Pose for Me: Staying Safe as a Performer Working Online During Quarantine

Heather Hogan is a British performer who was chosen as a guest feature from the WomanStats Project’s open call for blog post submissions. You may follow her on Instagram at @hevhogan.

“Hey!” Starts the conversation on Facebook messenger. It’s quite a sprightly, optimistic start. “So we’ve got an amazing opportunity for you. Just the best! So lucky and rare right now, considering everything that’s going on at the moment…”

She’s clutching the sides of her laptop in anticipation at this point. Desperation likes to seep through without much shame when you’re cooped up in quarantine alone. It was like every booked job that was secured fell through the net quite literally overnight. No backups. No compensation. No ifs or buts.

Every actor and performer has to deal with the fact that they aren’t taken seriously even in normal conditions, let alone conditions like these. It seemed as if when all the shows, cabarets, performances, and everything creative in between faded, we had disappeared with it. A lost colony of sorts, with so much magic to give but a big COVID brick wall was suddenly built around us, locking us in. Trump’s border wall could never.

But all is not lost, right? Look at what the gift of technology has given us: a safe gateway to each other, to carry on business meetings, family reunions, birthdays, and on and on. And as ever, us creatives flexed our muscles and created our own fun too.

It seemed as if when all the shows, cabarets, performances, and everything creative in between faded, we had disappeared with it. A lost colony of sorts, with so much magic to give but a big COVID brick wall was suddenly built around us, locking us in.

I’ve seen it all in the past couple of months; facetime personal training sessions, online speed dating, skype musical performances, live workshops, you name it, cyberspace has given us a way to manage it. Photoshoots for Vogue, Elle, all the way down to Misguided and ASOS are now the products of models trying to fiddle with a ring light and their tripod in the four walls of their very own homes. And instead of your knees shaking while you’re standing on the “X”, stating your name, Instagram handle, amount of followers and being asked things like “what has been a life-defining moment for you?” It’s now been switched to twiddling your thumbs underneath the table as you wait for the audition via zoom meeting to start.

It’s a sad reality that throughout the career of a female performer, you’ll probably wear half as many clothes as your male counterparts. “This is a topless performance.” I’ve watched French cabaret directors sneer as they take a glance at my 36A cup. “This is a boudoir shoot, are you comfortable in underwear?” is another classic I get asked far too often. With the sad realisation that perhaps to get any further in our careers and well…to pay the rent…there are some things girls might just have to suck up the best they can.

Nothing new, that concept, nothing ground-breaking, plus a global pandemic hasn’t been kind to a self-employed pocket. I guess maybe the “bite your lip and suck it up” jobs might have to be the “survival” jobs for now. I mean, we need to eat, so…

“Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with me!” says the sweet-sounding casting photographer. “So let me just fill you in on some details. I work directly with the employer, who is looking for a certain age range of models for a sportswear/underwear shoot. Does that sound good to you? Unfortunately, you won’t be paid for your audition time, but if cast, then the pay will be fantastic!”

“Wait, uh…” she stutters, flicking through the audition casting call post on Facebook. “It says here you’re looking for girls aged 15 to 22…I don’t understand, isn’t that a little young?”

“Oh!” he gasps. The connection is lagged but it doesn’t hide his fluster. “I meant to put 18, a mere oversight. Don’t worry I’ll get that rectified.”

“Oh…erm, okay…”

“So I’ll just need to get a good idea of your body type, standard poses, nothing out of the usual. I’ll be taking these screenshots straight to the employer and they should have their decision within a week or so. All good?”

“I, erm…”

“Obviously I want to make sure you’re comfortable and you have full knowledge that this could lead onwards to further opportunities with the employer beyond this shoot!”

“Right… Erm..”

“Brilliant, ok let’s start when you’re ready then. Fantastic, yeah, just leave those clothes to the side. Okay so perhaps a hand on your hip and a bent leg? Big smile? Yep, brilliant. Ok hand resting on thigh? Fantastic, couple of side shots, turn for me a little more… Cool. Got those.”

“Everything okay with them?” she asks, hopeful yet anxious.

“Fantastic, naturally beautiful. I think the client will be really impressed with these.”

“Oh great!”

