Being an actor is kind of like being in a club. And the people who aren’t in the club are often really perplexed by what we do: “How do you memorize all those lines?” “Don’t you get nervous?” “Why don’t you go to business school instead?”
These are the kinds of questions we routinely get. And really, they’re all equally clueless.
Because if there’s one thing all actors know, it’s that the joy and delight we find in practicing our craft is unmatchable. It’s a magical bargain we strike: we get to play for a living, and we get to pretend to be other people just like children do, and we get to share that child-like joy with others. Can’t do that in business school.
What more could you ask for?
Well, more of it, for one thing – as in, more work! One common refrain you hear is “How do I get an agent?” Especially among younger actors looking to make a big splash and feeling like it’s taking too long for it to happen.
So what are agents looking for in an actor? Just as every actor is different, with their own personality and their own set of quirks, every agent is different, too. However, there are a few common threads most of them are looking for in actors they’re considering representing. Here are some ways you can give yourself a head start!
One big misapprehension lots of actors fresh out of a theater program have is the notion that once they’ve bagged that degree, they’re done with taking classes. They think, “Hey, that’s (mostly) what I was doing with my time in college! Learning how to act! I KNOW how to act!” Well, that’s great, and no doubt your high school and university level work will provide you with the baseline of knowledge you need to get started in the real world. But I hate to break it to you: just because you graduated a theater program doesn’t mean you know everything. Education in acting never ends. There’s always something new to learn, refinements to technique, a more profound depth you can take your work to. The first thing to accept about being an actor is that classes are for life. You need to keep developing the skills you began learning in school, and keep pushing them to the next level. Let’s face it: your college theater instructors were maybe tough on you from time to time, but they’re nothing like what you’re going to face in the real world working on time-pressed productions with harried directors and producers. Right off the bat, most agents will tell you should get yourself in three types of classes: scene study, improv and auditioning. Especially the last one, the technique of auditioning, which is something most schools are woefully inadequate at addressing. Truth be told, you need to have dozens if not hundreds of auditions under your belt before you’re fully relaxed and able to let your real self come out unhindered by nervousness and being in your head on auditions. A good audition class will give you the chance to practice and get valuable critiquing as well. And once you get to the point where you’re ready to start querying agents, (Not yet! Don’t do it!!) you will make a better impression if you can point to a few of these classes you’ve taken or are currently taking. Last thought on classes: to industry professionals, an actor taking classes indicates someone who takes this seriously, is passionate about their craft, and wants to improve. Don’t ever be ashamed of taking an acting class or feel like people might judge you poorly. It’s the actors who think they already know everything who get judged.
2. Get Some Experience
Wait, what?? Isn’t the whole idea of getting an agent to have someone in your corner lining up auditions for you, so you can get more work, so you can get that experience? Well, yes and no. Yes, agents have the inside track on getting their actors auditions for more exclusive projects. But guess what: even if you have an agent, if you aren’t ready for a certain level of work, he or she isn’t going to send you out. A common misconception is that agents and CDs just throw everything against the wall when it comes to auditions and see what sticks, as it were. But guess what happens if an agent sends out actor after actor who is way under-prepared and doesn’t have the skill set for certain projects? That agent finds him or herself with a phone that never rings anymore. They have a job to do too, and they have a reputation to protect if they want to keep doing it. So first things first, make it easy for an agent to want to take you on as a client. Don’t even think about querying agents if you don’t have a fairly broad and deep Resume showing that you have experience in a variety of media, playing a variety of characters. Unless you have a super quirky, super unique look, or a killer, top-tier credit to your name, there’s no reputable agent out there who will take you on without already having a good deal of experience. This means you’re going to have to be your own agent for a while and get yourself some jobs! Luckily, there is help out there. In fact, help is right here. NYCastings has the most comprehensive, most frequently updated list out there of available roles for you where you can self-submit. Join free just by adding your email and info, and you can upload your resume and headshot for the top casting directors in your area to see when they are looking to cast. But more importantly, you get access to the NYCastings list of hundreds of active castings with character breakdowns, complete with links where you can send in your photo and resume for consideration. When it comes to seeking out an agent, you want to be able to demonstrate that you know what it takes to work on a set or in a theater before they’re going to want to work with you. And these days you do that by self-submitting and developing a reputation as someone directors want to work with.
3. Marketing Materials
When you do get ready to march into an agent’s office and present your case as to why he or she should spend valuable time trying to market you, you want to be able to prove you already have a grip on marketing yourself. Lots of people think you can just go to an agent and it’s their job to get your headshots arranged, get your resume cleaned up, and help you create a reel. No. You should have all of this well in hand before you ever even consider talking to an agent. You want to make less work for your potential agent, not more. While it’s true that if you and an agent mutually decide to start working together he or she will have some input on how to improve your headshot/resume/reel, but that doesn’t mean you get to just walk in empty-handed. If you present an image of a competent, hard-working actor who earnestly wants to do what it takes to get the job, you’re going to make your potential new agent very happy, because then he or she can assume that’s the spirit and work ethic you take into auditions and onto the set.
4. The Actor Prepares
And let’s not forget the most important marketing material you’ve got: you! Be prepared when you get ready to talk with an agent. Treat the interview like you would an audition: do your research – what is the agency like, what kind of work has this particular agent been involved in, commercial/film/tv etc. and does his or her focus fit with what you want to do. Be ready to explain your experience, your goals and your own area of focus, and how you would be a good fit. And be ready to show your personality as you would at a post-read Q&A at an audition. One big complaint from CDs is actors who can read their sides competently, but as soon as the producer or director asks them a question after the read, they fall apart. Again, this agent’s job is to send out competent, professional actors who aren’t going to melt under pressure; don’t just tell them you’re ready – show them!