Let’s talk “Self-Representation” as an actor - working without an agent or manager. Almost all actors find themselves in this situation at some point, whether they’ve chosen to be or not. So it’s actually a very normal state of affairs, particularly early on in your career, but the prospect of navigating the industry without a representative can feel frightening,
The good news? It has never, ever been easier or more empowering to work without an agent. In 2016 we don’t need to feel discouraged if we’re working ‘alone.’
This article sees my return from maternity leave and as I’ve recently gotten to know several fantastically talented artists and actors who are thriving whilst representing themselves, I wanted to look at the ways in which this can best be achieved in New York.
It’s true that agents can be helpful in being a champion of your work and getting you into ‘exclusive’ auditions, being your shield and helping with paperwork and negotiating your terms on a job. But having an agent isn’t the be-all and end-all and certainly it is no guarantee of a satisfying workload or career progression in this industry.
You might want to consider your options before working with one of these?
Plenty has been written on other industry blogs about the importance of staying empowered when you’re flying solo, by engaging in the business and hustling to the best of your ability. There’s no need to force the adages here, but I do want to dig a little deeper and look at how people are making it work in New York specifically.
Allow me to take some commonly suggested advice and apply it to this city!
“Create your own work wherever possible”
This is probably the most important piece of the puzzle, and now that we all have access to decent cameras, equipment and studios, it’s the most commonly touted piece of advice. Producers, casting, agents - everyone gets it. As actors we just have to work, and creating it ourselves will invariably lead to other - and hopefully better, work. So write, market and distribute your creation! You’ll be able to cast yourself and others in the roles you want to play, tell the stories you want to tell, and contribute to the industry into which you have invested on so many other levels. In doing so you’ll be seen in the roles you excel at and catch the attention of people who can hire you in future.
Get inspired and Write!
If you want to leave the relative calm of your apartment, pick a local park bench or café to start collating your ideas. If you’re looking for truthful human behavior and can’t get beyond folks playing Pokeman-Go, go to the final bastion of people-watching: the New York subway. Truly one of the remaining places of interesting and odd behaviour in public, let the many varied personalities onboard inspire you!
A note on coffee-fuelling:
No need to settle for Starbucks when we have some of the best coffee beats in the world right here: Roasting Plant, Joe’s Coffee, Taraluccio e Vino’s, Blue Coffee, Birch, Stumptown, Think Coffee, Intelligentsia…
Quiet Sanctuaries of note
Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Centre https://www.nypl.org/locations/lpa
The Centre for Fiction - http://www.centerforfiction.org
Morgan Library http://www.themorgan.org
The New York Society Library https://www.nysoclib.org
Sketchbook Project https://www.sketchbookproject.com
|The Morgan Library, if this sort of thing floats your boat|
Book a studio and throw on a rehearsed reading to test-drive your work
A selection of spaces…
Alchemical Theatre http://www.thealchemical.com
Gibney Dance Studios https://gibneydance.org
Ripley Grier Studios http://www.ripleygrier.com
Cap 21 http://www.cap21.org/cap21
Playwrights Horizons https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/space-rental/
Screenplay competitions and workshop opportunities
Start getting involved…
Women in NY Film & TV – Writers Lab http://thewriterslab.nyc
Hamptons Film Festival http://hamptonsfilmfest.org/screenwriterslab/
Theatre Workshops and Laboratories
Soho Rep http://sohorep.org/lab
The New Group http://www.thenewgroup.org/playwriting-workshop.html
Ensemble Theatre http://www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org/submissions/
New Dramatists http://newdramatists.org/how/apply-residency
*New Dramatists also has a fantastic resource in its library, which houses a rare collection of new plays manuscripts.
