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Careers Clinic: Should I work for an agent as a day job?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I have had several office-based day jobs since leaving drama school. This wasn’t how I envisaged my future after three years of training.

One of my frustrations so far is not having an agent. I spotted a vacancy for an agent’s assistant and thought this would be an ideal way to combine my admin background with getting a foot in the door of the industry. I was also hoping the agency might consider me as an acting client in due course.

I got the job and now work with a busy agent with a lot of clients. Between chasing up casting times and locations, making sure actors have in-date passports and valid licences (they often don’t) and trying to download self-tapes in all kinds of complicated formats, I have very little time to get anyone interested in my own acting talents.

The worst part is fielding phone calls from livid casting directors when an actor hasn’t turned up to an audition that I would have jumped at if I were the client. The whole experience is making me feel further away from being a working actor than I was before I took the job.

John Byrne’s advice

There can certainly be benefits to your acting career in getting some experience as an agent’s assistant, but they are likely to be indirect rather than direct.

In any day job you take on, inside or outside the industry, you can certainly use your performing skills to make those tasks more enjoyable for you and the people around you – banter with customers, or being able to navigate tight office spaces with a dancer’s dexterity. But the bottom line is: those aren’t the skills you were hired for, and those are the ones an employer is going to be mainly focused on.

It sounds to me that you are getting a valuable insight into what an agent’s job actually involves and that is certainly useful. From an actor’s point of view, you are finding out first-hand how being reliable, realistic and able to turn self-tapes and other casting requests around quickly and professionally can be just as important as talent when it comes to making the most of having representation.

From the ‘ideal day job’ point of view, on the other hand, this is a good reminder that, while going for a position within the theatrical business can work out very well for some people, and be completely compatible with their performing ambitions, you do have to be able to put up with the more mundane tasks to make the job bearable for you as well as viable for your employer.

I know people who have gone into the publishing business to support their own writing projects, but have found that spending the whole day writing for a living makes it less rather than more likely that they will want to do any more writing when they get home, even if it is on their own play or novel.

It’s very much down to personality. If working on other actors’ careers is making you resentful of not moving forward in your own career, it might be time to consider another income generation option, because a grumpy assistant is far more likely to get sacked from the day job than get signed up as an acting client.

Before you decide to quit the agency scene altogether, you might want to consider joining a cooperative agency instead. You’ll need to find another day job to cover your living expenses, but if you find a good co-op, your existing agency experience might help when they take on new members. Then, when you are investing your time in chasing work for other actors, they will also be working to find roles for you.

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

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