who are looking for community and support when meeting casting directors and agents.
Working with companies such as Reelarc (Actor Demo Reels), ALP helps to make a difference for a reasonably priced resource, that cares not only about an actor’s career but also the actor’s craft.
Actors Launchpad is proving to become a place where actors can congregate with industry professionals to understand what it means to be an actor, both in business and in creativity.
What exactly is Actor’s Launchpad?
Tom Lapke: Actors Launchpad offers classes, seminars, workshops, events, and networking opportunities for actors, singers, and dancers in New York City. We work with top casting directors, agents, and managers to give actors unprecedented access to the information they need to further their acting careers.
We offer educational programming geared towards passionate and proactive actors and performers and strive to give them access to information they need to empower themselves to further their careers.
That sounds awesome. How did it all begin? What inspired you?
Tom Lapke: I was working as the Director of Education and Events at Backstage after they had bought Audition Update from me and hired me to come work for them. During that time, I had met the team from Reelarc, a company that creates all of this amazing original content for actors for their reels. I had seen other companies do it, but nothing was even close to what these guys were doing. They started attending some of our events, we realized we had the same sort of ideas about helping actors, and we became fast friends. I tried to direct actors to them whenever I could, just because I thought what they were doing was great. Cut to sometime later, and it was time for me to move on from Backstage. I was interviewing at a few places, but to be frank, I like being my own boss. So I approached the team at ReelArc about taking what I had learned at Backstage and doing it better. We had a lot of aligned interests, so it just made sense. So I left Backstage and three weeks later we had a 250 person launch party for Actors Launchpad. We literally flipped the switch and made the site live at the party, which was a lot of fun.
As far as what inspires me, it is knowing that I am being a positive force within the industry that I love. I was a professional actor for a long time, and frankly, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I was pretty good at the actual craft, but that has very little to do with being a professional actor. I know plenty of really talented people that never work because they don’t know the difference between acting and being an actor, and they are two very different things. So when I took a step back from my acting career to develop Audition Update, I started learning all these things about business and started seeing the direct correlation to being a successful performer. So now I get to help other actors figure that out in small ways. I get to be part of the solution to the problem of “what the hell do I do here?” in this business. I find that terribly exciting.
Just the other day, an actress that I had recently met reached out to me about an issue she was having with signing with an agency and didn’t really know from whom to get advice. That is my favorite part of the day. That is what gets me up in the morning. I got to use my business acumen to help an actor take a step back from the emotion of the decision that we all get tied up in because we are so passionate about our craft, and guide her through making a business decision. That to me is just the coolest. And look, I’m certainly not the first person to talk about treating this like a business. Paul Russell has been saying this for years. The team over at The Biz of Show are probably the best coaches in the business on this stuff right now. But I get to have my own take on it, and I get to help actors with it, which is just the best feeling in the world.
How do you differ from other actor networking establishments?
Tom Lapke: Like I said, I was a professional actor in NYC for a long time. I’ve been to just about every other company in this space. I’ve been to your Actor’s Connections, and your One on Ones. To be frank, I hated them. They felt cold and not very helpful. I felt like I was on an actor conveyor belt. It felt like a necessary evil of furthering my career. When you are in the business of helping people, they should never feel that way. And If I’m being honest, I was just as guilty of it when I was running Backstage University. I had people that I answered to that wanted to see profits up and spending down with each quarter. While I think that can work in some business sectors, it just doesn’t work in this one. We are dealing with actors, who are traditionally unbelievably dedicated to what they do, and often struggling to get by. That means, when they spend $100 on a class, it is a huge sacrifice on their part. You need to respect that. You need to do everything you can to go above and beyond to deliver on that $100 because they worked a REALLY shitty brunch shift this week, or they wrangled someone’s kid all week, to make that $100 to pay for this class. I take that very seriously. I want to make sure that when you sign up for a class from Actors Launchpad, you feel, from the very start, that these are people that take you seriously, that admire what you are doing, and are going to go out of their way to deliver above and beyond whatever your expectations are.
When we program a class, we only want people that are interested in teaching. In the actual giving of knowledge. I don’t like the “two-take” on-camera class, and try to make sure that everything we do is better than that. Part of that comes from fewer actors in the class, so they have more time to work. Instead of 15 or 16 (or more) actors that a lot of places are doing for an on-camera class, we cap it at 12.
We are always looking for ways to make the experience better. A perfect example of this is how we do Agent Seminars. Every place, ALP included, was doing a format where you had 24 actors coming in for 5 min slots. It sucked. The agents didn’t like it, the actors didn’t like it, yet we were all doing it. So we sent out two surveys, one to the agents, one to the actors, and said just that. “Hey guys – this sucks, we all know it, so how do we make it better?” Everyone on both sides said, “More time together in the room.” So we cut the roster in half to 12 actors and gave everyone a bunch more time. This allows the actors to not feel rushed in an already stressful situation. It also gives the agent a chance to work with the actor a little bit and get to know them more, which is just as, if not more, important when an agent is looking at talent.