Naked Angels http://www.nakedangels.com
New York International Fringe Festival http://fringenyc.org
Thespis Theater Festival http://newyorktheaterfestival.com/thespis-festivals/thespis-festival-introduction/
Downtown Urban Theater Festival, http://www.dutfnyc.com
Dream Up Festival http://www.dreamupfestival.org
Midtown International Theatre Festival, http://www.midtownfestival.org
The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival - http://www.oobfestival.com
United Solo Theatre Festival, http://unitedsolo.org/us/
Get to know your peers, hang out where they do and work those relationships!
We all know that this is a business of relationships. I agree that it’s not so much ‘Who you know’ but Who Knows You?
Introduce yourself and stay in touch with people you connect with – there’s no mistaking that this concrete jungle is really just a small town at heart, and people appreciate being supported and kept abreast of your progress when you do so elegantly. As the saying goes, “When you grow your relationships you grow your resume.” In developing your support system and network of friends and colleagues, you’ll automatically have firsthand knowledge of their new projects and get access to casting opportunities before agents do. What’s more, having your own set of relationships is one of the most powerful things you can bring to the table when you do meet an agent or manager you’re keen on.
Happening all over town and at almost any part of the year, attending readings is hands down one of the best things you can do for yourself. Check out new plays even if filmmaking is more your bag - getting inspired by other people’s writing will educate you about storytelling, what works and what doesn’t. Not only will it fuel your own work, but you’ll have a great chance to meet up-and-coming writers, directors and actors, and contribute to their work with your questions and feedback.
Start by getting yourself onto mailing lists of the theatres and companies known for their regular readings. Not all have public readings but many do, and you’ll find that by getting involved with any particular theatre community you may get access to their in-house readings too.
Find out what work is being written, developed and actually funded right now. Are you interested in it? Is your voice being heard? Are you seeing your stories told? If not, refer back to “create your own work” and go get busy!
Selection of Reading Series
Primary Stages - http://primarystages.org/explore/readings
Lark Theatre http://www.larktheatre.org/whats-happening/
Labyrinth - http://labtheater.org/events/barn/
New York Theatre Workshop http://www.nytw.org/artist-workshop/mondays-3/ MANY things, including
New Dramatists – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Naked Angels http://www.nakedangels.com (Their Tuesdays@9 is New York City's longest running cold reading series for new works-in-progress.)
Get into an Acting class and target CD workshops
Despite ongoing debate about whether ‘pay to play’ classes are worth it – or even entirely legal – the fact is they are still one of the best ways for casting directors on your target list to see you work. Don’t underestimate how much casting likes to discover new talent, whether or not actors are represented. I have lost count of how many actor friends started fruitful and productive working relationships with CDs they met in class here.
Then there’s the fact that you will meet your colleagues in class, and find out who is creating what. Future collaborators are all around you! I found out about several exciting opportunities from friends I made in workshops, and just recently worked on a beautiful film for New York Shakespeare Exchange’s “Sonnet Project” (www.sonnetproject.com) after meeting a talented director in class last year.
Both One on One (http://www.oneononenyc.com) Actors Green Room (http://www.theactorsgreenroom.com) come highly recommended by industry professionals and attract a high caliber of CDs from theatre, film and television.
Work out that body!
We all know how important it is to stay match fit, and part of that means keeping your strength and energy up. Diet and exercise can help with that, but did you know that your local gym might also lead to an impromptu casting session? I’ve heard of friends getting scouted in yoga class, and earlier this year I happened to meet a fantastic writer-director who was moonlighting as my pilates teacher, and after a few friendly chats landed a role in her new play. This city THRIVES on artists who maintain hybrid careers. What with people being packed in so closely together here, you’ll often fall into conversation with a stranger that can lead to any number of interesting career conversations (once you move away from inevitable real estate chitchat!) There’s also nothing like suddenly finding you’re spinning away next to Hugh Jackman to give your energy a boost and put a grin on your face!
|Jessie J at SoulCycle|
Where to sweat
Submit for auditions yourself
It can feel like a minefield but there are plenty of opportunities to find meaningful work by submitting to open castings calls and breakdowns.
