When I was in college, preparing for showcase, I was told that it was more important to sign with an agent who understood you than to sign with a big, important agency, where you risk being overlooked.
This was both true and untrue.
I'm not sure why they told us this-- were they trying to temper our expectations? I think they wanted to drive home the point that your relationship with your agent is more important than the prestige of the agency itself. This is definitely true. But the more established the agency, the better your chances of getting seen for projects that can really advance your career. So what's a talented young actor to do?
The best case scenario, obviously, is that you get signed with a major agency by an agent who understands exactly who you are and how to market you. Ideally, this huge agency has few actors of your type. Ideally, your agent has the dedication to pull strings to get you seen by the important industry players.
This may happen to one or two members of your graduating class. But to be honest, it won't happen for most of you. Strap yourself in, I'm about to get real.
Most of you will sign or work freelance with a mid-level agency. They will call themselves "boutique," which has more to do with the number of agents they can afford to support than their actual client list. (However, all the agents will know you and handle you, which is not a bad thing!) As a new graduate, they will most likely throw you against the wall and see what sticks. They will send you on invited dance calls, any call for 'young' people (Hair, Birdie, etc), and ensemble calls for big tours or Broadway replacements. You will go out once or twice a week, maybe more, depending on the season. It's up to you to distinguish yourself. You'll be cutting your teeth on the audition circuit. You're figuring out which song cuts work for which auditions, what your "lucky" outfits are, what you have to do to warm up, how many open calls you should go on, and how you can do all this and still afford to pay your rent. You're working far harder than you thought you would when you signed with this agent in the first place.
Welcome to New York.
But what should you honestly expect from your agent? How do you know if the relationship is working?
Ultimately, the agent/client relationship is my least favorite part of the industry. It's part friendship, part business partner. Whether you have an agent, are searching for one, or are trying to decide between several options (#blessed), here are some simple Do's and Don'ts I've accumulated over my years in the biz:
1. Do sign with the best agency you can. Do your research. Don't be fooled when someone tells you you'll get boutique attention at their small agency. You won't. Or rather, you will for a month, then you won't. If you have to choose between two agencies, ask somebody. Hell, ask me. Send me a message!
2. Don't be afraid to freelance. Whether you're signed or not, it's up to you to stand out at every call you go on. So let as many people send you on as many calls as possible.
Now, while it doesn't hurt you to freelance, agents hate it. They're supposed to call you and ask you if they can submit you for something. That's very time consuming. And, as a freelance client, they're not going to push you for something only to find that another agency already obtained an appointment for you. It can be a little complicated juggling agencies. (I had two different freelance agencies in LA and NY when I was on the West Coast.) However, if you can do it, more power to you! And as soon as you establish a reputation for being consistently good, as soon as you start to book, one of those agencies will want to sign you. Or both! Then you can pick. As with everything else in this industry, do good work, and the rest will follow.
3. Do get seen. The best agent I ever had saw me in a role, not as an ensemble member or in a five-minute audition. Do showcases and small projects in the City. Take an improv class with a showcase at the end. Your representation will have a better idea of how to market you if they see you in action.
4. Don't do mailings. Don't mail or email anyone cold. Get a referral, or go to Actors Connection or One on One. Mailings are expensive, time-consuming and yield low results. Find a better way to get in the room. If you get an email address for an agency from a friend or a casting director, write the name of the person who referred you in the subject line.
*While I don't recommend mass mailings, I do recommend sending postcards to agents and/or casting directors to invite them to come see you in projects. Go to www.vistaprint.com and get a fierce postcard made up with your headshot on it. You don't need to overpay at Reproductions. It's a postcard. It doesn't even go in an envelope. It's gonna look like crap when it arrives, but that doesn't mean they won't come see you.
5. Do expect to get your agent on the phone. Or to have your calls returned promptly. Same with email. You don't need to call or email every day, but...
6. Do a princess wave. Once a month, find an excuse to march into the office and do what my friend calls the princess wave. Drop off that postcard in person. Stop in after a summer stock gig to report on how it went. Whatever. Make sure that they see your face. You want to be in their thoughts when those breakdowns come out.
7. Do email them about projects you want to do. Or when you hear appointments went out for a show you want to do. Or when you hear that someone is leaving a Broadway show, and you know a replacement call will come up in the breakdowns. Or when you see something on the Equity website that you want to do. Or if you get the damn breakdowns yourself. Whatever. Be pushy here. Follow up! If someone won't see you, ask why not. (P.S: They will probably say you "aren't right" for the project, which, if you think you ARE right, usually means that they don't have the slightest idea who you are and what you actually do.) Target that casting director and go to an Equity call or One on One and show them your stuff. Correct his impression of you. Then call your agent and tell him or her you did that. Help your agent do his job.
8. Don't get discouraged if you don't book right away. That's ok. Stop comparing yourself to your friends. Your agent doesn't expect you to book everything, either. They aren't going to be able to get you every single appointment you want, and you aren't going to book every single audition you go on. This is the reality of the business, and they understand this. So if you don't book, don't allow it to chip away at your confidence. If you're getting callbacks, you're doing something right. If you're not getting callbacks, take a good, honest look at yourself and figure out what you need to fix. Focus on the work, and the bookings will come.