How I became an agent

Stephen Carlile and I, in 2004, in his dressing room at The Phantom of the Opera. That was my first suit, which I bought from Marks and Spencer in the sale.
Stuart Piper
Stuart Piper is managing director of Cole Kitchenn Personal Management Ltd
by -

Watching A Chorus Line's succession of monologues about how each character got into the industry, it got me thinking that performers aside, most of those who work behind the scenes or on the other side of the audition table had similarly weird and wonderful routes into their jobs - and so I thought I'd share mine.

I'll leave the story of how I originally entered the entertainment industry as an actor for another column - today, I'll tell the story of the bizarre serendipity that led to me giving up acting to become an agent.

Basically - if I hadn't met actor Stephen Carlile, I'd still be an actor. Stephen, as many of you will know, is Scar in The Lion King currently on tour, and was Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady and Lead Tenor in the original cast of The Producers.

Stephen and I met on the first day of rehearsals for a terrible fringe musical called Space Family Robinson (I kid you not) with a cast that included among others Hannah Waddingham. We were earning £50 a week, and strongly suspected it wouldn't last.

So, we started to think about life after the end of the run and, over lunch, Stephen asked me if I'd ever considered producing (I hadn't) as he'd been in discussions with Penny Horner at the Jermyn Street to do a musical for a fortnight to give the cast a showcase to invite agents.

He'd tried to get the rights to The Fantasticks but they'd been denied, and I suggested Snoopy! The Musical which I'd done above a pub somewhere, as it was a show I strongly suspected I could steal in the very funny role of Linus (sadly that's not what transpired - I'd underestimated the power of Stephen's dry wit as a devastatingly brilliant 'Snoopy' who upstaged me in every scene). We put the show on, it sold out, and we decided we'd try and transfer it to a larger theatre.

Not having the faintest clue how to go about this, I looked up 'Really Useful Theatres' in the Yellow Pages (this was 2003) and from my bedroom in my pajamas asked to speak to 'the person who books shows into the Duchess Theatre'.

Inexplicably, I actually got through to Nica Burns (I kid you not) who grilled me on the phone for 15 minutes or so, firing questions at me like "who are you?", "where are you from?" and "can you raise money?" to which I optimistically replied "yes" (not having the faintest clue how we would) and so she said "come in to see me tomorrow at 6pm, and bring a budget".

This provided me with several problems: 1. I had never seen a show budget, let alone prepared one. 2. I had a final recall for the UK Tour of Scrooge The Musical for Bill Kenwright at 4pm.

So the next day, I whizzed through my Scrooge audition (I'd later find out I got the job) and dashed in a taxi (in my audition gear - not quite leg warmers, but you get the idea) and met Stephen outside RUG, before we walked up to Nica's office, with our hastily prepared spreadsheet.

Nica took one look at the budget and told us that while she could tell we'd clearly never seen a budget before, she was impressed that we'd given it a go. But, she said, if we serious about producing the show, we needed a general management company to guide us, and she recommended we call David Cole & Guy Kitchenn of Cole Kitchenn. They met us, and guided us through how to produce a show. We eventually raised £150,000 (no small order, given neither of us came from families or backgrounds with much money) and put the show on by re-opening the then derelict Players Theatre as the New Players. The show was, in the end, a financial disaster leaving me in personal debt - but without the experience I never would have then been offered a job at the end of it, to work in general management with Guy Kitchenn, which I did for two glorious years working on amazing productions like Death of a Salesman with Brian Dennehy and Clare Higgins to the Tony & Pulitzer Prize winning I Am My Own Wife.

After a few years of working in production, I was inspired by Guy's idea to start a personal management division underneath the Cole Kitchenn umbrella, and with the help of original investor and shareholder Jason Haigh-Ellery made it a stand-alone company in 2006.

At the time of starting the agency I had six clients, of which Stephen Carlile was one, and I'm proud to say I have represented him to this day. And so despite him inadvertently ending my performing career (I think secretly he was trying to get rid of the competition) he in fact created his own agent, which, when you think about it, is really quite impressive.