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Paul Clayton: ‘A word to graduates – being agent-less is no bad thing’

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Like spring, graduate showcase season seems to get earlier every year. Recently I went to a drama school to see a show and chatted to some of the students who told me that their showcase had been and gone.

While some had interest from agents, many did not and, with no major roles coming up, the odds were heavily against them leaving drama school with representation.

A selling point of a drama school course can be the number of students who graduate with representation. Though often the drama school doesn’t really examine what representation – the criteria is simply the number of students signed up.

Working with young actors out of drama school over the past 10 years, I can think of several very talented actors who signed with what can only be described as appallingly unsuitable agencies and were given no advice in the process.

So is it true that no agent is better than a bad agent? There can be a misconception among students as to what an agent will do for them. The agent will not be out there searching for opportunities. They will be waiting for casting briefs to land on their desk.

‘Times are radically different from when I graduated. I did the first four years of my career with no agent’

The more reputable and reliable the agent, the more briefs arrive. Then it’s their reputation for making good suggestions that will get the actor into the room.

What they won’t be doing is chasing fringe shows, student films and other opportunities that might feed the recent graduate’s soul, even if it doesn’t fill the somewhat depleted student coffers.

Quite often young actors who have been signed up by agents feel they have nothing further to do, they feel they can sit back and wait for the offers to roll in. Whereas, the process of chasing work and keeping up-to-date with opportunities and developments in the industry may bring the agent-less graduate actor more joy.

When asking drama students if they would prefer an agent or a job, I’m often surprised by the number who want the former. Times are radically different from when I graduated. I did the first four years of my career with no agent, moving from theatre to theatre by writing letters and submitting CVs.

The information about what’s going on is easier to find in today’s connected world – though of course that means many more people are chasing each and every opportunity. Yet the challenge and the competition can be the reason to get out of bed in the morning. It can be the thing you do that day that allows you to call yourself an actor.

And it can bring you into contact with opportunities that agents might pass by or simply don’t come into contact with. Not getting an agent from your showcase in your final year might feel like the worst thing to happen, but it could initiate your own efforts in a direction you never imagined. Clutching your phone and waiting for your agent to call won’t kick-start anything.

Paul Clayton is an actor, director and author. Read more of his columns at thestage.co.uk/author/paul-clayton [1]

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