So many actors falsely believe they need to get an agent as the first step on their acting journey. Somehow they’ve come to believe the ideal path looks like: graduate college, get an agent, book a starring role. And this can be paralyzing.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that path, and it works for some people. But not everyone. And in my experience, that’s simply not the most common path in the industry.
Agents help you get work. That’s a fact. But if you don’t have one, nothing’s stopping you from getting work on your own. While you’re looking for an agent, don’t hold yourself back from booking amazing jobs.
Here are six ways you can take charge of your own path and book work without an agent.
Strategically use Pay-to-Plays.
No one likes the idea of pay-to-plays, but if you approach them with a smart strategy, you can make them work for you — they did for me. I met my first agent that way and I’m forever grateful.
Take classes with agents and casting directors at Growing Studio, Actors Connection, and One-on-One, but do it with purpose. Research the people you want to work with and make sure they align with the projects you want to do. It’s all about taking this industry into your own hands by putting yourself in the room where it happens.
Attend open calls.
So many actors dismiss open calls. How many of these excuses have you heard or used to avoid going out for a role?
- “The show is already cast.”
- “I won’t get seen.”
- “I can’t book without an appointment and/or agent.”
Sometimes these are true, but it doesn’t make open calls any less important. The only universal rule is that you won’t get seen if you don’t try.
Every time you step in front of a casting director, you are making invaluable connections and relationships. Even if it’s just for 16 bars, if you put your best foot forward in the room, you’re taking a step forward in your career. No agent needed. Plus, you never know what roles they need to fill. Why short yourself that opportunity?
Always be in class.
I’m sure by now someone has told you to always be in class, but you should know it’s not just about improving your craft. There’s always room to grow as an artist, but class also gives you the chance to connect with fellow artists and learn about opportunities.
This is a collaborative industry and there’s no better place to meet collaborators than a room full of people trying to improve their work.
If you can’t afford a lot of classes, that’s okay. Focus on your weaknesses so you’re ready for anything casting throws at you. Agents will appreciate your self-awareness and casting will appreciate your skill.
Be on top of your self-submissions.
If you don’t have an agent or manager, you are your entire business. That means you’re responsible for your admin work. Make sure you’re keeping track of what auditions are happening, if they’re taking tapes, and when those tapes are due.
Additionally, track who’s giving you callbacks. If you’re consistently getting called back by certain casting directors, that’s who you need to make sure you build relationships with. And keep a spreadsheet — they’re not just for accountants.
Make sure your tapes are high quality.
This is a tough industry, and every part of your audition is a representation of how seriously you take your career. Make sure your audition tapes are on point. This is true whether you have an agent or not. You don’t have to rent a professional studio, but your self tapes should be well lit and your voice should sound clear and natural. An agent will proof these tapes for you, but if you don’t have one, you need to double check your quality and then check again.
Also, remember that you have a chance to do multiple takes when you’re not in the room. If your first take isn’t your best, do it again. Self-taping may not be everyone’s favorite, but it gives you a second chance that you almost never get during a live audition, so take advantage of it.
Build reel material.
If you don’t have an agent to back you, the best thing you can do for casting is put together some quality reel footage. If you have the time, take advantage of student films and small indie films to build a reel. They might not pay, but you can pull footage together so that you have more to show than home-made self-tapes.
If you’re a musical theater performer, look into cabarets that offer you professional footage. There are so many ways to gather up clips of your best performances and each clip brings you closer to booking.
Build your career, then grab an agent.
All of these tips will help you get jobs, but they’ll also help you grab the attention of agents who can get you more jobs. With a few exceptions, agents prefer clients with a full resume. So, don’t worry about relying on agents to get your career started. Instead, build up your resume, then let representation come to you.
Every artist is their own business, their own person, with their own story to tell. Don’t let not having an agent hold you back from putting yourself out there and crafting your story.
Additionally, don’t let your day job keep you from auditions. For a part-time job that will give you audition freedom, check out the community of working artists at Worthwhile Events.
Roderick Lawrence is an actor, filmmaker, and Blacktivist whose long resume includes Simba in The Lion King, Ramses in The Prince of Egypt, Guy in ONCE, and an appearance on Comedy Central’s Broad City. He also created, produced, and starred in the multi-award-winning short film Silent Partner, which premiered in August at the Oscar-qualifying RSF Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (www.silentpartner-film.com).