Agent Loyalty; From Musicals to Drama; Finding Audition Material

Agent Loyalty; From Musicals to Drama; Finding Audition Material Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers information on agent tactics and moving from musicals to drama, plus gives monologue/song hunting tips for young actors.
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Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers information on agent tactics and moving from musicals to drama, plus gives monologue/song hunting tips for young actors.

And don't miss the new section, Blair's Notes at the bottom.

I invite actors of all ages to continue writing me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
So, I just got out of school and was fortunate enough to sign with a wonderful and well-known agency. It was a remarkable break and I am thrilled, don't get me wrong. But now I feel like I have little control over what is already an uncontrollable business. For example: Can I still go on open calls that they do not send me on? Do I use their number as a contact for these calls? Or should I use my service number? I do not want to go behind their backs, but there are several shows that I feel I should get a shot at and they aren't submitting me for. What's your advice on this and any other protocol when it comes to this. Thanks!

Dear Signed-Up,
It's great that you got an agent so soon after school, though it is difficult early on in the business to know what control you do and do not have. As an actor, so many things are not in your control; like getting auditions, agents, parts, etc. And the level of control constantly changes with age, experience, and who you are working with. You do have some "control" on your end of your relationship with your agent. I believe it is best to be open and honest with your agent -- and to speak up (in a tactful way) when necessary, in order to keep the lines of communication open and the frustration from building up so that the relationship can be effective.

Why is your agent not submitting you for these auditions that you are interested in? It's possible he or she is submitting you, but for one reason or another you are not being selected to audition. Ask and find out what is going on. It's worth discussing, instead of simply cultivating distrust and feeling the need to sneak around.

Under most contracts you are not obligated to tell your agents about every audition you are going on, and you are not liable to pay the agent if you book work through another source. Regardless, many actors choose to pay their agents for work they book themselves, either out of good business relations or because they have the agent negotiate the contract for them. There are agent/actor contracts which stipulate that the agent gets 10 percent of any income the actor makes from acting.

Be clear on what your contract is. Talk with your agent about wanting to work and get auditions yourself. At this point in your career, the more credits and experience you have, the more eligible you are for work -- so from that perspective, taking as many opportunities as you can makes you more valuable to your agent.

If you did get cast from any "open calls", your agent would most likely not negotiate a contract for you. Open calls are usually for parts with non-negotiable pay.

You can put both your agent's and your service phone numbers on your resume, but whatever you do, it's best to be upfront with all parties. Don't sneak around -- auditioning itself is stressful enough!

Hope this helps.

Question
Dear Blair:
I'm a 26-year-old NYC actor with a BFA in theatre. Now even though my program emphasis was musical theatre, my theatre department focused on developing strong actors. . .singing and dancing were a part of every theatre major's curriculum, whether in the musical theatre program or performance. . .
Now I've been pursuing a career in theatre for the last four years and have fortunately been able to keep myself working quite steadily. However, all of this work has been in musicals. Musicals are produced more frequently, have larger casts (in general) and often pay better (at least while I was non-union). And I love musicals, of course. But I have been aware lately that I am never called back for straight plays. Acting is not the same as the medical field, last I noticed, so why are we being perceived as specialists? I feel that I am being penalized for keeping myself working these last four years. I had to build a resume, right? I get the feeling that some directors must think "musicals = can't act." I submit myself for straight play showcases and for student films and never get an audition! I know about having two different resumes, but my "straight" theatre resume is very sparse and hasn't worked any better.
I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions on this matter.
Sincerely,
ACTOR/singer/dancer

Dear First and Foremost ACTOR,
Thanks for your great question-- and good going on the steady working and union status.

I understand your frustration, but as long as you are convinced that your musical theatre resume bars you from other types of roles, it will be true. I have noticed time and again, that when actors believe something in this business to be true, they end up proving it so.

