February is the peak season for art school enrollment in China, which also becomes a kind of hunting season for local talent agents. At this moment, hundreds of acting companies nationwide are simultaneously focused on the top three professional performing arts schools, the Central Academy of Drama (CAD), Beijing Film Academy (BFA) and Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA). Undergraduate admissions are a golden opportunity for these "fishermen" to net new faces, Wenhui Daily recently reported.
"Almost all freshmen sign with a talent agency," and not only just those students majoring in acting, but also students in dance, opera, musical, hosting and other majors. In schools, students spend more time meeting with agencies than studying, several professors at STA told reporters from Wenhui Daily.
Normally, students will sign a contract with the acting company, which lists their payment and other rights. Then they are supposed to perform in online and offline shows and also outside shooting required by the company.
A recent article published by Wenhui Daily focuses on the above phenomenon centered on students in STA, which has drawn a wide range of social concerns. To what extent have these acting companies been infiltrating schools? What impact will the "signing before schooling" have on the cultivation of acting talent? How do these academic acting professors view on this phenomenon?
Now, it is hard for those agents waiting at admission spots to find high-quality new faces. Exceptionally nice-looking students are targeted by various acting companies as early as pre-test art training schools ahead of official enrollment. Wherever there is acting or a related major, students are booked up.
It has brought about a lot of criticism from acting professors and experts on this irrational and crazy talent hunt.
"Though signing or not is a personal choice, I vehemently say no to it," said Wang Luoyong, known as the first Chinese on Broadway, also the center director of the musical department in STA, "There are countless bad examples. Some profit-oriented acting companies not only damage the respect of students for artistic standard, but destroy their good attitudes toward studying."
Once signed, students have to fulfill their obligations under the contract, including performing dramas, shooting advertisements and other commercial performance determined by the company. However, as a student, it will be hard to recognize those potential pitfalls in the clauses.
For instance, some unscrupulous agencies often use the trick of installment payments to cheat students; when the performance ends, students cannot get the rest of the money. Faced with this situation, few students can speak up and confront the companies.
"It is a significant cost to engage in a lawsuit and safeguard their rights. Hiding gimmicks in a contract and other unfair treatments are hidden rules in this industry," said STA professor Li Zhenlin, who speaks up about injustice in these so-called talent hunt for students.
Students are easy to fall into those traps set by various companies, due to their naivety and lack of social experience. Some agencies even make students' heads spin and don't let them talk about the details of their work with their teachers. What's worse, they will be signed for five or even 10 years, and it will be a significant chunk of money to rescind the contract.
"Basically, students have become slaves to those unscrupulous agencies, but they are unaware of and even enjoy that," Wang added. This lures students into putting their financial interests and the temptation of fame ahead of their studies, and teachers knock on students' doors one after another, earnestly "begging" them to come to class, Wang said.
Liu Tianchi, an acting teacher in CAD, ranted and pounded on the table, "Half of my students are outside shooting and not attending classes."