Q: How do I find the right one?
I recently graduated from an acting school. I have been told to get an agent but I have no idea how to choose one, nor how I can guarantee my earnings are protected. What should I do?
A: First ask the principal of the acting school to help. He or she will know your capabilities and may be able to suggest a suitable agent.
The school may be willing to give you a letter of recommendation to an agent, or at least a general reference, which may help you.
Also, why not ask for a recommendation from friends who are or have been in a similar situation to yourself. Possibly you will have been friendly with students in the year ahead of you who by now will themselves have found an agent and will be able to recommend you (or put you off) the agent of their own choice.
You could also look in the advertisement columns of The Stage in which some agents advertise and you can look through Yellow Pages for the agents in your local area. There is also a very informative paperback publication called Contacts, containing details of all kinds of people involved in stage, television, screen and radio, and including a section containing an alphabetical list of agents and personal managers throughout the country.
Do not necessarily choose the first agent you see. Try to arrange a few interviews before making your final choice. The choice of an agent is extremely important and could have a lasting influence on your future career, so do not be rushed, and think about it carefully before you decide.
Personal chemistry and mutual confidence between agent and client is very important, as also is the extent of the agent's influence and contacts in the profession. If you intend to specialise in a particular field, obviously it is desirable to choose an agent who also specialises in the same field. You should ask about this at your interviews.
When you enquire how you can guarantee that your earnings are protected, I am not sure whether you mean protected from the party engaging you or from your own agent. As to the party engaging you there is no guarantee except by getting paid in advance and, as you are just starting out, that will be virtually impossible.
You should therefore try to ensure that you get paid regularly as you go along and do not let big arrears build up. You will need guidance from your agent in this respect who will have a common interest with you in seeing you are paid, since otherwise the agent will not get his commission. As to protection against your own agent there is no 'guarantee' except by arranging to be paid direct and, not through your agent. However, you may find it difficult to get an agent to act for you on this basis since the agent will himself want to be protected in respect of his commission. Discuss it with the agent and try to reach some acceptable arrangement about payment procedures. You might get some comfort from ascertaining whether the agent you are thinking of appointing is a member of one of the recognised theatrical agents' associations of which there are several.
Following the abolition of entertainment agency licensing the system has been replaced by allowing industrial tribunals the power to prohibit persons from carrying on such agencies on stipulated grounds. An agent will not want to lose his licence, or be prohibited from carrying on business, or have his reputation damaged by not arranging for prompt payment of his clients, or lose clients by habitually making bookings for them with people who do not pay. This is no cast iron guarantee but should give you some comfort.
First published October 1995