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Inside the Agency

Back Stage has begun holding its Successful Actor series -- an informative, free series of discussions with industry professionals about the business of acting -- open to all Back Stage readers. On Jan. 27 at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, in an evening titled "Inside the Agency," Back Stage hosted three eloquent and knowledgeable talent representatives: Orion Barnes of Rogers Orion Talent Agency, Nancy Moon Broadstreet of the Geddes Agency, and Tony Martinez, lead agent at GVA and author of An Agent Tells All.

Knowing it would be the most pressing question on the minds of many attendees, I made sure to allot plenty of time for the classic question "How do I get an agent?" The answers were not surprising but worth emphasizing.

Describing how they find clients, these agents first and foremost mentioned referrals -- from casting directors and from existing clients. Just writing "referral" on your manila envelope isn't enough to get your correspondence in the door, they agreed. The referrer must call the agent on your behalf and let the agent know to expect the submission.

All three said they rarely seek new clients through blind submissions to their office, although Broadstreet admitted to finding two of her 100 or so clients that way. The representatives urged actors to get out and  -- what else?  -- act! The more productions  -- theatrical and recorded  -- you do, the greater your likelihood of being seen and noticed by an agent, they said. According to Martinez, even when he isn't trying to look for talent, he's always aware when a promising new actor is in something he's watching. He also ratted out every agent who ever told someone that agent isn't "taking new talent right now." Of course, he said, if an actor is incredible, an agent makes room on his or her list. "We're always looking for talent," he said. "If our client lists were ever locked and closed, we'd be out of business. Things change." Broadstreet concurred.

The three agents cautioned that although getting out and performing is key to making connections, any live theatre you do needs to be in a space an agent would choose to frequent. If you do plays or showcases in spotty neighborhoods or theatres with impossible-to-find or pay parking, don't expect potential reps to show up. Likewise, Martinez revealed a pet peeve: Don't be shocked if an agent doesn't want to scout talent in a theatre where he or she has to walk across the stage to reach the restroom. "We don't need a private valet or a red carpet," he said. "We're just looking for basic comforts."

If and when you submit by mail or email, be sure not to submit to all the agents in an office at the same time. Choose one, submit to him or her, wait a couple of weeks, and if you've not gotten a response, you can then submit to another. Likewise, don't address your envelope to the agency itself. "Mr. GVA doesn't open any mail," warned Martinez. Submissions addressed to the agency are usually left on the receptionist's desk until he or she throws them out.

If you're lucky enough to be called in to an agency meeting, be yourself. All three agents spoke about using interview time to assess whether they clicked with potential clients. "I want to get to know the person behind the technique," Barnes said. "I'm looking for the human as opposed to the résumé."

Many actors struggle with just how often they should check in with their reps. The three agents weren't able to voice a hard and fast rule, but each cautioned that actors should be aware of agents' body language and tone of voice. Call when you have something to say  --  "I met a CD at a party," "The director is my cousin's husband," or "I'm thinking of dyeing my hair"  -- but don't call just to call. Be especially wary of becoming a downer. If you have nothing to say aside from "I'm not going out enough," it's probably best not to complain, the reps recommended.

As for saying goodbye to their clients, the agents warned that any severance should be done with the utmost respect and professionalism. Actors often wonder whether they should seek out a new representative before leaving an old one, and these agents made it clear that such juggling is frowned upon. Because the industry is deceptively small, don't be surprised if word makes it back to your current agent that you're meeting with prospective reps. "We cannot do our jobs without complete commitment and passion for the actors, and if that is not reciprocated, it's hard," said Broadstreet. Although the actor-agent relationship is business-oriented, it's one loaded with personal investment  -- on both ends.

To learn more about what an agent does and how to pursue one, join the conversation on the Back Stage message board.

See you on Tue., Feb. 24 at the Successful Actor event in Los Angeles when the guest panelist will be commercial casting director Chris Game of Chris Game casting. Admission is free.

You can also find information on the Feb. 25 Successful Actor event in New York.

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