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Careers Clinic: Is it risky to have my partner as manager?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher

I met my partner at drama school and, while he is very talented, in the last two years I seem to be the one getting the work. Although I am yet to play a lead, I have had good supporting roles in several musicals.

So far, I have been representing myself, but I am hoping to get an agent who might help me step up to lead roles.I have had some encouraging meetings, but so far none have ‘bitten’.

My partner is very supportive, and when I do get shows, he is always my ‘plus-one’ on opening nights.

Some of my shows so far have featured quite well-known lead actors and we have noticed they often seem to bring managers and other entourages with them.

On the way home from our last one, my partner suggested that since my career is the one taking off, he would be happy to put his own on hold and be my personal manager instead.

He certainly looks the part and although it would be a new thing for him, I think he really would have my back and get me work. Is it worth a try?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE At the risk of sounding like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, I am not sure that ‘personal management’ means what you think it means. For a start, the roles of agent and personal manager are not interchangeable. And while there are certainly agents in Britain who offer both services, personal management over here is more usually associated with musicians, presenters and the celebrity end of the market, rather than jobbing actors.

The picture is slightly different in the US, where it is more common for actors to have a manager and a separate agent, particularly if they are looking for work in different states or branches of the industry. Whatever kind of representative you end up with, the most important benefit of having management is the wise stewardship of your business affairs, not any temporary status you might gain just from having a ‘suit’ in tow at events and parties.

Over the years, I have seen many inexperienced managers attempt to throw weight around that neither they nor the performer they are representing actually possess. When negotiating a small job that could be easily used to advance a career, they often make demands for big concessions that not only can’t be met, but end up losing their client the opportunity they were being offered in the first place. This kind of overstretching is especially common when the manager is a parent, a partner or somebody else, whose relationship with the client goes beyond business. That’s not to say actors shouldn’t have their interests protected, and that a friend or family member can’t do this well, but an experienced agent or manager (or the artist themselves if they do their homework and consult their union) should be able to negotiate the best deals for their client in a way that is robust but also realistic and doesn’t burn bridges for the future.

The other aspect of the personal management role that you both need to consider is that the day-to-day job is usually more about often tedious tasks like sorting out travel and other logistics rather than the glamour of red carpets and opening nights. It has to be a job somebody wants to do, not one they do because their own career isn’t going the way they would like.

It also raises the question of what would happen if acting work did turn up for your other half, further down the line. If your partner is serious about the management role, perhaps he might consider an internship in an existing agency so he can learn the ropes properly? That might then leave you free to explore some more practical options for building your career.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk [1] or @dearjohnbyrne [2]