Careers Clinic: Is it worth agents seeing my small role?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
by -

I recently had some new headshots taken and am about to send out my latest round of emails to remind casting directors and agents of my existence.

I do this every three to six months. Responses are usually fairly positive, so I think I am safely in the ‘proactive actor’ rather than the ‘stalker’ category so far.

A few weeks ago, I was called by a producer friend who had somebody drop out of a play he is opening shortly. He asked if I could cover the part, which I am happy to do. It’s a paid gig and rehearsals have been fun, so I’m happy to be involved. My part is not one of the bigger ones – two short scenes totalling about 10 minutes, running one after the other.

As I’m contacting people anyway, I would like to invite potential agents and casting directors to come and see the show, but I am worried that my part is too small. Should I wait to be cast in another show in which I can display a bit more character depth and range or is it worth mentioning this one when I do my mail-out?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE The key question to ask yourself in this situation is not about the duration of time you are on stage. It’s about whether you feel you can do enough with the scenes you have to make it worthwhile inviting people to see you.

This partly comes down to your acting talent, but also to the role itself. Does it show you in a characterisation you feel you might be reasonably cast in for other jobs?

The reason I ask is that occasionally when we are asked to help out at the last minute, we end up in roles that can be a long way out of our age range or otherwise not typical of our normal castings. We can also be covering roles that might realistically be described as walk-ons.

Neither of these reasons means you shouldn’t do the roles for income, brownie points or both. But they may not be the best showcases for what is unique about you as an actor – or of best use to people who might hire or represent you.

On the other hand, we have all seen plays and movies in which an actor may have had only one or two scenes, but still managed to be the one the audience talked about when they came out of the theatre. Obviously it’s better if their name is on everyone’s lips for the right reasons rather than because the actor blatantly tried to upstage everybody.

Remember that casting directors and agents (or their assistants, whom they are more likely to send) don’t primarily go to a show to be entertained like a normal audience. For them, it’s a business trip to see what they need to see to make a decision.

If the scenes you are in pass the ‘worth seeing in the first place’ test, I would suggest writing to whomever you want to invite. Point out, without making a meal of it, that you are only in a small number of scenes, but also tell them why it is worth seeing you. It’s a good idea to mention whether the scenes are in the first or second part, so they can escape if they choose to.

This doesn’t guarantee anybody will come, of course, but that would be the case even if you were on stage for longer. What matters is that you have another opportunity to remind the industry that you are a working actor.

Just as importantly, by being transparent about how big the part is, you show you value the time of people who may be important to your future career. That sounds like a win-win for everybody.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne