Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Emily Cohen is in her 20s and works in theatre and TV as well as running her own theatre company. She is an associate member of a national company
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre
John Do as much work as you can – it might be low paid or sadly not paid at all at first, but you need to build experience and have something to show agents.
Annie Don’t panic.
Jon I didn’t have an agent until I was 29. You have to be your own agent, essentially. This means hustling and using connections more than might make you comfortable.
Beryl That’s it. Put yourself out there, write to those you admire or want to work with.
Peter Try a cooperative agency? Anyone here in a co-op?
Beryl I started in a co-op, good ones are a great way to learn. But, I left as soon as I got a sole agent because I struggled with some of the internal politics.
Jon I love the idea of co-ops and some are great, but all the stories about people hiding breakdowns and things like that scare me a little (however true or otherwise they might be).
Beryl I know. I didn’t have anything that bad happen to me, but if you have no representation at all…
Peter I’ve never been in a co-op, but it must require a certain personality. Someone who is happy being in the office behaving like an agent.
Emily I’m in a co-op. It’s a bit frustrating, because I’m basically my own agent, so quite often I say I don’t have an agent. But also, it’s not so bad, I’ve been working lots and it’s because I email people I’d love to work with.
Jon One thing I never did when I didn’t have an agent – so stupid of me – was to ask the casting directors on jobs I did if they could recommend someone to me, or recommend me to someone.
Peter I got my agent through a casting director recommending me.
Annie How did you ask the casting director, Peter?
Peter I was doing a job she had cast. My old agent retired. I chatted to her on press night and asked her advice. How do you get hold of the breakdowns if you don’t have an agent?
Jon I got one job that led to others. I never saw a breakdown. I was very lucky – by the time I was eventually taken on by an agent I had done West End shows, the Old Vic and tours. Then I signed with an agent and the work dried up completely.
John I haven’t used them for years, but casting websites can be useful for short films and fringe work.
Emily I have an agent log-in through my co-op. But a lot of breakdowns don’t show up – they only go to the top agents. So I spend lots of time looking at theatre websites and checking what’s on where.
Annie The first step is to figure out what projects you want to work on, and what kind of work fires you up. Then, as Beryl says, put yourself out there. I still write letters to people – not with any agenda, just to say thank you and that I appreciate their work. But some have paid off and got me work. By joining a co-op you treat it more like a job, which is perfect.
Beryl Be the mistress or master of your own destiny.
Annie But also create your own work. Do shit that scares you and pushes you, especially if the work isn’t coming through.
Emily Also – it’s about playing the long game.
Annie It’s 100% the long game.
Peter The thing about some breakdowns only going to the top agents is true even when you have an agent – if they’re not one of the top six.
Emily I’m trying to get out of being in a co-op, because I hate the actual being an agent bit. I’m in great work in great theatres, but it has been really hard to get anyone along at all. At a certain point you go, fuck it, at least I’m not paying commission.
Beryl Co-ops seem to get the least in that respect, contacts have to be nurtured, and that’s tough in a co-op as some industry people don’t want to deal with actors.
Annie There’s highs and lows in this career and a lot of people think having someone ‘fight your corner’ is just a good place to be – but if they’re not the right agent for you then they might as well not be here. I left drama school with no agent, signed with one after a recommendation and the rest of that year I worked jobs I had found myself.
Jon We should mention showreels too, I guess. Find some good scenes and splash some cash on filming them. Or if money’s tight get a mate you trust to do it.
Emily They always say – start by asking your cast mates about their agents.
Jon It feels as if “sorry, books are full” is much more of an automatic reaction from agents than it used to be.
Peter Some unscrupulous big agencies trawl up a lot of young actors from drama schools and just wait to see which ones rise to the top.
Annie I’ve had lots of friends get dropped within a year or two.
Emily Wow, really?
Beryl It’s a cut-throat business.
Peter I’m lucky. I’ve always had agents I liked and considered friends.
Emily Also, people will want to work with you again if you are a nice person.
Jon Yes Emily, write that in letters across the sky.
Beryl Boom! Just be nice.
Emily That’s the only reason I’m working to be honest…
Beryl Oh, and be talented, obviously…
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email email@example.com