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Careers Clinic: Do I tell an agent I don’t want to tour?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I have spent most of the last 16 months in touring shows. It’s been an excellent crash course in being a working actor, but I’ve had my fill of travelling the country lanes in the back of a van (unless it is my turn to drive, which, as a non-drinker, it usually is). Even though I once did an advert for one of the budget hotel chains, when you have stayed in as many as I have, I can assure you that they quickly blur into one.

I decided that the schools tour I’m currently doing would be my last and it was time to try to secure an agent to help me find other kinds of work. I have my first agent meeting next week, but in the email the agent has already mentioned a tour they want to talk to me about. I don’t want to start on a negative note, but I can’t face another one. How honest should I be in our first meeting?

John’s advice

Even those of us who do enjoy the touring life would probably agree that constantly being on the road isn’t very compatible with long-term relationships, parenting or other caring responsibilities. This is good news for the next wave of touring actors as well as for their agents – when one actor yearns for a more settled life, and hangs up their travelling shoes, it creates fresh opportunities for newcomers.

I can understand why your prospective agent is excited about touring possibilities. They can be good regular earners, particularly when your CV demonstrates that you have been rebooked for jobs of this sort. Touring experience indicates that an actor is good at what they do on stage and not a complete pain off the stage.

‘I don’t think any reasonable person would deny that you have paid your dues in the touring field’

Any initial meeting between an actor and an agent should be treated as a mutual interview, rather than a one-sided audition – and certainly never like the kind of first date where we try to make ourselves irresistible in ways that can’t be sustained long term. If either party is too keen to close the deal to the extent that they make promises they can’t deliver on, that doesn’t bode well for the ongoing relationship.

If you are on the actor’s side of the table, any promises of fast tracks to stardom should be viewed as red flags. For an agent, it works much better if they have a clear idea from the start of what an actor can and can’t be available for, rather than declarations of total flexibility that prove to be less accurate every time a last-minute casting comes in. Similarly, you have a right to determine your goals as an actor. But few agents are going to be excited about an actor who starts with a long list of jobs they won’t do. This is especially true if they can’t already demonstrate some experience in the type of jobs they aspire to.

In your case, I don’t think any reasonable person would deny that you have paid your dues in the touring field. So, as long as you demonstrate aptitude for other kinds of work, I don’t think being up front would be a deal breaker. I would caution against putting up a total wall on ever doing tours again, for your own sake as much as for the agent meeting. There are many different levels of tour, from both the payment and comfort point of view.

Either way, do have a clear idea of the destination you are aiming for, workwise, and listen carefully to any practical suggestions the agent has for getting you there. That’s the best basis for which both of you can decide whether or not to work together on the next stage of your career journey.

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

John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne

Editor’s View: Touring is already risky – venues, don’t make it worse

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