So my suggestion is two-fold:
One--stop assuming that the only reason you are not getting cast in straight plays is your resume. In fact, with each audition, before you go into it, try assuming that you are absolutely equipped for the role, regardless of which resume you hand them. You can expand your horizons. Nothing stopped Patty LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Glenn Close, Jason Alexander, or Antonio Banderas from doing it.

Two -- get some feedback. I recommend when and if you do open yourself up to feedback, that you do so with open eyes and ears, ready to learn more about yourself as an actor. It is possible that what you are bringing to your straight dramatic auditions is a different energy than what is being sought. This does not mean you are a bad actor. Some people come alive when they sing in a way that they cannot replicate without music unless they work very hard for some time. It is possible that you have yet to tune into your power as a dramatic actor.

Since we can't see ourselves when we are acting, it is always helpful to borrow the eye of a trustworthy and knowledgeable friend, teacher, coach or director, to let us know what we are actually doing on stage. I have a hunch there may be a lot of information for you in the feedback.

Even if the feedback supports exactly what you are doing, keep going. One day you will break into a straight play and once you do, it's likely the problem will begin to fade.

Best of luck!

Question Dear Blair,
I have a couple of questions, that I just seem not to get answered. I have been going to singing auditions and dance auditions and I am not getting anywhere, when I think I am good. Can you tell me two good songs to use and how do I only capture 16 measures without messing up the song. And on acting auditions, what monologues do you recommend for a female? And my last question is, how do you get an agent if you don't live in the two big cities, like LA or New York? Is it possible to make it if you don't live in either of those cities, and it's not easy access. I am writing from Florida. Please help me, I am very ambitious, but I don't know where to go from here.
Thank you,
Michelle Reed

Dear Michelle,
They are good questions, but I can't answer most of them for you. Besides the fact that it is part of the actor's job to find songs and monologues that work for them, I do not know your vocal, personal or physical type.

I suggest working with a voice teacher who specializes in Broadway. He or she should have lots of sheet music that you can look at together. A voice teacher or coach can also help you cut the song off where it fits best, or help you paste the ending of the song to the end of the first verse, and make other cuts and pastes like that.

It can be costly to work with a coach, but it is a worthy investment. Getting help with your auditions can make you a far better and more confident auditioner.

Monologues can be found in a number of ways. If there is a performing arts library near you, I recommend you go for an afternoon and flip through scripts. Otherwise there are plenty of audition monologue books on the market that are a "quick fix." You can stop in a drama book shop and flip through them, they are usually in one section. You can also order some of these from Amazon.com on Playbill and also from the Drama Book Shop at (212) 944-0595. I always recommend that if you get a monologue from a monologue book, be sure to read the play (at least once).

In Florida there are some good theatres and now Universal Film Studios. I think it should be a good place to get some work and build your resume up before moving to the big cities. To get an agent in Florida, you should look in the yellow pages under talent agents and send your headshot and resumes. Also, look for agency listings in the local actor or artists trade paper if there is one. And please read the previous Ask Blair's on How to Get an Agent.

Best of luck!


Blair's Notes
Just wanted to let L.A. Actors know about a career workshop called "Scaling the Walls" at the Moving Arts Theatre Company.

It's taught by Mark Chaet, actor ("General Hospital", "The Nanny," Liar, Liar) who has also been a casting director for eight years.

Chaet says, "I started this workshop because working both in front of and behind the camera has given me a unique perspective on acting careers . . .There are lots of acting coaches, but there aren't a lot of business coaches. . . Nobody goes into acting because they want to be a businessman--but they have to be." Saturdays at 1:30 PM in Silverlake. For more info, call (818) 547-9018.

Also, good books to read: A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previto, and Scott Zigler. A book exploring technique -- in very clean simple terms, a team of actors describe the process. Right on.

Loving to Audition by Larry Silverberg. A sweet and supportive book with powerful and creative exercises. You really might LOVE to audition after a thorough read.

The Expressive Body -- Physical Characterization for the Actor by David Alberts. A great book for getting out of your head, into your body and through to character.

Till the next column . . .