The same names pop up over and over again: William Morris Endeavor (WME), Agency for the Performing Arts (APA), Creative Artists Agency (CAA), to name a few, but is the top tier the right place to start? Here’s the deal: The biggest agencies will almost never take a chance on an unknown. And, while starting at the top would obviously be great, smaller agencies offer more hands-on attention and plenty of room to grow.
New York especially is brimming with agents, managers, and, of course, opinions. And trying to cut through to the best boutique agencies can be a challenge. So start here! We’ve used first-person accounts, reviews, and industry knowledge to compile a list of agencies actors can trust. These are the folks who have the connections to get you on a pilot or represent you when your small musical becomes a surprise hit and moves Off-Broadway—or beyond!—and where the newest actors are getting their start. Each one of these agencies offers something different, covering all the bases for talent at any stage of their career.
And if you want to know more about how to land an agent, you can read all about it in this article.
The Breakdown: A boutique agency with strong connections in Broadway, Hollywood, and television. It maintains a seamless connection between its NYC and Los Angeles offices, and both feature a relaxed atmosphere. Plus, the agency is expanding its digital opportunities!
Abrams Artists Agency is a proven boutique agency that’s been in the business for over 40 years. It’s a reliable and recognized agency that works with talent in film, television, theatrical, commercial, voiceover, and digital media, as well as literary agents (a notable inclusion for acting/writing talent). A recent change in leadership means new horizons: Abrams’ new owners say they are working to stay “on the cutting edge” when dealing with “digital trends and disruption to the traditional media landscape.” They also adhere to “a culture of value and inclusion...built on a strong ethos that the client always comes first.”
Its New York offices handle talent with diverse roles in film and on television, including Robin Lord Taylor (“Gotham,” represented by Samantha Stoller), Jenn Murray (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” represented by Jamie Pillet), Sherilyn Fenn (“Twin Peaks: The Return,” represented by Richard Fisher), and Milly Shapiro (“Hereditary,” represented by Victoria Kress). Up-and-coming talent include Josh Segarra (“Arrow,” Broadway’s “On Your Feet!” represented by Paul Reisman), Alexa Swinton (“Emergence,” represented by Victoria Kress), and Sepideh Moafi (“The L Word: Generation Q,” represented by Justin Baxter). And Abrams is on the hunt for fresh talent. Agent Richard Fisher told Backstage that “[a]lmost every night of the week, somebody [from the agency is] out at the theater… and certainly we see showcases—school showcases—all year long.” Fisher emphasizes you “go with your gut” when choosing an agency. He says when meeting with an agent, talent should “walk out and say, ‘I really like those people,’ or ‘They are not for me’.... Continue on with the meetings or just say, ‘Great group of people, but this is not the place for me.’ ”
The Breakdown: A great fit for New York theatrical talent working on and Off-Broadway, as well as film and television actors looking to expand their opportunities from coast to coast.
Avalon is a full-service agency with offices on both coasts. But its major focus is representing theatrical talent in New York. Owner and lead agent Craig Holzberg splits his time between both coasts. This gives his clients an edge, with lots of opportunities in the New York theater world, as well as auditions in L.A. For instance, Ito Aghayere (“Carol’s Second Act”) was recently on Broadway in “Bernhardt/Hamlet.” Current television projects represented by Avalon include “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” In New York, regional, and on tour, it has talent in “Be More Chill” (Tiffany Mann), “Hamilton,” and “Come From Away.”
Avalon does more than just Broadway theater, too. Opportunities abound throughout the New York theater world. For instance, Avalon also represents Joe Chisholm and Traci Elaine Lee, who were both in the edgy “Safeword.” at American Theatre of Actors, an Off-Broadway venue. Holzberg frequently hosts workshops in NYC for actors to get immediate feedback on their monologues and portfolios. Avalon Artists was started in 2005 and boasts “hands-on, personalized attention.” Even better, Holzberg has experience as an actor. Ellery Sandhu is another Avalon agent based in NYC.
The Breakdown: Buchwald has big-name recognition, and is expanding its NYC office, adding more agents and potentially more clients. Working both big and small, this agency also offers representation across mediums.
Buchwald got its start in the 1970s, first representing radio talent. It has expanded considerably since then, with offices in both NYC and L.A., and it represents theatrical, voiceover, film, television, and commercial clients. Big names that have spent time with the agency are Angela Lansbury (“Murder, She Wrote”), Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), and Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”). In the past few years, Buchwald became best known for its founder representing Howard Stern, scoring him a huge radio deal with Sirius XM.
The agency has not rested on its laurels, however. It’s been expanding its New York offices, adding three agents in 2019. Buchwald can now boast up-and-coming talent like Kennedy McMann (“Nancy Drew,” represented by Katie Britton), Alex Landi (“Insatiable,” represented by Sheri Talkovsky), and Ames McNamara (“The Conners,” represented by Leslie Zaslower). The agency also works with talent in featured and supporting roles on television, including Rey Lucas (“The First,” represented by Cassandra Tay), Angelica Ross (“Pose,” “American Horror Story,” represented by Sheri Talkovsky), Kate Villanova (“Chicago Fire,” represented by Katie Britton), and more.
