Ginger Howard, actress, acting teacher, and concert producer, has done casting for Broadway, Off-Broadway, TV, and film productions, including Chicago, Pippin, Miss Moffat with Bette Davis, Scuba Duba, and many more. She directed A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking in its second run in New York and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. She is a contributing writer to Backstage and the author of The Perfect Monologue and Callback. She lives in Toronto.
Getting an Agent
Finding an agent who wants to represent you is a very frustrating experience. Mainstream agents have a full roster of every type and age range of actor.
Chances are, if you feel the need to switch agents or "upgrade" your representation and you already have a "money" resume - meaning you are a film/television union member and have done featured, lead parts, or commercials - agents will be interested in you. But if you are starting out with more white on the page than black, they will be hesitant to represent you-unless-you have what I call the "hair-teeth-and-bone-structure-school-of-acting face."
Agents on both coasts and in Toronto have told me that if I had any student with "that" kind of face, the kind that, as more than one has said, "Would stop traffic because of the beauty, send them right over!" These individuals, having no concerns with talent, will hire by type. (I teach how to be hired for talent.)
If you are not a union member I recommend that you do not send your picture and resume to the top level agents who represent stars only. Mail or bring them to all the others; if that sounds overwhelming, send ten at a time. Give the agents at least two weeks to respond by phone or by returning your picture. Chances are if they haven't by then, they probably aren't planning to contact you for an appointment; although it has happened that an agent's response was a month or two later. Include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) - if you don't, they will discard your picture. Having more pictures reproduced can be expensive, but do not send laser copies, which admittedly are much cheaper to reproduce but the auditors dislike them; most lasers are very flattering and often don't truly represent you accurately.
Also included should be a short covering letter saying,"Dear (name of agent), Enclosed is my picture and resume for your perusal. I would like to have the opportunity to audition for you in the very near future. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, (your name)"
Write no more than these words. Your resume speaks for itself and agents don't have the time to read a lengthy dissertation. Hopefully, some agents will respond and set up an appointment with you. If so, be prepared to do a monologue or two and/or a cold reading for them. Wear your most beautiful daytime outfit and leave off the perfume or cologne.
Your appointment with the agent is not just for the audition; it is also an interview. In an interview, you are your own audition! At a properly conducted interview, you should not be asked what your experience is; it is on the resume. However, do not be surprised if the agent looks over your resume, puts it down and says to you, "So tell me what your experience is as an actor." You might be tempted to look at him like he's crazy, but please resist doing so. Just talk about what you have done as brightly and pleasantly as you can, as if the resume was not right on the desk.
Many agents do not know how to conduct an interview. The two of you should be talking about everything except what is on the resume. You might, of course, be asked what the experience was like for you working with a certain director or teacher or so forth listed on the resume. Be positive about all you relate. Omit any negative statements regarding your experiences. Make an impression that you are an outgoing, optimistic, easygoing person.
You are being observed as you talk. The agent is looking at your facial expressions, body language and your "eye appeal" to determine if you are "likable" and if you impart "audience appeal" for camera and theatre. This is, you see, an audition! Be prepared to do your monologue(s) and the reading; the second half of your audition. The audition will take place right there in the agent's office which in virtually all cases is a small room or it will take place in a special room used for meetings and auditions; the dimensions of such a room is about the size of the average living room. Other agents in the organization might be invited in to view your audition.
At the conclusion of the interview/audition, many agents will tell you that they need to see more of your work before making a decision. You are instructed to send a flyer of the next production you are in. What the agent is saying is, your work that day wasn't strong enough or appealing enough to be granted representation. The agent who bluntly critiques your work is doing you a favor, but some are not capable of offering constructive acting counsel. Think about what you did and be realistic as to whether you are ready for an agent or if more training is necessary. Be brutally honest; it's for your benefit.
Eventually, if you have ample training, a great picture, and do a good job in your interview/audition with an agent, you will secure representation.
You will be given a form to fill out requiring you to state all vital statistics regarding, clothing sizes and measurements; dress, suit, shirt, neck, in-seam, glove, hat, shoes, bra, etc.
Some (not all) agents will want you to sign a contract for a year. If you feel comfortable with the agent, sign - but please read the entire contract before signing! If by the end of the year, you have not been cast from the several auditions you have been sent up for, chances are, the agent will not renew the contract; you will get a pleasant letter of termination.
Agents who don't require a contract still expect that you honor all appointments made for you by them and also if you happen to get a paying part on your own (highly improbable, but it can happen if you know someone in the production), you will disclose all information to the agent, allowing him to negotiate so he can get his 15 percent commission. My feeling is either you have an agent or you don't! If you are in an area where freelancing is acceptable, hopefully, you are the client of more than one agent and of course whomever submits you receives the commission.
I once got an audition through my friend's agent who called me to find out where her client was. When I informed her that her client was far away on vacation (she should have informed her agent of her plans), the agent said, "Well, why don't you go in her place!" I said I would because I knew my friend would not be able to get back in time. Her agent called the casting director to change the name from her client to mine. She gave me all the information regarding the project; where to go and when. I thanked her (if I got the part she would share in the commission). When I hung up I first left a message on the casting director's machine stating who represented me. Then, I called my agent and passed on what just transpired. I was a little piqued that my own agent didn't submit me for the part but I let it go. I got the callback and the part and my friend was not upset with me; she had decided (as I knew) that she wouldn't have come back for the audition; she was having a wonderful time where she was. We are still the best of friends.
The more revenue you bring in to the office, the brighter the agent's smile will be toward you. The success of the agency depends on your success at the auditions.This text has been excerpted from Casting Director's Secrets by Ginger Howard, a long-time casting director who has worked in film, theatre, and in the music business. Published with friendly permission by Allworth Press©, publishers of business and career advice for creative professionals. To learn more about the book or to order it, visit Allworth Press at www.allworth.com.