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The Working Actor

Stage Door Solicitation, Workshop Confirmation

Stage Door Solicitation, Workshop Confirmation
Dear Jackie:
I recently met a very talented photographer and purchased one of his pieces. We got to know each other over the transaction. I told him I was an aspiring actress and that I was brand-new to the business and the city.

Last week, said photographer met a well-known actress currently starring in a Broadway show. He called me a few days later, said that he didn't believe in coincidence and that he wanted to write me a letter of recommendation to give to her. I believe he did this out of kindness. This man wrote a wonderful letter on my behalf asking this well-known actress to help me in any way she can. He wants me to find her (by standing outside the stage door after a performance), give her the letter with my headshot and résumé, make a good impression, and see what happens after that.

Is standing outside a stage door to meet someone and promote yourself shady and/or pushy? Should I try to send it to the theater? I feel this is not a good career move, but the photographer feels differently. He wants me to go for it. What do I do, Jackie?
—Unconventional Contact
New York City

Dear Unconventional:
I'd suggest you follow your gut on this one. If the photographer had a relationship with the actor, ideally he would pass his recommendation on to her directly. If he doesn't have a relationship with her, his letter is unlikely to carry any weight.

It's also not clear to me how a letter from a photographer to another actor is going to do much for you—although, of course, stranger things have happened. If you do want to approach her, make sure you are ready with a clear and reasonable request. The photographer's letter telling her you are a nice person deserving of her help is too vague a starting point, and as neither he nor this actor has seen your work, your request must be limited. Is it appropriate to ask her to recommend you to her agent on the word of the photographer? No. Would she be willing to meet you for coffee (your treat) to give you a few words of advice? Possibly.

Unless you are going to see her in the show and speak to her directly afterward, it might seem a bit "All About Eve" for you to seek her out at the stage door. A letter to the theater is unlikely to provoke a response unless the actor knows the photographer well (and in that case he should send it himself). However, if you go to the show, your approach can be handled more organically. You can wait at the door to congratulate her on her work, mention that the photographer suggested you see the show, and watch her reaction. If you get an "Aww, I love that guy!," you might tell her about his idea and hand her the letter. If she mumbles "Thanks" and hurries away, you'll know not to bother.

To be clear, actors do all sorts of things to get ahead, and occasionally unlikely referrals lead to great things. But in the end, you need to feel comfortable about how you pursue your goals.

Dear Jackie:
I've read your column online and have been thinking about something for a while on which I'd like an opinion. I graduated with a BFA from a top school in New York City almost four years ago. I am a union candidate and have interesting credits in theater and independent film that I've gotten on my own. I'd very much like an agent or manager to put me on the radar for larger projects, but I've remained unrepresented.

I find myself disillusioned by the industry of "meeting the industry." A handful of times, I've paid for a seminar or meeting with an agent at one of these places, and it was fine; there was good feedback and "nice to meet you, keep in touch." I have, but no hooks. I know I must be patient, but I am now on the email lists of a few of these "leading" actor/industry places in NYC and receive emails on an almost daily basis about the latest seminars, workshops, and short classes with so-and-so unattainable casting director that seem to promise work and cost $300.

Sometimes I wonder if I should be more open to participating in these things again. A large part of me, however, thinks it makes me feel bad and it's unjust to perpetuate the process of me paying $35 for seven minutes—spending any amount of money for the instant gratification of face time. I want to be the change I wish to see and hold on to my cash, but does face time with an agent now cost money?
—Slow-Cooked or Instant Me
New York City

Dear Slow:
Again, you should feel comfortable about how you pursue your goals.

Michael Kostroff and I have written numerous columns on our negative opinions of paid CD/agent workshops. It is entirely unethical and illegal for a prospective employee in any industry to pay to be considered for a job. Sure, an employer might require a certain level of education or experience for consideration, and it doesn't hurt when the boss is also your uncle (nepotism isn't just a Hollywood thing), but I don't know of any other industry in which paying to get in front of human-resources personnel is an accepted practice. Yes, some of the workshops are well-taught classes worth attending, but many are just thinly veiled pay-to-audition schemes.

Don't lose hope. There are plenty of actors who land agents without paying for meetings. It sounds like you are doing good work on your own behalf, and I encourage you to keep up with your self-promotion and self-representation. Many actors land their first agent through a referral from an existing client. The more you do, the more actors you'll meet who might be able to help. If you continue doing theater and indie films, you'll be seen by agents who are attending to view the work of their current clients.

Be sure to keep training, perhaps joining a well-respected class that does periodic industry showcases. You might also want to do an internship at a casting company or agency, to see what kinds of submissions get noticed. You've been plugging away for four years now, so it might be time to shake up your routine, but keep doing mailings, keep attending free actor workshops and events, and keep the faith.

I understand that when things are slow, getting in front of a casting person or agent can be tempting at any price, and there are occasional success stories from such arrangements. I can't tell you what to do, but I encourage you to use your head and keep your principles intact. In your own words: Be the change you wish to see.

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