Getting an agent
Agents can be vital in helping a dancer's career, but what should you expect from them - and what should they expect from you? Michelle Dursun finds out.
Talent Release Forms, Contracts, Performance Agreements, Performance Artist Fees -- the legal side of performing in a production can be a minefield for the newly graduated musical theatre performer. The stakes are high and the consequences of signing a piece of paper without understanding what you are committing to could be significant.
The good news is that understanding and supporting you through this legal merry-go-round is the role of a talent agency. A talent agency is an organisation that supports, defends and promotes the interests of their clients and navigates the maze of paperwork and legal issues on their behalf.
Role of a talent agent
According to Natalie Duarte, at Focus Talent Management in Sydney, a talent agent works with casting directors, producers and directors with the aim of “placing a performer in front of the decision makers, in consideration for a role, that best suits the artist’s skill set”. In addition to this, according to Elise Naismith, Agency and Production Manager Executive Assistant at Ministry of Entertainment in Melbourne, an agent not only submits talent for appropriate casting briefs, they also “negotiate the agreements and performance fees if the talent is booked”.
Benefits of having an agent
So the question has to be asked, is it possible to get work as a musical theatre performer without an agent? Of course it is, however there are a number of distinct advantages to having an agent. The first of these is the support and guidance an agent can offer. One of the essential attributes of a good agent is honesty. They should offer their clients clear direction and industry advice as they navigate their careers. Naismith explains that an agent should provide “an unbiased and educated opinion in terms of career-related decisions and offer industry intel to their client”.
When it comes to the legal side of things, talent agents can supply invaluable experience when negotiating contracts and agreements. When you are first starting out, the excitement of receiving an offer can often mean that not enough attention is paid to the details. It very useful to have a seasoned eye look over your contracts and ensure your rights are protected. You don’t want to fall into the trap of signing something that might limit your opportunities down the track. As Duarte explains, “A good agent will always be in your corner, especially when contracts or agreements do not abide by the industry standards”.
One of the other benefits of having an agent is knowledge. As you would expect, an agent’s job is to maintain regular contact with producers and directors. They often hear about positions and opportunities before the general public. “An agent will know more about employment opportunities across a range of genres than a performer would know if they are representing themselves,” Duarte says. This industry knowledge could extend to audition briefs not available to the public.
Another benefit to having an agent is the credibility factor. Having representation can communicate to others that you are serious about your career and your future in the industry.
A final but very important advantage of having an agent is the public relations benefit. Good agents work with their clients to improve their profile and connections in the industry. As Duarte explains: “We utilise our industry connections to offer PR for our talent, aiming to provide as many opportunities for them develop their profile and reputation in the entertainment community and beyond.”
Nothing is ever free, but be wary of talent agents wanting up-front payments. Most work on a commission basis, which is a good thing for performers because it means they tend to be more invested in your success. One of the very important questions a performer should ask an agent is what commission they charge. Commission charges generally range from between 10 to 15 per cent depending on the work, with film and TV work at the higher end of the scale.
How do you get an agent?
The first step toward getting an agent is understanding your own skill-set or niche as a performer. You need to be strategic in terms of which agencies to approach. If you are a dancer, for example, it is no good contacting an agency that only works with actors. “Some agents are more skewed to TV work,” Naismith explains, “some towards dance, some towards extras work, etc. It is important for dancers to identify where they sit in the industry as a performer and contact those agencies that they feel best suit their niche.”
Once you have clearly identified your skill-set, start researching agents in your area. A good place to start is with the Entertainment and Media Map of Australia (EaMMA) is a national directory of companies including talent agencies. Another source is the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), which is the largest and most established union and industry advocate for Australia’s creative professionals. You can contact this organisation for a list of registered talent agencies.
Once you’ve selected a few agencies (based on their area of expertise) you should send tham an email and find out their process for taking on new talent. Some agencies hold annual auditions while others are happy to consider new clients on an ongoing basis throughout the year. You will need to have a professionally presented CV, headshots and a showreel ready to submit prior to meeting with the agency.
Expectations of agents
Agents are looking to represent performers, not train them or micro-manage them. They are looking for performers who have their act together – are organised, manage their time well and can take the iniative. Naismith explains that apart from talent, “we seek passionate, driven, independent and incredibly diligent individuals”.
Versatility can also give a performer an advantage explains Duarte, though it isn’t a deal breaker. She says her agency looks for performers who aren’t afraid to step outside their comfort zone and are passionate and self-motivated. “A good work ethic is paramount and being a nice person goes a long way!” she adds.
Once you do have an agent, it doesn't mean the hard work is over. Naismith explains: “You should treat your career as a performer as you would a full-time job and spend as much time, if not more, on bettering yourself talent-wise and improving your skills.” Duarte agrees, saying that performers are expected to understand that the entertainment industry is a business and treat their work seriously. “Performers should know that their agent will expect them to be prompt with their replies to phone calls and emails. This industry is fast paced and one needs to get used to this early on.”
What to look for in an agent
Gaining representation is akin to gaining a partner – someone who can help to steer you through the sometimes bumpy road of a musical theatre career. “Young performers should seek an agent who they feel comfortable with – someone they can be honest with as well as someone who will take the time to understand them as a performer – their strengths and weaknesses,” Naismith says.
Don’t feel that you have to sign with the first agent who offers to represent you. Do your research and be discerning. Trust your instincts and question your agent as to their commission and their past successes. It may help to think of it as if your are auditioning your agent to see if they are a good fit for you.
Ultimately you should feel comfortable with your agent. They should be someone who is open and honest, who you respect and trust. Look for an agent who is excited, enthusiastic and invested in your future and in the opportunities that lie ahead.
A final word
Both performers and agents bring their own set of responsibilities to the relationship. The performer must bring their talent, a strong work ethic, commitment to growth and perfecting their craft, organisational skills and a positive attitude. The agent must bring honesty, support, guidance, industry knowledge and connections. Your agent may get you in the door for an audition, but it is up to you to take it from there.
As a performer you need to be able to take on and work with constructive criticism and be prepared to be extended outside your comfort zone. Communication really is key to a successful performer-agent partnership and it is the responsibility of both parties.
This article was first published in the Feb/March 2018 issue of 'Dance Australia'. Why wait? For a mere $8.50 buy the new issue at your favourite magazine retailer or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app or subscribe here.