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Things Your College Theatre Program Didn't Tell You (Part 2)

This post was originally published on October 27, 2015 as part of The Green Room on www.newmusicaltheatre.com

Recently, I discussed some of the things that are important for every actor to know but which aren’t being taught in most theatre programs at the college level. This week, I’m rounding that out with information about showcases and agents. I’d love to hear your opinions or any questions you have about this blog and the last one, so feel free to reach out!

Once again, this information comes from a variety of recent grads, all of whom had very different college experiences. Some of the information also comes from the Internet and resources like Backstage!

How important is the Showcase, really?

Five years ago when I was looking at colleges for the first time, I was told that one of the most important questions to ask was whether or not the school had a NYC showcase. By the time my own graduation rolled around, showcase was no longer as important as I had thought. In fact, I didn’t do my college’s showcase. I made that decision after speaking to a number of alumni from my college who overall felt that while it had been fun, it hadn’t really boosted their career in any significant way.

The fact about showcase is that only a small percentage of people book a job or immediately gain an agent solely from their college showcase. Every year, thousands of student actors graduate and enter the workforce. You’re competing with every one of those thousands to catch the eye of someone who will propel you to monetary success. Agents, producers, directors, and managers see hundreds of showcases in the spring and it takes someone incredibly special to catch their eye. So sure, it’s possible. I do know people who immediately signed with an agent and have been doing commercials since graduation. I know people who received invitations to prestigious auditions. But 99% of the people I know who did showcase at their college were told, “Here’s my card. Contact me when you’ve done some work in the city.”

Agents know that when they see you at showcase, you’re showing them material that you’ve worked on exclusively for at least a few weeks, if not a few months. They want to know that you can do more than pre-coached work. There are people in the world who are capable of preparing material with a professor’s help, but when they’re on their own, they’re at a total loss. An agent doesn’t want to sign you based on your professor’s hard work.

If you do decide to do your school’s showcase, think long and hard about the material you choose. Some schools let you choose, while other schools have a professor choose your material for you. This part really goes back to finding your type, as I mentioned in part one of this blog. If you’re never going to be an ingénue, don’t sing Julie Jordan’s songs fromCarousel. Try to avoid overdone songs but also know that if you truly love an overdone piece and can make it your own, you don’t need to shy away from it.

When it comes to monologues, a piece of advice I heard from many industry individuals is to avoid profanity for the sake of profanity. One or two swear words in a piece might pass if they don’t feel awkward in your mouth. But one trend that has been popping up in showcases is the tendency to show how blunt or bitchy a character is by having the actor swear nonstop. All it does is turn off the audience and give a negative impression of the actor. If your professor assigns you one of those monologues, think twice. Fight for the material that you feel best about; don’t settle for what your professor says if it doesn’t feel right in your body or voice.

But what IS an agent? What about a manager?

Most people don’t know the differences between an agent and a manager. The bottom line is that an agent gets you work and a manager keeps track of your work. An agent’s job, in simple terms, is to look through the daily breakdowns to find an audition that you fit. Then they get you an appointment or let you know about the audition and off you go! If you book the job, the agent gets a percentage of your paycheck. Your agent will also help you negotiate your contract once you book a job.

A manager, on the other hand, is more involved in the actor’s personal life instead of their audition life. Your manager arranges public relations outings, such as interviews and press appearances. They might help you choose an agent, prepare your resume, and direct your career path. Managers aren’t generally responsible for booking you an audition, though if they have a connection, they may use it to help boost your profile.

How do I get an agent?

There’s a lot of research that goes into finding the right agent for you. Most of the same rules go for finding a manager. Be aware that you are in control of putting your best foot forward. You can control how you look, the quality of your materials, and how prepared you are when you step into a meeting with a potential agent. You’ll need to prepare a reel and be able to answer questions about exactly the kind of career you’re looking forward to. An agent wants to know that you are going to advocate for yourself as much as they are going to advocate for you. After all, if they’re taking time to look for your jobs, they’re taking time away from looking for jobs for their other clients. This article on Backstage gives some basic tips to get you started on the right track.

When should I get an agent or manager?

The best answer I’ve heard is that you get an agent or a manager when you can no longer get by on your own. At a certain point, your resume will simply be too impressive to book you small jobs, but it still may not be impressive enough to book you that Broadway leading role yet. At that point, you want to get into the auditions that are appointment only. And who gets you those appointments? Your agent.

Again, this is a very personal choice to make—just like everything else in showbusiness. Your career path is going to be different from everyone else’s because each and every actor brings their own unique traits to every role. That all sounds pretty cliché but it’s the truth. Always remember to bring yourself into the room, whether it’s an audition or a showcase.