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The Working Actor

Change for a Dollar, This Week Only

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Change for a Dollar, This Week Only
Dear Michael:

Last year I got Abrams to be my agent. I've booked with them, but over the last five months I've had no calls. Now, I am Screen Actors Guild only, so this may be a reason, and they won't let me meet with the TV or film departments, so I only have them for commercial. I am frustrated but don't want to burn a bridge, and she has not told me to get another agent. What should I do?

—Waiting for the Phone to Ring, New York City

Dear Waiting:

This is an easy one. Next time you're in the area, call and ask if it's a good time for a visit. Then stop by and chat with your agent. But here's the thing: Don't talk business. Talk about what's happening in your life or a great movie you just saw or the latest juicy Hollywood rumor. Ask your agent what she did for the holidays or what she thinks of the crazy weather. Then go. That's all it takes to remind her of your presence. In fact, I've been told directly by my own commercial agents that this helps them keep me in mind.

A friend of mine swears that every time he drops in like this, he gets an audition the next day. My experience has been similar.

If you don't expect to be in the neighborhood, send an occasional email instead. Recommend a show you loved or a crazy, funny website you found. Or you can do something a little craftier: Make plans for a weekday and book out to let your agent know you won't be available. That gets your name in her sights and at the same time creates the sense that you have things going on. Honestly, though, I think that's overkill.

But don't feel like you have to sit there wondering if you've been forgotten, or worse, whether you need new representation. When an agency signs you, you're no longer an outsider hoping for attention. You're on the roster and presumably considered a valuable addition—even more presumably in your case, because you're a booker. By keeping yourself on their front burner, you're doing them a favor: The more they send you out, the greater their chances of making money. So by all means help them by reminding them you're there, but do it without putting them on the spot. No agent likes being nagged, but most appreciate an occasional indirect nudge.

Dear Michael:

I really enjoy your column. Thanks for all the great advice.

For the past year or so, I've been on quite a roll with my auditions, getting called back 75 percent and then getting cast in 50 percent of what I go out for. Even though these were all mainly low- or no-budget films, I felt awesome, because previously I wasn't auditioning well for years. But lately, all of a sudden, out of the blue, it's back to bombing on practically every audition. Huh? Can't figure it out.

I guess I'll just keep going on auditions, but I am wondering what happened. It seemed to start with a few of those pay-to-meet-agent/casting people things. I did badly on a few of those, which was dispiriting, and then I seemed to falter on all my other auditions. Maybe I'm just looking for an excuse. What can cause an actor to do so well, then just crash? Have you seen this happen with actors before? If so, any advice?

—Ms. Hit or Miss, Weehawken, N.J.

Dear Ms. Hit or Miss:

Thanks for writing, and I'm sincerely gratified to know you find The Working Actor helpful.

Since you're a regular reader, I think you may already have an idea what I'm going to say, because I say it often: There's very little science to this stuff. The answer to the mind-boggling mystery of why we have booking streaks and dry periods is something we may someday grasp in the afterlife. But here on earth I'm afraid it will always remain a matter for speculation. Here come mine regarding your apparent trend shift.

I have a theory that your callback-and-booking streak might have brought too much focus to itself in your mind. In other words, instead of just going in and auditioning, you may have begun to think about things like how long you could keep this up, what it meant, whether you could control it, and so forth, which can really muddle things psychologically. It's just like when you do a long run of a show and after a while have to remind yourself what the lines mean, because they've just become vocal sounds. You've disconnected from the acting part. I believe you may have gotten off task by focusing on your statistics instead of your work.

Second, pay-to-meet workshops are different from auditions. You know I'm against them, for ethical reasons. But beyond that, the atmosphere can be degrading and poisonous. And sometimes the contact-making potential can rev up your pressure to perform, which is never conducive to creating good art.

You may have read this strange mantra of mine in previous columns, but I'll repeat it here. The approach that has saved me from getting weird about auditions is to remind myself that statistically speaking I'm probably not going to get the job. "You're not getting the job" can really straighten you out. Because if you're not getting the job, then all that's left to do is simply go in and play the role for a few minutes and move on. That's all you get. You're not trying to figure out what the auditors want or whether they like you or anything. You're just doing your thing.

I also suggest you re-examine your language on the subject. Failing to score a callback or role doesn't mean you bombed. Not by a long shot. Remember, the majority of the actors who audition for a given role do not get called back for that role, and only one books it. Not getting a callback isn't a failure. It's the norm. It's the expected, everyday, business-as-usual, standard operating procedure for actors. And it doesn't do you any good to be hard on yourself just because things go the usual, expected way.

So take a deep breath. Keep doing your thing. And remember why you started acting. Was it to play interesting characters? Tell stories? Bring a writer's words to life? Well, you get to do all of that at your auditions, regardless of the results or lack thereof. Enjoy the process and you've got it licked.

I have no doubt the pendulum will swing back for you.

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