Can you talk to us about your vision for Actor’s Launchpad?
Tom Lapke: We work every day to make this an experience about which actors can be excited and feel good. We are very lucky to be partnered with Reelarc, because it give us access to an unbelievable film crew that we can take advantage of for various class structures. A good example of this is the Agent Showcase we are currently producing. It is three weeks of classes with a manger coaching you on the business side and a CD coaching you on performance. The fourth week is a showcase in front of six top agents. We decided a few days before that taping the performance work for the actors would be really helpful for them. So we brought in a DP and a full camera rig with sound to record their work for them. We then send it to them the next day so they can see what they are doing. It is in 4K with professional sound quality. That is just not something the other places can do. We are very “footage” focused. We want you to see what you are doing not just be told what you are doing. It is our hope to expand this into all sorts of tools for actors, both off and online.
Why is there a membership service?
Tom Lapke: Well first, I want to be clear that a membership is not a barrier to entry. Anyone can come and sign up for a class and pay full price if they choose. We are not “auditioning” actors and only allowing them in if we deem them good enough to be our clients, which I think is silly. We decided that we wanted to do something for the actors beyond just provide them classes. Being an actor is sometimes both the greatest and worst. It is really expensive. So we sat down and said, how do we bring services to the masses at a discount so that it benefits the most people. A membership was the clear answer. When you are a member, which costs $10 per month, it allows us to be able to give you discounts on classes, and it also gives you access to pre-negotiated discounts for services that actors need.
Also, many of the people we have coming in for classes teach at other places. Everyone knows that. But if you are a paid member, you are going to check our calendar first because you know your membership will allow you to take class from that person for $20-$40 cheaper than anywhere else. We want you to save as much money as possible. Our favorite thing is when a member pays $10 and signs up for 5-6 classes that month and saved $50-$60 MORE than their membership cost. That may seem counter-intuitive, but what that means to us is we got to help them save money, and they decided to sign up with us before anyone else. That is a great feeling.
What do members receive once they have joined?
Tom Lapke: When you are a member you get a discount on every class and event for which you sign up. For instance, if an on-camera class with David Vaccari from Telsey is $99 (which is already cheaper than most other places), members can sign up for $89. That $10 difference already covered the cost of membership for the month.
Another great thing is we have something called Taping Tuesdays You can come in every Tuesday night and get your audition material professionally recorded. We shoot it on a really amazing camera, color correct it, and balance the sound for you. We get it to you within 24 hours (unless you tell us it is a super rush job). It is a product that has a professional quality far past anything you can do in your apartment. This is $30 if you are not a member, but is free for members.
You also get a free ticket to our networking events. We throw these really amazing Actor Networking Events. There are usually 150+ people there, and we bring in various industry guests like CDs and Agents for actors to meet in a completely social setting. We are always trying to take the table out between actors and industry and get them to connect like two regular people. The events are sponsored by Stoli, so there is an open vodka bar, and we usually have a raffle worth around $2000, which the ticket is included with your admission. The price for this is usually between $10 and $20, but members get it for free.
Lastly, the industry discounts. Members get access to discounts on things like 30% off all you’re printing with Moo.com, fitness classes with Mark Fisher Fitness, up to 40% off headshots, and a bunch of other really great stuff. The cool thing is, those discounts total WAAAAAAY more than the cost of the membership. And that is kind of the whole point.
Tell us more about your Actor Networking Events.
Tom Lapke: We just want people to understand that the CD they are meeting or the agent they want to rep them is just another human being. So we try to take that relationship out of the audition room, put it in a more fun and social setting, and throw a cocktail in there for good measure. The CD that meets you and has a pleasant conversation with you is going to remember you when you submit to them.
It’s great, because what starts as a networking event eventually evolves into just a really fun party. You can’t put 150 actors in a room with music and booze, and not have it turn into an amazing party. It really is my favorite thing that I get to do with this job.
What is your criteria for selecting who teaches inside Actor’s Launchpad?
Tom Lapke: First, I don’t bring in anyone with an “assistant” title. Not that they are not great and work very hard, but I want to make sure that they are in the business long enough to offer a very educated response that can really only come from experience. There are obviously exceptions to this. Some offices give the title of assistant when they are actually doing the work of an associate. If that is pretty clear, then I am happy to bring them in.
Also, I want them to TEACH. This should be an educational event. And I don’t just say that because it is an easy way to make people feel good about it. I genuinely mean that I want you coming here and leaving having learned things you didn’t know before. If that doesn’t happen, then I didn’t do my job and the guest didn’t do their job. I don’t want to pay someone to come in and unenthusiastically watch two takes, barely give any adjustments, and say great job. If that’s the case, they won’t be invited back. I am lucky that I have been doing this long enough that I know who those people are, and I don’t bother calling them.
There are some actors who feel uneasy about paying to see a casting director or agent, what are your thoughts on that?
