Let’s not beat about the bush here. There
is a distinct possibility that even after all your training, you won’t get
offers from the agencies you liked the look of or, even worse, no offers at
all. Here’s why…
There are TONNES of actors who all happen to graduate around the same time of year. No matter what you’ve been told previously, it is statistically impossible that all of them will find representation. Agents’ books aren’t ever-expanding filing cabinets, so they can’t just invite people aboard whenever they want. They must always balance how many actors they want on their books versus how much time they allocate to advance the careers of each individual actor. Likewise, every actor has their own brand or personality and style of acting which some agencies may or may not gravitate towards.
Keep in mind also that a good agent never wants to duplicate a ‘type’ (read: brand) that they already have on their books. A switched-on agent never wants to generate competition within their agency. One person I interviewed noted truthfully that it is often the strongest actors in a year that may not pick up agents straight away. This can be especially disheartening as you’ve spent three years feeling pretty confident about your abilities and yet no-one seems to be fighting to represent you.
It’s all horribly, horribly subjective and yet it’s never EVER personal, even though it may feel that way. In order to wade through this quagmire of disappointment, start by recognising the fact that the situation is CRAP and, yes, you’re ALLOWED to be confused, frustrated or pissed off. A whole range of emotions will be whirling through your head so feel them and acknowledge them all. However, don’t permit yourself to get sucked into an unending whirlpool of anger and pessimism because “Long Haul Guy permitted me to feel whatever the hell I liked”. An occasional relapse into negativity will be inevitable. But choosing to perpetuate it deliberately will super-glue you into a destructive mindset and sink your career before it’s even started. Yes, you read that right. Your career, because you still have one, regardless of representation.
Here, I invite you to read the stories of two real-world actors who did not immediately pick up representation following their respective showcases. Within each story, there a several tactics worth taking on board. Read their words and know that they have been through exactly what you are experiencing right now and have STILL come out the other side:
The key thing here is to take the time you need to get yourself back to a point of action. Then make one, small deliberate movement forward at a time, inch by minuscule inch. You are still a viable creative entity with or without representation! I still think you’re worth it (and I’m damn sure you do), so since nobody is batting for you, you’re going to have to start batting for yourself. Cue Rocky Music and insert choice of montage. You’re about to develop a mind muscle that many actors don’t develop for several years down the track: Perseverance.
ACTOR A’s STORY:
“After graduating a long-term acting course, you’ll have spent most of the time being told that at the end of this you will do a showcase and get an agent. It’s almost delivered as a promise to you for sticking through the heart ache, tears, late nights and early mornings you dedicate to working your craft. However, the bitter reality of industry verses institution starts to set it in after showcase when your phone remains as silent as the last passenger waiting for the nightly bus. Not everyone will receive offers of representation after a showcase, some may not even receive requests for meetings. This is a daunting reality that every emerging actor needs to understand before they take their first step into the industry. In my case, I received one or two offers for meetings after acting school from agents I hadn’t really heard of, and certainly weren’t on my wish list. Of those one said yes and the other said no. Then, the yes suddenly became a “Sorry, we meant no” which added fuel to the fire of self-doubt that slowly began to burn away at any idea of success. But instead of letting the fire consume me, I decided to get seen the way that I wanted to be seen. My showcase hadn’t given me an opportunity to ‘brand’ myself as an actor. If I could go back and talk to that younger version of myself now, I would get him to realise that it is he who is in control. He should choose how he represents himself, not the institution. I found myself a group of creatives who all wanted to produce quality content and together we created new scenes, new show reels and in the end, I was able to find an agent I was happy with. As time progresses you will find that your tastes change. For me, I ended up leaving that agent looking again for new representation. It was just another step in my career. It was during this time I started to network on my own and found myself working in a theatre production near an agency about which I had heard very reputable things. I took the initiative, contacted them directly and invited them to see the show. That was the beginning of a relationship with an agency that I have joined and trusted ever since. What’s-more, it feels far more ‘deserved’ having reached them this way. I worked hard to find them and when I did get to come on board, I got to do it with far more autonomy in my work.”
ACTOR B’s STORY:
So you’ve finished acting school and you’re standing in the wings of your showcase venue. You are waiting to perform what you’ve been told will be the most important performance of your career. But here’s a secret; it’s not. I graduated from a well-known acting school where I was told an agent was the only path to a successful career. Having no one to talk to who had walked a different path, I was heartbroken to be one of the very few not signed. In fact, I was unrepresented for nearly a year. For a year, I felt like I’d failed. I’d wasted three years of my life studying something I clearly wasn’t good at. While my friends were attended 5+ auditions a week, I was back at my day job as if I hadn’t just finished my dream uni degree. I’m here to tell you what I only wish someone had told me. This career we have chosen is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to work at this thing every single day. And quite frankly, as ludicrous as it may sound to you right now, NOT getting an agent straight out of uni was the best thing to happen to me. I’d been in an institution for three years where all I had to do was turn up on time, follow a timetable written out for me, learn lines someone else chose for me, go home to eat and sleep. This was my opportunity to ask myself: “What am I really doing this for?” I no longer had anyone else in my corner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot harder to get auditions when you don’t have an agent finding them for you, but it builds character. So sign yourself up to all the newsletters for the theatre companies around you and read the emails they send (they’ll often have audition notices in there), set up a profile on casting websites and keep it updated, constantly scroll through casting groups on Facebook and audition notices online for something you think might suit you. Be involved in community theatre or film student projects; use it as an avenue to meet actors and directors and crew members, even invite agents to performances you’re in to showcase what you’ve been doing since Showcase. Most of all, please please PLEASE, just keep doing it. I was eventually approached by an agent completely out of the blue a year after graduating. I was in the middle of a long rehearsal process for a community theatre play which was performed outside in the dark, in a park in Western Sydney. I was getting home at 3am most mornings then turning around to rehearse for a student short film before heading to my retail job (because of course none of this acting paid anything). Within a week of signing with my agent I had an audition for my dream job; an actor in a touring Theatre-In-Education troupe. I got the role. I can wholeheartedly say that I wouldn’t have had a successful audition if I hadn’t been disciplining myself through those student films and community theatre productions for the year leading up to it. So, if you’re reading this and you’re disheartened by the fact that you haven’t found representation yet, revel in the opportunity you have to prove to yourself how much you want this. Like I said, this career is a marathon, not a sprint, and every single connection you make will help you build your profile. There is no such thing as luck; simply preparation meeting opportunity. Your opportunity is coming, so be ready for it when it does.”
Both these actors, whom I know well, are real world examples of graduates who had to seek representation from scratch. Their very first steps in The Biz lay on the wildest and most gnarled part of the goat track that is a career in professional acting. Yet, they got through. Plus, here is the kicker.:
Agents care about you.
Being turned down can make it seem like they do not, but they are as human as we are and know exactly how much an actor puts on the line when they go for representation. They don’t like people feeling bad and they don’t like people feeling like they’ve somehow failed. Here are the Long Haul Life Savers- straight from the agencies themselves- that will help you get back on track with representation.
LONG HAUL LIFE SAVERS:
- Having an agent does not guarantee you work.
Finding representation doesn’t mean that you can now kick back and wait for stampedes of directors all clawing at each other to be the first to cash in on your unparalleled commercial promise. It’s great to have a good agent, but this does not automatically generate you work in and of itself. It most cases, it takes a damn long time to etch out your name in The Biz and your agent will expect you to know this. The real long haul has only just begun.
- Showcase is not the be all and end all of your career.
All agents remain on the lookout for new additions to the books outside showcase time (surprise, surprise). They watch good-quality indie productions, watch well-timed showreels and correspond with casting directors about any good work that they have seen. A showcase is a great way to get in front of agents, but it’s one of several viable options. There are many more paths and just as many actors with their own stories to prove this.
- Make stuff, do stuff, have a product to sell and then sell it to someone.
All that ‘Create! Create! Create!‘ stuff your acting teachers were banging on about was for exactly such a moment. Even for actors WITH representation, you absolutely must remain proactive otherwise your creative soul with starve (see A Pro’s Work Ethic). Just go ahead and make stuff! Anything! Shoot a short film, audition for indie theatre, rehearse one-act plays, run Shakespeare scenes, write scripts, etc… Remember: If you’re going to make and do stuff, why not do something with the goal in mind to create a product you can submit to agencies in consideration for representation!
- If you’re still looking for an agent, shoot a showreel with suitable content that showcases YOU.
The number one tip here from the agents is that you will need to display a VISIBLE CHANGE from whatever you showed to them at showcase. They are looking for personal artistic development and something that will make them say “Wow. We so got them wrong!” Choose scenes that are easy, fun and ‘show-offy’. They should ‘carbonate’ you creatively when you read them and be a real pleasure to perform. Make sure your production values are solid. They don’t need to be feature film standard, but they should be pretty enough that it makes you look like a pro. This means shooting in HD with a DSLR or top-line phone camera (minimum standard), having a minimal but effective set (must add to the scene) and a decent lighting set up. Showcase your acting chops, not mad kung-fu skills or a famous facial expression you once made in a KFC commercial.
- Find someone who knows your work to champion you.
Get a stand-out reference from someone who can advocate for you. It could be a director you worked with, the head of a drama school or even a graduate who already has representation and knows your work well.
- We expect the panic, shame and frantic pursuit.
Resist the temptation to join in with everyone else without representation at showcase time who frantically bombard agents with emails. It will be tempting to do so as every fibre of your body will be screaming at you to take action and fix the situation. By all means, do your due diligence and respectfully contact agencies you wish to have meetings with. Just don’t stoop to begging or badgering them. Don’t burn your bridges before you’ve even crossed them! The agencies want you to know that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. All actors, no matter how green or successful, need to hear that statement a few times before it finally sinks in.