Welcome to "Ask Blair," a weekly online column of practical advice for actors, written by Blair Glaser.
Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's long-awaited column addresses the question of how to get an agent. I invite actors of all ages to continue write 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!
I'm getting ready for auditions this spring. Right now, I have a full grown beard. It does make me look older than my 22 years of age. Should I get a headshot without the beard or any facial hair or go clean shaven. Would it be wise to get both taken at one session when I get my pictures done?
The scoop about headshots is always to go with a picture that looks the most like YOU. If you wear a beard more often than not, then I would get them taken with your beard. If you wear a beard half or less than half of the time, get both taken at one session. Having both shots opens you up to a wider range of looks that may in turn open you up to more opportunities.
Hi my name is Mary and I am a junior in college majoring in theater and have had five years of voice training. I am interested in acting in any/all theater genres. My question is: How do I get an agent? Do I have to audition for them; is it more my pick, or do they pick you? I would like to find an agent as soon as possible and the only place I know to look would be the "Ross Reports" that you mentioned in a previous column. I live in Philadelphia and go to school in Maryland, so NY isn't too bad. But if you could tell me the procedures on finding and then hiring one I would appreciate it.
Mary Dear Mary,
Thanks for popping the big question. The subject of agents is vast and there are many answers to your question. Here are some stories, pointers and suggestions.
Things You Should Know: One of the paradox's of the business is that although agents are actually employees of the actor, until a certain point in an actor's career, the system is set up the other way around. There are so many actors that many agents do not take much interest in serving starting actors, but go for more seasoned ones who are guaranteed to bring in the cash. It's true, an agent can be invaluable to an actor, but actors who are just starting out can get a lot of work on their own through auditions listed in trade papers. So there's no rush, Mary.
Actors too often tend to give their power away to agents and sometimes end up without work, or work that doesn't fulfill them artistically. When looking for an agent, it is helpful to remember you are the one doing the hiring. Select someone whom you connect with, whom you can communicate openly with, and whom you feel has a clear understanding your talent and career goals.
At the same time, you must feel that you are worth an agent's time and consideration, and feel so certain of it that you are willing to believe it in the face of anyone who does not agree. When hunting for an agent, it helps to have healthy self-esteem. Unfortunately, many actors are actors because they suffer from low self-esteem. The process of esteem building takes some work.
Preparation: Start by getting-business oriented. You seem to have a lot of drive, and you are starting early which is all good. Think of yourself as a product you need to sell. In order to market yourself, you must know who you are. What makes you unique is what people want to hire you for. Ask yourself, what makes me different than everyone else out there? Don't try to answer this question in five minutes. Let yourself look for the answers. Ask your friends to help you out. You can play the old "If you were an agent or a director, why would you want to work with me?" game. The positive answers will become your selling points.
Books that can help you prepare for the big agent hunt are "How to Be a Working Actor," by Mary Lynn Henry and "The New York Agent Book," by K. Callan (also "The Los Angeles Agent Book").
You'll need all the material tools of an actor: headshots, resumes, etc. As a singer, you may want to get a good accompanist and a recording studio and make a tape. This will come in handy when you are doing mailings. Make sure you have great audition pieces ready , both songs and monologues, in case and agent wants to audition you. Have any shows you are in videotaped by someone who knows how to operate a video camera well.
Contacts: One of the easiest ways to get an agent is through someone you know. Of course, if a friend or relative is an agent, it's always great to set up a meeting with them and try to get them to see your work. If you find this person not the right agent for you, maybe they will recommend an agent or two who is. Many actors get agents through referrals by other actors, or even by directors and producers. One actor I coach got her agent because her best friend (a male actor, if it was a female friend it may have been a different story) had a great rapport with his agent, and they respected each other's artistic opinions. The friend suggested strongly that his agent see this woman, and they set up a meeting.
Exposure: One of the best ways I know how to get an agent, to is to get the work you can without an agent and keep working. Avoid being too agent-focused. The more credits you have on your resume, the better chance you have of getting an agent. The more times you work, the more people you meet in the business, which can lead to more work. When you showcase yourself, you have a good reason to contact agents and try to get them to see your work. It's actually many agents' preference to see actors work in the context of a full production, than to see them do a monologue or two in an office. If you are in a show, it's always possible that an agent will be in the audience, who after being blown away by your work, might contact you.
If you do student and non-union independent films (from auditions listed in trade papers), you can build up film footage for your reel (essentially a video collage made up of highlights of your work), an important tool especially if you want to act on film or TV.
Mailings: Mail your headshots to different agents or agencies you select through the Ross Reports or the "NY Agent Book." Marge Royce is a successful Chicago stage and national commercial actress who recently got an agent in New York. Marge got called into many agents' offices from a lot of her mailings. She designed a little package about herself that she felt really represented her. It included a linen folder and envelope, because she feels she is high-quality. She sent a funny card because she knows she's funny. Marge suggests: "Write to an agent like they're your best friend. Who would you want to represent you more than your best friend?" It depends who your best friend is, but it's a good point.
At your stage in the game, you could send a mailing to 50 NY agents you think you'd want to represent you and see what the response is. Try mailing to some Maryland agents as well. On the other hand, I know actors who have sent out 100 headshots and gotten zero response, so remember it's not always easy.
Connie Britton, a New York actress currently on TV's "Spin City," says, "I tried to get an agent for years and couldn't get one....Basically , [what happened to me was] I was in a movie that won the Sundance Film Festival . . . I had the actor's dream. I went out to LA the week after and sought it [agents] out, calling people. Eventually people started calling me, which was so great. Then I had to choose. When choosing an agent, I say, you've got to go from your gut."
Good luck, Mary. Some people get agents very quickly. There are no surefire formulas in this business, which depends so much on timing and readiness and luck. I believe that if you really want an agent, keep knocking on the doors, and then, one day, and possibly all at once, they will fly open. Thanks again for your question.
I just have a simple question. What is the difference between a "Standby" and an "Understudy"?
Thanks for your question. I've often wondered myself.
"Stand-by" and "understudy" are both terms that refer to an actor who is ready to replace another in their absence. According to Actors' Equity, there is no contractual difference between "stand-by" and "understudy."
It's a billing thing. 'Stand-by" is considered a more prestigious billing term, and although it has generally come to refer to one who is a non performing member of the show, who's sole job is to replace an actor if need be, it is not the case by definition.
"Understudy" generally refers to a cast member of the show who also knows the part of another and will step in for them if need be.
Sincyberly to all,
-- Blair Glaser
Blair Glaser coaches actors privately in NYC. For Blair's bio or information about classes, click here.