The two most prominent questions that usually come up when I’m speaking with younger dancers and artists regarding their career and which direction they plan to take are “How can I get an agent?” and “Do you still need to search for work once you’re signed?” If you’ve worked for a while and already have representation, then you know all too well that there is a certain confusion regarding work after signing with an agent. If you don’t have representation just yet, then what I’m about to discuss regarding this topic should clear some things up.
I’d like to demystify the idea that once you sign with an agent your work is done and you no longer have to work hard to find opportunities. This notion is flawed and, in reality, I believe it to be the exact opposite. Now that you have an agent, the hard work is just about to begin. Having lived in different countries, I’ve had the pleasure of working with acting agents in Portugal back in the ‘90s and dance agents in London and more recently in New York. Through the years, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned and one that seems to be consistent across the board is that getting an agent is indeed a victory that you should be proud of, but it doesn’t mean your life will change overnight. It is a positive step in the right direction toward achieving your goals, but it also means that you’ll have to change your approach and probably be even more prepared than before.
Having the right representation will increase your exposure in the industry and connect you with a larger variety of potential employers. Most importantly, an agent will also be able to protect your rights and, depending on the job, negotiate more appropriate compensation for your services whatever your craft may be. In certain cases, an agent may even offer you some guidance on how to better approach certain opportunities. But all these positives also demand much harder work and preparation on your side as the artist since you’re the product you want to sell.
Taking into consideration the differences between the various fields in the industry; actors, dancers, choreographers, singers and so on, one notion seems to remain true: Stopping work on your craft or looking for opportunities is not an option. You have to be appealing and qualified to get in the audition room and, obviously, book the job. Or, as a choreographer, your material has to speak for itself. Agents can’t work miracles. Your agent cannot work on your craft for you or, except in some cases, do all the networking for you.
I too have made this mistake before. I had the idea that once I was signed I just had to sit around and wait. A notion that I found to be wrong fairly quickly. You have to work on your craft, networking, self-promotion, and make sure you are hirable. Be proactive, communicate with your agent, work on a strategy, and make sure you know exactly what direction you want to go so your representation can keep your goals in mind when working with you. Be mindful of the fact that agents pretty much work for free until you book the job. It’s supposed to be a team effort.
So to those artists who approach me with the idea that work is scarce or not happening at all due to the fact that they’re not signed, odds are that if you are not able to book some work on your own (no matter how small) then having representation may not be as helpful as you might think. To reiterate, agents can’t do the work for you. This is why it’s so much less complicated to find representation once you’re already working. If you can find work it means you’re hirable, prepared, and are doing something right. Before you rush into anything, the most important thing is to make sure your life and career are in order and ready to deliver.
All in all, being signed with the right agent can indeed be very powerful, but only if you go into it with a mindset that understands your agent is supposed to be an extension of you and your craft and not an overnight ticket to success.
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