“So like I said, I’ll get these sent over. I’m not sure whether the shoot will be in the studios because of all this COVID nonsense so it potentially might be a hotel location or even the client or myself can travel to you if you’re successful.”

“Wait, sorry what? This isn’t starting to make sense? A hotel venue?!”

“Not to worry, not to worry. I’ll send over more details and give you clarity via email. But thanks so much for these, and thanks again for your time!”

“Yeah, uh you’re welcome,” I reply. “Can I just ask, I have your email here but could I get your contact nu-”

** The Zoom Meeting Has Ended **

Where do you draw the line between safe and dangerous, when everything can be done in the supposedly safe four walls of your own quarantine?

“You’re an idiot!” she tells herself. He didn’t even specify a rate of pay to you. But aren’t so many jobs specified as “competitive rates of pay” anyway? “The client name sounded a little obscure,” she tells herself. But aren’t so many client names hidden by agencies before getting the gig anyway? Where do you draw the line between safe and dangerous, when everything can be done in the supposedly safe four walls of your own quarantine?

The entire point of staying home, staying alert, is to keep the pandemic out, to keep safe. But as always, the pandemics of sexism, manipulation, and exploitation pick the locks of women’s safe spaces all over the world. Cyberspace has just given them an easier combination.

You’re probably wondering whether she heard back from the director who ran away like a bandit with those images. 

She didn’t. 

Screenshots of a legitimate fake casting call Hogan provided of a closed group meant to recruit London performers and actors for auditions and casting
Backlash the post received when the group realized it was fake

How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe from False “Audition” Advertising

Some helpful and important tips:

–     Trust your instincts

  • This might sound blindingly obvious, but any little red flag that pops up in your mind, try and listen to it. It’s more likely to be correct than incorrect.
  •  Check the profile of the advertiser. Do they look professional? Do they have their work credentials posted? Are there any mutual friends you have with them so you can ask for some character references?
  • Check casting call details. It’s not unusual for jobs to hide rate of pay and the client name they are working for, but bear this in mind. Do not be afraid to ask.
  • Do they have a professional website advertised? If not, this should be something to ask of them. If they don’t have one, this should raise a red flag.
  • Check the tone of the advertisement. When performers are desperate and excited for work, sometimes this can slip your mind. Check for errors, mistakes, or any inconsistencies and make sure you question them about any that you find.

–     If they are looking for “female actors/models”, in particular for a gym wear/swimwear/lingerie shoot, do not consent to posing in any of the sort during an initial audition chat. If you have prior portfolio pictures that are already public which show off your body type, then send these as an alternative. If they are persistent for you to pose for them through an audition zoom call, refuse. The job is not worth the risk.

–     Casting directors should be fair, kind, and understanding

  • If they are displaying hostile, unprofessional behaviour or signs that they are trying to guilt-trip you into doing something, then they are not to be worked with. Block, report to social media authorities and group admins, and delete.

–     Check the age casting range

  • Anyone asking for models under the age of 18 should go directly through a child modeling agency where jobs can be handled safely under parental consent. Requesting an online chat with anyone under the age of 18 is a huge red flag. Don’t give the situation the benefit of the doubt.

–     If they show signs of trying to lure teen models or actors to chat with them online, whether by advertising a low casting age range, asking for lingerie shoots, or by saying he can “travel to location” or a “hotel location”, immediately report to the police.

  • The police will most likely say there is nothing they can do because a crime hasn’t yet been committed, with only a Facebook casting call as proof. But press the police anyway; tell them to stay alert and keep an eye on this individual. Remember, you’re doing your part by doing this.

–     ALWAYS SCREEN RECORD YOUR ZOOM MEETINGS

  • This is a feature you can find on zoom. This should be your preferred professional chat platform. Your screen recording of the interview could provide hard evidence should something not go quite right.

–     If you have fallen victim to a scam similar to this…

  • Please know that you are not alone. You should feel unashamed to speak out and help ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. Please contact the police with all the information you can scramble together, like screenshots, profile details, and dates and times of the online call. More often than not, the person who targeted you has plenty more silenced victims in his closet and your effort could help not only set those voices free but avoid any more victims falling for the scam.

Stay safe. And I don’t just mean from the virus.

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