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ACTORS' CUES & A'S: On Industry Seminars

After writing a column a while back on the subject of seminars conducted by agents and casting directors, I heard from many actors who wrote to share their stories. Below, two actors pose questions about their experiences.

Q: It's my understanding that talent agencies are licensed as employment agencies and therefore it is illegal for an agent to ask an actor his or her age. However, I've noticed that many of them do it anyway. At a recent agent-conducted seminar the issue of the age question came up, and the agent said, "If we are going to represent you, we would like to know how old you are. If there is any lying about your age that needs to be done, we will do it for you." As an actress in my very late 20s who's just starting out, my acting credits are slim. By all accounts I appear to be in my early 20s, so that's how I've been passing myself off. Yet this agent's comments gave me pause for thought. What do you think?

A: First I'll tell you what I hope and then I'll tell you what I think. I hope that you're past the point of pausing for thought and that you've dismissed what this agent told you.

Now, what I think is this: The heart of the matter in question lies in the first part of the agent's statement: "If we are going to represent you..." The point I'm making is that if you tell agents your actual age and they don't like what they hear, they may then decide not to represent you!

Let's take your situation. You say that you are in your late 20s, your credits are slight and you look younger than you are, so that's how you've been "passing [yourself] off." The word from here is that you're wise to do so because one of the main reasons the age question is asked is to form a judgment. ("Hmmm, let's see, she's 29, hasn't done much; soon she'll be in her 30s. Wonder what she's been doing all these years? Even though she looks young, by the time I get her career moving all that could change. Risky investment. Better pass. Next!")

Now, in all fairness, many agents discuss the age situation in an entirely above-board manner by posing this question: "What age range do you see yourself playing?" This is not only perfectly legal, it's also entirely appropriate, as it helps an agent discover if you see yourself with the same casting possibilities as he might. It's important that an agent and a prospective client are in sync in key areas in order for a healthy and compatible relationship to develop.

Having said that, I can only tell you that the agent in your case responded to the age issue in a way that served her needs, not yours. Obviously, if it's okay for her to lie about your age, then it must be okay for you to lie about it too. Actors (and people in general) have long been known to be less than honest about their ages. Personally, whenever I'm feeling a little blue, I tune in to the "Celebrity Birthdays" segment of "Entertainment Tonight." I know I can always count on it for at least a couple of yuks.

Q: I recently attended a seminar conducted by a casting director. The format was this: A lecture to the group as a whole that was followed by brief one-on-one sessions. The casting director made it clear that he only looks at postcards from actors whom he's met and that this venue didn't constitute an official meeting. Therefore, we were asked to refrain from sending postcards. It seemed a tad strange; what do you think?

A: I think it seems a tad preposterous, actually. Anyone can send postcards anytime they want. That's the whole point of them: to apprise those in a position to hire you‹in an unintrusive manner‹of both your career progress and your desire and availability to work. As far as "only looking at postcards from actors whom he's already met" goes, please remember that he has to look at the postcard first in order to determine if it's an actor he's already met! (That this casting director just happens to remember everyone he's ever met is a long shot too, by the way). Most ludicrous of all is that your meeting didn't count as an "official" meeting (whatever that means).

My question is this: What did you pay for? An "unofficial" meeting with a casting director who has forbidden you to drop him a line until such time as you have an "official" meeting? Good grief.

Once again, in all fairness, I must say that many agents and casting directors are brilliantly insightful and helpful in the seminar format. Others, due to the very nature of the setup (and depending upon how much they care) give out questionable information that serves to protect themselves and also keep actors at bay. Actors need to develop the ability to size up the situation and determine the difference.

Brian O'Neil is the author of two books on acting as a business. A former agent and personal manager, he is a career-planning and marketing consultant for actors. Questions may be sent to him c/o Back Stage, 1515 Broadway, 14th floor, NYC 10036.

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