A little moment to “know thyself” mantra here. Be sure your headshot and résumé are as realistically appealing and accurate as possible. Without an industry champion you need to be extra certain that you’re representing yourself well – you risk getting called in for the wrong roles, and you WILL MISS OUT on roles you should be called in for an could easily nail! So – ask people you respect, including CDs at the end of a workshop, whether your materials are serving you well.
Moreover as we know, honing the audition technique – how to walk in and handle “the room,” and building your confidence in the process - is an important part of our professional growth as actors.
Where to find them
SAG Foundation – http://sagaftra.foundation/performers-programs/casting-access *SAG also hosts great events
Also keep a special eye out for exciting emerging talent from the film schools – NYU, New York Film Academy and Columbia - and register yourself as interested in working on their student and graduation projects.
Read the trades – write for them!
It’s vital to educate yourself about this rapidly changing industry and what challenges your colleagues-to-be are facing. What are producers’ and casting directors’ top concerns, and how are they making their professional decisions? What are the latest tax incentives in New York? (At the time of writing: currently 30% tax credit, plus 10% for below-the-line wages in select upstate counties for productions over $500,000..)
What’s more, if writing or presenting is your bag and you have something to say, you may want to send your work to industry publications or create your own blog. Let people know your unique viewpoint of something that matters to you, and share your experience. One of the first jobs out of college I had was as a guest writer for Factory Magazine, which allowed me the incredible opportunity to interview filmmakers including Antoine Fuqua, Emily Mortimer and Ronald Harwood, as well as up and coming directors and producers. As luck would have it one of my young interviewees referred me to their producer for a film project that would become “My Last Five Girlfriends” – my first indie film role.
Read and podcast your way…
Be yourself and be wonderful YOU! Then let other people in on it
Indulge me here for a moment as I take inspiration from my new son on this one.
|Amory enjoying life in his stroller|
Do you dig those baby blues? Seemingly so does everyone in our neighborhood – I can only dream of getting the kind of attention this little guys does! Sure, people like huggable babies, but what really comes into play when people meet him is what every baby and child has in their arsenal – a truthful vulnerability and an innate power to be themselves no matter what.
Taking inspiration from this, it’s amazing how much you will progress in this nutty business by being true to yourself. Meaning, being honest with yourself and also with others about who you are and what you want to do, what you’re striving for. This allows us to do so much – introduce ourselves to strangers, reach out to folks we admire, share our experience and work from a generous place. This business will throw some curveballs but the more you can remain warm-spirited and champion the work, and your colleagues when you see an opportunity for them, chances are you‘ll find yourself a whole lot happier and also be rewarded in kind.
Team, this truly is a ‘relationship business’. Who you bring with you -your connected web of experience, loyal and enthusiastic colleagues - ranks right up their with innate talent. So don’t let agents have all the fun! You may be interested in working with representation for who they know, but consider first all those fine people that YOU bring to the table. Just as a private equity broker’s book of relationships represents his value to any company, you too can consider the strength of your stock in terms of your relationships when meeting potential agents or managers in time.
If you are flying solo there’s a good argument to suggest you let agents come to you: let them catch on to your name and work you’re appearing in, it’s part of their job to engage with new talent. Above all when you conduct yourself well in the business before having representation, you’ll be able to walk in with experience, a strong work ethic and great relationships which form part of your field of influence. You may start working with an agent or manager sooner than expected, at which point you’ll probably want to keep doing what you did before but you’ll be on a level playing-field with your team, and help them set up interesting appointments more quickly.
I hope these suggestions and resources come in handy, whether or not you’re actively pursuing representation right now, and whether or not you're living in New York! It is by no means comprehensive but a personal overview of things I’ve found effective means of working as an independent actor in this city, and they are absolutely applicable across the globe.
Wishing you all a wonderful August, and please get in touch with any specific questions, stories or feedback for your fellow actors on this topic!