The Breakdown: Carson Kolker is a smaller agency that’s great for young talent looking for roles on Broadway or in film and television.
Carson Kolker Organization is a small agency with a tight focus. Although it has only a few agents, it maintains a strong bicoastal presence. The agency is owned by Barry Kolker, who is also its top agent. Starting off as an actor, Kolker transitioned into working as an agent early on, kicking off his career at the Carson Organization in 1997. Carson Kolker focuses on representing young talent, both for the stage and the screen. Kolker told Backstage, “I look for talented kids/teens with a lot of personality who have a passion for performing and whose parent or guardian is able to make the commitment.” On the screen, Camila Mendes (“Riverdale”) was represented by Carson Kolker before she joined CAA. The agency currently represents Ja’Siah Young (“Raising Dion”). And in theater, Carson Kolker represents Ayla Schwartz, who originated the role of young Elsa in “Frozen” on Broadway. Another performer at the agency is Jawan M. Jackson, who played the role of Melvin Franklin in “Ain’t Too Proud” on Broadway. Kolker says, “When signing children and teen performers, I look for a ‘type’ that I need, so that I don’t have ‘conflicts’ and submit too many clients.” Beyond Kolker, the agency employs several agents whose rosters include adult talent working in television, film, theater, and commercial.
The Breakdown: Gersh is a big agency with lots of resources and talent, but just small enough to give great attention to up-and-coming performers, including Broadway actors seeking Hollywood roles.
There’s a good chance you have heard of Gersh. It’s a big name that represents huge stars like Adam Driver (“Marriage Story,” represented by Randi Goldstein). But the large pool of agents working at Gersh keep a steady portfolio of up-and-coming talent waiting for their breakthrough roles; think Caitlin McGee (“Bluff City Law,” represented by Elizabeth Wiederseim), Victoria Pedretti (“The Haunting of Hill House,” represented by Elizabeth Wiederseim), Harris Dickson (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” represented by Randi Goldstein), and Natalie Paul (“The Sinner,” represented by Gabrielle Kachman).
Gersh also represents Broadway talent, helping them win roles in Hollywood and on the small screen. Anthony Ramos, who originated roles for the Off-Broadway debut of “Hamilton,” was with Gersh before moving to CAA. Ciara Renée (“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” represented by Gabrielle Kachman) debuted on Broadway in “Big Fish” and replaced the principal in the “Pippin” revival. Gersh is a great choice if you are working in NYC theater and looking for Hollywood connections. But it’s also perfect if you have some industry experience, a strong reel, and solid connections, and just need something a little bigger. The agency remains focused on talent working in film, television, and theater, with “little interest in diversification” into new platforms, per the Hollywood Reporter. The late founder was one of the last agents of the golden age of Hollywood. That means Gersh sticks to “the core talent agency practice, housing a roster of steadily working actors.”
The Breakdown: A large agency with a growing name in the industry that remains resolutely focused on service and staying the right size. Its large roster is a mix of big stars and working talent, and Innovative wants to keep it that way.
Innovative Artists is a large agency that offers robust, full service for film, television, theater, voiceover, commercial, and more. And, lately, Innovative’s growing roster of megatalent, like Linda Hamilton (“Terminator: Dark Fate,” represented by Jonathan Howard) and Colin Ford (“Captain Marvel,” represented by Abby Bluestone) has moved it closer to the top. But, according to Variety, Innovative also has a tendency to buck trends and chart its own course, choosing to stay focused on service rather than unchecked growth through mergers. For instance, Innovative “spends little effort trying to package TV shows,” has departments that are “more synergistic than territorial,” and works to stay the right size to provide “more one-on-one TLC than larger tenpercenteries.” It’s clear that Innovative does right by its clients, and that can lead to big things. Lupita Nyong’o was at Innovative when she won an Oscar for “12 Years a Slave.” Rachel Brosnahan was at Innovative for the first season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Up-and-coming talent includes Conor Leslie (“Titans,” represented by Abby Bluestone) and Andi Matichak (“Halloween,” represented by Jaime Misher). More established talent includes Gabriel Mann (“Revenge,” represented by Neville King). And Innovative also reps talent working in downtown theater and Off-Broadway, in edgy shows like “Daddy” by playwright Jeremy O. Harris (“Slave Play”) at the Signature Theatre.
The Breakdown: A workhorse boutique that is happy to work with talent pursuing original roles Off-Broadway and downtown, while also landing actors recurring and regular work on series and pilots.
Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates boasts that it’s one of the country’s leading talent agencies. Started in 1957, the agency expanded into NYC in 2002 while it was still Kazarian/Spencer & Associates. (The name switched after one partner left and two more joined, so don’t get tripped up when you see the older name in articles or on the web.) This is the same workhorse company that has been repping talent on both coasts for nearly two decades. Since arriving in NYC, it has developed a reputation for signing talent working their way through Off-Broadway and downtown theater spaces. When Javier Muñoz replaced Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Hamilton,” he was represented by the agency. Obie Award winner Joanna Adler, who has worked with Mabou Mines and Richard Foreman, is repped by Alexandria Stasiak and others at the agency. She appeared on “American Crime Story” in 2018, and filmed a pilot in 2019. In fact, KMR’s New York agents are good at placing talent in pilots that launch them into regular and recurring roles. Joy Osmanski (“Stargirl,” represented by Ashley Landay) and Caleb Foote (“The Kids Are Alright,” repped by Alexandria Stasiak) are both clients. The agency also has representatives like Gail Williamson and partner Mark Measures, who are known for working with special abilities talent.
KMR is the perfect choice for an actor who doesn’t want to be pressured into film and television projects and miss out on juicy roles in New York theater spaces. And its employee satisfaction is among the highest of agencies we looked at. KMR was included on a Broadway World forum list of agencies that “emphasize theatrical work instead of discouraging it for higher-paying (thus larger commissions) TV and film work.” In addition to the previous statement, Broadway World forum user IssaMe says this about KMR and other boutique agencies: “I have lost count of the number of times a large agency has said ‘no’ to theater work because they think their clients can do better elsewhere—even if the ‘elsewhere’ doesn’t always materialize. And it is nice to be with an agent who remembers your name—and actually might talk to you occasionally when you call.”
The Breakdown: A global agency with loads of music talent, Paradigm has name recognition, many resources, and a track record of working with talent destined for big things.
Paradigm is a global full-service agency that represents talent for television, live music, film, theater, and more. It’s a recognized name, at a similar level to Gersh, and recently opened stunning new offices in Manhattan. Its niche is working with music talent, including those crossing over into television and film. In 2018, the agency signed rapper Page Kennedy, who appeared in “The Meg.” It also represents key talent making names for themselves in breakout roles in film and on television: Jacob Batalon (“Spider-Man: Far From Home,” represented by Rachel Altman), Austin Crute (“Daybreak,” represented by John Domingos), Olivia Holt (“Cloak & Dagger,” represented by Marty Diamond), and Emily Hampshire (“Schitt’s Creek,” represented by John Domingos). Jason Ralph, formerly of the “The Magicians,” is represented by Sarah Fargo. Paradigm has strong connections to theater, as well, and can help actors cross over. Rachel Bay Jones, who won a Tony for playing Heidi in “Dear Evan Hanson,” is represented by Tim Sage and recently appeared alongside Julia Roberts in “Ben Is Back.”
Overall, Paradigm may not be as inaccessible as WMA or CAA, but it can still seem tantalizingly out of reach for talent just starting out. However, with a referral through a manager, an acting coach, or someone similar, a “second-tier” agency like Paradigm is not out of reach. And as our Secret Agent Man writes: “As you start searching for the right agent, don’t be afraid to aim high.... [T]here’s nothing wrong with approaching an agent who’s just out of reach. You never know. The entertainment industry favors those who take chances.”
The Breakdown: A boutique agency in NYC with strong roots in Chicago, Stewart has a great track record of working with talent in New York theaters, both Off- and on Broadway. It also places talent in film and on television.
Stewart Talent is a boutique agency formed in 2004, offering service for film, television, theater, voiceover, commercial, comedy, and influences. Stewart began as one of the oldest talent agencies in the Midwest, where it enjoys a wonderful reputation. Brian McCaskill, an actor who appeared in “Southern Gothic” at the Windy City Playhouse, says, “I never thought I would make decent money with acting until I signed with my agent, Stewart Talent. That’s when I began to take it seriously.” And the agency’s New York office in Midtown has become an important player in Broadway and Off-Broadway. Tony winners Rondi Reed and Deanna Dunagan (“August: Osage County”) are both represented by Don Birge, partner and lead agent at Stewart’s New York office. Birge emphasizes working shows in NYC: “If you want to break into the New York world, I say you have to stop going out of town. The work you’re doing in regional theater is probably better than the work you’re going to do in New York, but the thing is, nobody is seeing it.” He also says, “All I know is, I respond to somebody, or I don’t…. ‘Maybe I’m wrong, but I think you’re great.’ That’s the frustrating part about the business: It is that arbitrary.”
The agency places tons of talent in Broadway shows like “Pretty Woman” and Off-Broadway shows like “A Little Princess.” Birge also handles clients like Carol Kane (“The Dead Don’t Die”) and Betty Buckley (“Hello, Dolly!” national tour). The agency is also good at scoring up-and-coming actors recurring roles in television series. Yadira Guevara-Prip (“See”) and Happy Anderson (“The Tick”) are both repped by Tim Marshall out of the New York office. Birge emphasizes that what he is seeking more than anything is “actors in it for the long haul and committed to this as a career.”
“I want them to be successful, and, more importantly, I want them to feel fulfilled. They’re artists more than anything. I want them to be able to exercise their artistry.” And big things are on the horizon for Stewart’s NYC office. Saycon Sengbloh, Tony-nominated for “Eclipsed,” was cast to play Aretha Franklin’s eldest sister in the upcoming biopic "Respect.” Sengbloh is repped by both Birge and Marshall.
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s New York City audition listings!