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Careers Clinic: How do I approach casting directors?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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When we were graduating from drama school last year, our class was given a set of email templates and a list of people to invite to the showcase. As far as I could see, any industry people who turned up on the night were already close associates of the school, so I’m not sure the letters were all that effective.

One year on, I’m working in promotions as my day job, still looking for representation and currently putting together my own industry mail-out. Like a lot of people who are good at sales in general, I am finding that selling myself is much harder to do. Do you have any suggestions for the best format of email to send to agents, casting directors and the like?

John Byrne’s advice

The late and much missed Simon Dunmore was one of the first to write about the practicalities of making a living as an actor in the contemporary industry. Detailed and useful as manuals such as An Actor’s Guide to Getting Work are, when it came to connecting with agents, producers or casting directors, he was always reluctant to publish letter templates. His reasoning was that giving specific examples, no matter how well they might have worked in the past, was likely to lead to many people duplicating the same words, negating its effectiveness and rendering the whole exercise pointless. However, in an industry where gatekeepers of various sorts are still key players, it is not surprising that actors stress over finding that magical combination of words to unlock the gates or at least lead to conversations.

Actors are constantly told they have to “stand out” from the crowd. I understand the thinking behind this, but in the days when most contact was made by letter this often led to agents and producers receiving a bewildering variety of mail. Sometimes it would even be accompanied by tea bags, Lego figures or other gimmicks the sender hoped would make the correspondence memorable. Even if that goal was achieved, I’m not sure the approach was memorable for the right reasons – I know of one producing theatre that went into security lockdown when an actor’s elaborately designed package, involving wires and references to “electrifying talent”, was mistaken for a bomb.

These days, with the majority of communication happening via email or social media, I still come across actors who waste a lot of energy trying to come up with a “killer” subject or opening line. But in reality the most important factor is providing the correct information in the message. If we haven’t taken the time to write a clear message, then the default decision will always be: “No, thanks.”

Be clear on who you are writing to and why you are writing. Is it for representation? To invite them to a show? To show them new headshots or a showreel? Whatever the reason for your approach, mention it early in your message. Make sure to focus on the benefits to them, not just you. Lastly, what action do you want them to take next? If you include any links or attachments, check they work and are directly relevant to your request. You can, and should, make your tone friendly and personal, but be professional and concise. By doing so you will demonstrate you value their time and increase the chances that they will value yours.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

Dear West End Producer: ‘Do casting directors look at actors’ submissions or just those from agents?’

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