Tom Lapke: GOOD! They should 100% feel uneasy about paying to meet a CD or agent. If that is why you are coming to Actors Launchpad, save your money. I am sure there are plenty of other places that would love to have you, throw you on the actor conveyor belt, give you a really shitty experience for your money, and send you on your way. That is not what we do here.
Tell us about the Actors Launchpad approach.
Tom Lapke: From the get go, all of us on the team decided that we wanted to do this differently. We all know how shady and gross this can feel and we want no part of it. We want to manage your expectations on what you should be expecting from classes, seminars and events. You should be signing up for classes to sharpen your technique, to start building a relationship, or to get a better understanding of the idiosyncrasies of each office. But if you are coming in with the thought of taking a class and being cast in “Daredevil” next week, you’re crazy. Does that happen? Of course, but, despite what some very shady advertising tactics in this industry might tell you, that is the exception, not the rule. An agent often needs to see your work or meet you a few times before signing you. Unless you happen to fill a specific type they need right then, a CD needs to see your work and its consistency a few times before they feel comfortable going out on a limb and calling you in for an audition slot.
From beginning to end, we want you to feel like your intelligence and your spent money are both being respected. Nobody is going to blow sunshine up your ass at Actors Launchpad.
What do you feel the actor would gain from the experience of attending workshops regularly at your facility?
Tom Lapke: They gain technique. Auditioning is a specific skill. Just because you are a good actor, it doesn’t mean you are good at auditioning. It really does take someone with an outside perspective to say, “well, this worked, and this didn’t, and here’s why.”
You also gain relationships. At the end of the day, this is a business built on relationships. CDs will call you in because they have met you a few times, or have seen your work, and they know you are a consistent actor that makes bold choices. They usually are not going to call you off a blind submission unless they are having trouble filling a very specific role that you happen to fit. Same thing with the agents. They need to know you to know if they want to work with you.
Can you share with us the atmosphere/culture that you aim to create for Actor’s Launchpad?
Tom Lapke: Plain and simple: Community. We want you to feel part of a community. We also want you to feel like when you take part in an event with us, you and your career are being respected. We don’t ever want someone to think to themselves, “I have to go to my Actors Launchpad event tonight,” we want them to be excited about GETTING to go to their Actor’s Launchpad event.
Do actors need to have had training or experience prior to becoming a member?
Tom Lapke: We aren’t auditioning people to take part in our events, but these are definitely classes and events for professionals. If you woke up this morning and decided you want to be an actor, that is great, but Actors Launchpad is not yet for you. It will be too advanced.
Are there events/workshops/seminars coming up that you would like actors to know about?
Tom Lapke: We are having our first agent showcase coming up in two weeks. All the actors have been working with a manager and a CD on their material and they will be performing in front of six agents, which is very exciting.
We also are doing some community building events such as movie nights where we are screening a film and serving complimentary beer, wine, soda, and popcorn.
We also have a great spin on the on-camera class coming up with Ally Beans of Judy Henderson Casting. We are bringing a full professional camera rig with a DP and instead of filming the actors straight on like an audition, we are going to set it up in a cinematic, over-the-shoulder shot to really add some depth to the scene.
What tips can you give to an actor who may be fearful of taking classes with an industry professional?
Tom Lapke: Realize that you are coming to learn, and there is nothing in that where you should be afraid. This is not an audition. You can come in, stretch your choices, play, etc. There is nothing on the line here. All anyone wants is for you to grow as an actor.
We understand Actor’s Launchpad has only just launched, however, has there been any success stories to date that you would like to share with us?
Tom Lapke:We have had a number of people called in to offices after having met CDs and agents since we started, but I try not to focus too much on that. Did you wake up this morning and bust your ass for your career? Congrats. You were a success today.
Where is Actor’s Launchpad facility located? Do all classes/events/seminars take place here?
Tom Lapke: All of our on-camera classes are at a dedicated space in midtown, right around the corner from Ripley Grier and Pearl Studios. We are in this really beautiful space that we chose specifically for a desire to have it feel different. It doesn’t feel like an audition room. It is really warm and welcoming and feels like a place that you can relax and get work done. That is what we want people to feel. Our agent seminars take place in a space downtown that, again was chosen because it is different. It has this awesome waiting area outside the room for when you are waiting to go in to meet the agent. It is very inviting, it has coffee, tea, water, and tap beer all available for free (yes, have a beer on us when you are done.) We also hold a lot of events at our offices in Astoria as well, which is actually my favorite place to do anything. We are part of the WeWork network, and so our office have these AMAZING common spaces that are, again, very inviting (noticing a theme here). We don’t ever want our actors to feel that they had a cold or uncomfortable experience. When you come to an Actor’s Launchpad event, you should feel like you are coming in to your best friend’s apartment.
If there is one single goal that you wish to achieve with Actor’s Launchpad, what would that be?
Tom Lapke: It would be to empower actors to think of themselves as not only artists, but business owners and to give them the confidence to make decisions based off of that knowledge.