If you find yourself surrounded by artists during a night out, you are likely to overhear someone asking another how to get an agent for acting. It's a common question among early career artists, and is more often than not met with a shrug or the typical and not helpful "I got lucky".
Having an agent as an actor is perceived as a symbol of status and legitimacy. A third party thinking that you have what it takes to “make it” can be extremely validating. No matter the medium, actors across the country (and world) dream of placing a reputed talent agency next to their name on their resume.
The presentation of how to get an agent for acting is often painted in a very specific way. A young artist being plucked off the street by a big-time agent who has decided to make them a "star" is a common trope in our media. The picture painted, however, is often far different from reality. While it cannot be denied that being represented can open doors that were previously shut, the order of the process is the opposite of what is usually perceived. Far too often young artists coming out of conservatory programs treat being signed out of school as an indicator of the health of their future career. So, to my collaborators panicked about their future, hear these words.
You are the only person responsible for building what attracts your audience.
Agents are attracted to individuals who appear to provide an easy return on investment. They don’t have time to take on projects, build from the ground up, or reassure self-doubting talent. Most agents have actor rosters in the hundreds, perhaps thousands depending on the agency. A lot of agents are not going to be your artistic champions, they are more likely to act as business partners. So how can you expect an agent to be interested in a partnership with no perceived collateral? Ask anyone, that’s a bad investment.
Now I can admit that I am painting a stern picture of how agents operate. Many agents are interested in who you are as an artist and at the end of the day, they are people just like us! But to express interest in joining the roster of a talent agency, you must take a moment to view yourself as an individual providing a service. Who is your target market made up of? How are you expanding your reach to that market? What are you developing to continue to expand your engagement with those people? Boring I know, but this is the business side of being an actor, the creative side we will discuss in a separate blog.
There can be a resistance in many artists to ask these questions of themselves, and it’s completely understandable. Most of us pursue this career because we love the act of creation, whether that be in the form of a role or script or abstract-performance-art-experiment. I cannot stress enough; you can do all these things without an agent. Spend weekends filming things with friends, write scenes during breaks at work, cover yourself in paint and see what happens. All these things I would encourage you to do regardless, and having an agent makes no difference in your ability to do so. The tilting point is when you decide that making income from these activities is a priority. When unpaid experiences begin to leave a bitter taste in your mouth, regardless of your passion for the project, then it’s time to invest more of your mental bandwidth into the idea of being your own business. Let’s look at a few ways actors can turn their love for the arts into something profitable.
Four tips on how to get an agent for acting
Be your own production team
Very few people are interested in casting actors who have no proof of their ability, yet actors cannot prove their ability if no one is willing to cast them in a project. This is a catch-22 that plagues unestablished artists everywhere, and there are two ways to break out of this cycle.
You can wait for the opportunity where all the stars align, the role is perfect for you, and you knock your audition out of the park. The casting team has no other option, they have to offer it to you.
Or you can invest in yourself and become your own production team. Save up your money and produce your own work. Create your own proof that your ability makes you a viable option for a project.
One of these is easier and requires a willingness to be patient. The other is higher risk and more expensive, but may result in a larger payoff that gives you more control over your own career.
In my perspective, the passive opportunities will come regardless of if you are self-producing, but the latter option provides something that the other cannot. It gives the opportunity to develop an artistic voice. To make the transition from being a technician of artistic practice into being your own creative force. I encourage you to explore creating your own work. Take risks, experiment, and document every single thing you create. Besides, you didn’t pursue acting for easy financial gain, so spend some money to build the career you want.
Be your agent’s competition
An agent’s dream is an actor bringing in their own income, and every actor’s dream should be to not need an agent to submit them. Imagine working so consistently that you don’t need an agent submitting you to projects because you actively are finding your own. You could save yourself 10% of your paycheck and the extra emails! Of course, agents don’t just submit you to projects, they negotiate on your behalf, handle communications, and other elements that you really don’t want on your plate. But the idea that an actor would sit back and not be submitting themselves while their representation does reflects poorly on their initiative to build the career they want.
Submit yourself to projects every single day. It doesn’t matter if there's a wealth of opportunity or the pool has dried up, get in the practice of submitting on your own. Agents who see actors booking their own work are attractive prospects. Bookings are not the only things worth noting; callbacks, pins, and compliments from casting are all worth documenting, as any proof of furthered interest shows that you are one step closer to being the selected individual than the rest of the pack.
Know how you’re seen and who you are
It’s a very slippery slope deciding what “type” you are, especially as many casting directors are shifting towards a more equitable and open approach as to who is cast in what roles. Many actors fear the idea of being pigeonholed into a specific kind of role, but that’s putting the cart before the horse, as you first need to get to a point where you’re getting cast that frequently to start worrying about the diversity of your acting opportunities.
Get out a pen and paper and answer this prompt: “How would I describe myself in three sentences?” If that proves to be difficult, then spend some time really exploring what your leading adjectives are. What defines you? Physically and emotionally. Approach from a place of both self-love and honesty. We are not looking to criticize ourselves but find out what we consider to be our most important traits.
After you’ve locked in how you would describe yourself, take this prompt to the streets. Ask friends, family, and strangers (respectfully) how they would describe you. See what TV or movie characters they could see you playing. Consider this a social experiment in exploring self vs exterior impression. Now when an agent asks you to briefly describe yourself you won’t be a deer in the headlights, you’ll have the answers right in front of you.
A few disclaimers before conducting this exercise. It can sometimes be challenging to hear what people honestly think about you. While I encourage you to step up to the plate in this act of bravery, it is not worth doing if the idea of doing this fills you with more dread than interest. We aren’t trying to damage our own self-image just to build out our elevator pitch. It’s also totally fine if yours and other answers differ. They are simply opinions and completely subjective! Gather the data, examine it, and if it doesn’t prove to be useful shelve it and go with the answer that makes you feel most confident.
Consistency is key
You’re likely to go through a lot of rejection before signing with your first agency, and even more likely you’ll go through a couple of agencies before finding a good fit. I don’t need to remind you that this is a career built on no’s, and each no gets you closer to the answer that you’re looking for. I personally went through multiple rejections and ghostings from agents before I signed with my first reps, and then found myself quite unsatisfied with the way they operated! It took me multiple years to find the right agent for me (shoutout to UGA Talent), so don’t give up, keep searching, and keep developing your artistry while you look.