Coming from a small town, I think my first couple of years as an actor have gone well, mostly bouncing back and forth between the few theatre companies in our area.
I’ve always had a good relationship with my agent here. She is up front about her focus being entirely local and has encouraged me to seek a London agent when I am ready.
We have reached that point now, and I am about to start sending out my initial approaches. I’m aware that London agencies can sometimes be reluctant to take on actors who live outside London, due to travel and other concerns, but I really am prepared to sleep on a park bench if it means I can get to castings.
Please don’t offer to sleep on a park bench. And don’t sign with any agent who expects you to. Even if (as I hope) you were just using that phrase as a figure of speech to express how keen you are, overpromising on either side at an agent/actor meeting is never a good idea.
Ultimately, there are agents you can work well with and agents that you can’t, and chemistry is just as important as ability or experience in determining whether the partnership works. I’d give the same advice to an agent.
Given that chemistry isn’t something that can be controlled, it is best for both sides to concentrate on the practicalities. Unglamorous as they are, logistics often determine whether relationships between actors based outside London and agents in the capital bear fruit. Even in the era of self-tape, more London castings inevitably mean more trips to London, often at short notice and, even off-peak, usually involve considerable expense. This long-standing issue is deeply unfair.
Equity and others, including sympathetic casting directors and producers, are always looking at ways to level the playing field, but like it or not, it is still the current state of play. You are right that you will find agents in the capital who are reluctant to consider actors who don’t have a London base. This is often because actors have failed to arrive at castings in the past. This happens to everyone, even Londoners, but it is frustrating for an agent to have to cancel the same actor regularly.
From the actor’s point of view, the travel outlay required might be worthwhile if the potential role is a reasonably paid one in a production they would like to be part of, but less so for low-paid work or for general commercial castings where the chances of being selected are far outweighed by the possibility of returning with nothing.
All of that said, there are certainly London agents and out-of-town actors who have found fruitful ways of working together. The best way to make your pitch is to think about the circumstances in which you could reasonably get to the city at short notice. Is there a friend or family member who could put you up? Does your day job allow you to get the cheapest train (usually the eye-wateringly early ones)?
Having explored what is possible, focus your initial pitch on whatever flexibility you can genuinely offer. Hopefully, you will not only find an agency open to further discussion, but also start off on the mutually transparent footing that leads to a good relationship for both of you.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at firstname.lastname@example.org 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