Shondrella Avery (left) and Dylan Mooney, founders of Actor Trade.

Shondrella Avery (left) and Dylan Mooney, founders of Actor Trade.

As an actor with more than a decade of experience, Dylan Mooney was always in need of a scene partner. But after 10 years of running lines, his wife, Jacqueline, got tired of reading scripts with him.
That prompted Mooney to create Actor Trade, an app that connects actors with one another to rehearse.

Founded in 2017, Century City-based Actor Trade allows actors to run lines and practice scenes ahead of auditions.

The platform also enables actors to do self-tapes, or video auditions, which are saved to users’ phones or shared directly from the app.

“(Actor Trade) was sparked from a need,” said Mooney, who serves as the company’s president and chief executive. “If I have this problem, I guarantee actors all over the world have this problem.”  

As the pandemic limited in-person rehearsal and audition opportunities, Actor Trade’s digital practice and self-tape platform has attracted more than 11,000 new users over the past year, giving the platform a total user base of nearly 23,000. Every day, Mooney said, “hundreds” of actors use the app. 

Behind the scenes

Though self-tapes were an audition option prior to Covid-19, Mooney said the pandemic “solidified” the need for remote auditioning options. Because of the ease and broad range of actors who can submit for auditions, Mooney said self-taping will stick around post-pandemic.

“We knew that tech was merging with acting and that, eventually, auditions in the room were going to go away,” he said.

Actor Trade is available in the Apple and Google Play app stores, and most of its features are free to use. Each user starts with 30 rehearsal minutes on the app. Users upload their scripts to the platform and connect with others to run lines, and the platform automatically shares the script with the line reader.

In order to gain more rehearsal minutes, users can act as line readers for other actors. Each minute an actor spends reading for someone else is a minute gained for their own rehearsal time.

For the first 30 days, users get unlimited self-taping minutes. After that, it costs $5 for two days of unlimited self-taping time, a charge which, Mooney said, helps cover the company’s video storage fees.
Minutes can also be traded in for prizes in the app’s rewards store, he added, such as discounts on headshots or free website design.  

Act one

In 2016, Skyler Caleb, the company’s vice president of operations and a filmmaker joined Mooney to help flesh out his app idea.
Mooney brought the developed idea to Avery, an actor who has appeared in movies such as “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Secret Life of Bees.” Enthusiastic about the idea, Avery gave Mooney an undisclosed small sum of seed money and joined the project as its vice president.

In 2017, Mooney and Avery joined We The Incubator, a Century City-based startup incubator, through which they received more than $150,000 in funding for the company. Mooney said this is when Actor Trade came to full fruition, giving the company a springboard to officially launch the app in April of 2018. 

Act two

Though the platform had steadily grown before the pandemic, it soared beginning in March 2020. Mooney said Actor Trade’s app had around 12,000 users at the start of the pandemic, with its Facebook group at roughly 6,000 people. Now, both its user base and Facebook group membership have nearly doubled.
As the pandemic gummed up the gears of television and film production, virtual auditions and rehearsals became a new normal for the entertainment industry, said Stacey Pianko, a casting director and audition coach.

The digitalization of the casting process has given casting teams a wider array of talent to choose from, she said, making it more important for actors to convey their energy and emotion well through their self-tapes.

“We don’t get the luxury of seeing them in the room and feeling their energy,” Pianko said. “As far as (Actor Trade), it’s so good because actors get to read with another actor, and it really helps with their performance.” With its user growth amid the pandemic, the company is now working to expand Actor Trade’s offerings. It is ramping up its content production through YouTube, its Facebook group and its website by producing two series called “Celebrity Scene Spotlight” and “Unrehearsed,” which have featured actors like Rainn Wilson, David Lee Strausberg and Gary Cole.

The company also aims to increase its marketing, add casting workshops and expand its tech to be available on desktops by early 2022.

But in order to expand, Actor Trade’s next challenge is gaining the additional funding it needs, Mooney said. It has been self-funded since leaving the incubator, he said, and is looking for another tier of investment.

“We just have so many developmental ideas,” Mooney said. “But our timeline depends on when the next person cuts the check.”

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