The company you keep

Hey J,

I have recently graduated from my performing arts training and I am struggling to find an agent to represent me. Do I even need an agent?

Thanks, Molly.

Dear Molly,

Right now in London, I’m looking out my office window and I can see all the way over to the Thames. Everything for miles around is covered with a layer of snow and glistening in the winter sun. I imagine the scene in Australia is vastly different at present! While the UK theatre industry is still shut down and we are still locked in our homes, yours is moving again. Our drama students are heading into the final stretch of their training (and mostly it’s still online), while many in Australia have recently graduated and are hopefully out there auditioning for jobs. Despite the differences, there are elements that remain the same. One of those is the actor/agent relationship. Whether you’re a recent graduate or not, it seems the focus on getting an agent is the same on both continents.

I once asked octogenarian British actress Penelope Keith about agents and she answered:

We never thought about agents in my day… You wanted to work and you wanted to learn. And that is very, very different now. In a way I blame drama schools, because the whole thing is on that third year and getting an agent. 

As an agent, I have to say the best of us are a fantastic addition to an actor’s career and the worst of us just ain’t all that.

Perhaps the question could be “Is any agent better than no agent?” To that my answer would be a resounding NO. If you’re trusting someone to manage your career they need to be the right person because it’s not just managing your career, it’s managing your dreams and those need to be handled with care. Making sure you have the right agent is more important than having any old agent.

Every year, thousands of actors leave drama school without agent representation. Thousands more are dropped by their agents for one reason or another. Being without an agent can be super scary but it’s no indication of your talent or your ability to work.  Twice, during my own career as an actor, I chose to leave my agent because I didn’t feel the relationship was working. Both times I’d say I got more work and ended up signing with a better agent when the time was right.

Your passion for this industry is what has driven you throughout your career and it’s what will continue to drive you. Sure, having an agent to hold your hand along the way, someone to ask for advice or chat to about your aspirations is really helpful but are we essential? Not at all. Sometimes we can even be detrimental! Too often an actor, having signed with an agent, sits back and expects their agent to do all the work. Your career is your career and you have to stay engaged with it at all times.

Being an actor is about developing your craft, building relationships, and hustling. As Jay-Z says “you can’t knock the hustle.” With or without an agent, the hustle is an essential part of the process. Constantly putting yourself out there and getting on a casting director or producer’s radar is what builds a long-lasting career. While an agent can open a few doors for you, what you do when you get through them is your responsibility. Learning the skills to network properly and the charm to hustle effectively is going to help you more in the long run than thinking you can sit back and leave it to your agent.

You are the best agent you could have. You know yourself better than an agent ever could. You know your limitations, you know what you need to work on, you know what you could be better at. You know the type of work you are most suited to and the work that is going to excite you and interest you the most. As Penelope Keith said; work and learn. That’s the job really.

One of my clients says “JBR does the upsell” and that, I think is what I’m good at – talking my clients up, persuading producers to part with a bit more money, earning my commission. Lots of actors hate talking about money, they just want to get on with the bit they’re good at – the creative stuff. My role is to lift the business burden from them so they can focus on what they do best. Am I useful? I hope so! But necessary? Not to everyone. Make sure the person you’re trusting your dreams to is going to look after them and value them as much as you do.

Stay connected. Stay creative.

J


Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]com.au

JBR

JBR is a UK Talent Agent based in London. He began his career as a child performer in the 1980’s and has spent more than three decades in the industry exploring creativity and working across a number of fields. He has been an actor, a director, a writer, a designer, a drag queen, a producer, a dramaturg, a teacher, a comedy booker, a publican, a marketing manager and an agent. He runs JBR Creative Management working with a small group of multi-platform creatives. JBR's first book, published by Nick Hern Books, will be released in summer 2021.

JBR

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *