Emerging into the industry without agency representation can feel scary. Many drama schools put huge amounts of pressure on students to get an agent by the end of their showcase, leading to inevitable heartbreak for anyone leaving school with no representation. But here’s the good news: Getting an agent often has nothing to do with your level of talent. Most agencies are on the hunt for very specific types of actors to fill holes in their books. Certain casting brackets become more or less in demand depending on what is being produced in the industry, and agents are looking to have the most diverse client list possible to fit every niche.
So, no agent? No worries. Many actors begin their career without representation. If you’re about to jump headfirst into the industry and are looking at pursuing the self-represented route, fear not! I’m here to reassure you that being self-represented will not hold you back from working.
Being self-represented means that you are in charge of submitting yourself to be considered for auditions. You will also be responsible for negotiating contracts and handling all aspects of payments for jobs that you book. The benefit to having an agent is that they will handle all of this for you and use their professional connections to help your career. However, most actors are self-represented when they begin to work and you can definitely navigate your career without an agency representing you.
Being self-represented can give you a lot of professional freedom. You have the ability to choose which roles you are put forward for, which contracts you’d like to take, and spearhead any negotiations around your contracts. Joining your local acting union is an excellent way to gain extra support while being self-represented. They will help to ensure your personal and professional safety on every job and will have resources you can turn to. Just remember to do your research before joining a union; some unions will let you accept non-union work, while others won’t be so flexible.
Now that you’ve decided to embark on the self-represented route, take some time to think about your career. What do you envision for your career? Do you want to focus on a certain area of stage or screen? Decide what trajectory you’d like your career to be on, and then think about what steps you can take to work towards that goal. Once you’ve set your goals, it’s time to hit the ground running!
Prep Your Materials
Just like applying to agencies, you must prepare a set of materials as a self-represented performer. This includes a professional headshot, a CV of your recent professional work & training, and a showreel with examples of your performance abilities. Your materials are what you will send out to casting teams to show off your skills when being considered for projects. Make sure you feel confident about the materials you’re presenting. If you don’t already have a showreel, apply to local student films or film a self-tape of a scene/song that you really connect to.
Be Your Own Boss
As a self-represented performer, you are in total control of your career. You are in charge of submitting for auditions, staying on top of appointments, and managing all communications with casting and production teams. While this can be very satisfying, it also takes a lot of organization.
The biggest aspect of being your own agent is submitting yourself for projects. There are a lot of projects that you will submit yourself for, so it can be helpful to create a log of all the submissions you make, and note who is casting the project. When acting as your own agent, you need to think objectively. Think like a casting director – not every project will have a suitable role for you. Be mindful when submitting to projects and make sure you truly believe that you are a good fit for the role you’re submitting for. Be persistent and continue to advocate for yourself. No one knows your skill set better than you do, so make sure you really sell yourself to the casting team!
When it comes time to signing contracts, you must be comfortable with negotiating the terms and conditions. These can be awkward conversions and it is important that you are able to stand up for yourself. You can familiarize yourself with industry standards through local union websites, but you can also reach out to other members of the industry for a second opinion on contracts. If you’re working on a big deal or need good reassurance, some agencies will even look over professional contracts for you for a small fee.
Network, network, network!
One of the biggest assets an agent provides to clients is their network of industry contacts. When you’re self-represented, you only have your own contacts to rely on. The wider you can make your network, the better! Learn as much as you can about the industry you are in. Who works at the companies you want to be employed by? Which casting teams are in charge of your favorite projects? The more knowledge you can arm yourself with, the easier networking will become. Here are some tips to build your industry knowledge:
- Create a database of industry contacts. These could be industry members that you’ve previously worked with, met at a workshop, or chatted with after a show. Make note of which projects or companies they are attached to and any mutual connections you may have.
- See as many shows as you can! Cast a wide net; independent theater, commercial theater, musicals, short films, fringe shows – the more content you consume, the more people you will meet. This will also give you a better idea of which companies you want to work for.
- Take advantage of local connections. Write to industry members located near your hometown. Oftentimes theater companies are very excited to connect with actors who have a connection to the area where the theater is located.
- Email everyone. No seriously, everyone. Casting directors, directors, theater companies, production companies, etc. If there is someone who you want to work with, email them and introduce yourself! Making introductions over the web isn’t as amazing as an in-person chat, however it is a great way to expand your network. It’s always best to email with some sort of purpose; send a polite, professional email letting them know about recent projects, invite them to any upcoming work, or let them know if you’d be perfect for an upcoming project they’re working on.
When you’re submitting yourself for projects, make sure you look up the production company and casting directors associated with the project. There are plenty of scams out there that prey on people who are new to the industry. If in doubt about a casting or production company, local unions will have some of the best resources to confirm their legitimacy.
In addition to protecting yourself from scams, it’s also very important to protect your mental health. It can be difficult to be constantly submitting yourself for roles and facing rejection before you even step foot inside the audition room. Make sure you carve out time to step away from all the emails and prioritize your mental health.
As you become more comfortable navigating self-submissions and advocating for your career, the hustle of being a self-represented performer can become quite enjoyable. You’ll be able to see the results of your efforts and feel in control of your career. Remember to keep persevering, keep learning, and (most importantly) that you can do this!