What To Expect At Your First Meeting With A Theatrical Agency
Common Sense Is Not As Common As You’d Think
by Adam Lieblein
You have a meeting with a theatrical agent. It’s your first meeting. Your mind goes into overdrive. Your dreams of life as a working actor flash before your eyes. You imagine your days filled with auditions and callbacks, and what you will say on talk shows about the film you shot between seasons of your top-rated network sitcom. You practice your Oscar acceptance speech. But the night before the meeting, you are smacked back to reality. What is going to happen at that meeting? Will they want to sign you? What should you prepare to say or do?
Most acting classes and theatre arts schools are experts at teaching the craft, and may even impart some wisdom about the general structure of the entertainment business. But rarely, if ever, do those schools offer to teach artists about the personal courtship between actors and agencies. To help give you an edge, I’m going to share with you some inside information about those first meetings with an agency.
First of all, the expectations of what will happen at a meeting with a theatrical agent rely primarily on how you obtained that meeting. Was it set up as a personal favor to another actor they represent? Did the agent’s mom go to school with your uncle? If so, then the meeting may be very informal. A meet-and-greet kind of thing. Polite conversation, a look at your resume, and some personal advice. For those meetings, you should be prepared just as you would for a serious meeting, but your expectations should be more realistic. Those meetings are meant to provide you a basic introduction and a bit of friendly professional advice. Don’t expect to be offered representation.
What if the meeting was obtained at the referral of a casting director? That’s a bit different. That’s also considered a “favor,” but the agent will be expected to give you a serious chance of representation. If the agent has never seen your work, and you have little or no video to show them, then you may be asked to perform a cold reading or monologue in their office. (More on this later.) Regardless, this is the business equivalent of a blind date that has been set up by a good friend. You may be offered representation, but more often you should just expect this to be a good learning experience.
What if the meeting was obtained by a general submission you made to the agency? You sent a headshot and resume with a cover letter, either by mail or electronically, and they responded with a request for a meeting. Let’s put aside the reality that this type of blind submission doesn’t usually result in meetings, and just assume that you are the luckiest person on earth, or that you reached a brand new agency that is in dire need of building a client list from scratch. Either that, or maybe you happen to be a drop-dead gorgeous guy or girl in their early 20’s, or an extremely strange looking character actor. Those people may get called in from a blind submission. Regardless, you should approach those meetings with professionalism, but bring a healthy dose of skepticism with you. They might say that they are considering you for theatrical representation, but offer commercial representation instead. Don’t expect much here.
Now, what happens if you get a meeting because one of the agents saw you do some great work in a play, a showcase, a workshop, or a night of improv or standup comedy? That’s a different story. In this scenario, you know that the agent is already a fan of your work. This meeting is meant to see how well you can get along with this agent, and perhaps other agents who join in making the decisions. In this case, if you don’t completely mess things up in the meeting, you should expect that you would be offered representation.
Armed with the proper set of expectations, you should still prepare for all meetings in the same way.
Dress “nice-casual.” Don’t over-dress. Don’t wear heavy makeup. No business suits. No way-too-short skirts or way-too-high heels. Don’t under-dress either. No dirty clothes or workout gear. Don’t smell. Common sense stuff.
Bring hard copies of your headshots and attached resume. Make sure you bring the best shots you have, and a properly formatted resume. Don’t bring a proof sheet in lieu of a printed headshot. Don’t bring a photocopy of a headshot. Don’t just bring a business card with a web link to your online resume (that’s good to have, but you also need a hard copy for the meeting). If you have a reel, you can bring a DVD, and/or you can show the agent the link to your online reel.
Get there early. Being late is a red flag. Even being slightly late might lead you to run down the street and walk in a little sweaty or out of breath. It’s better to sit in the lobby for 10 minutes and relax before going in. Just like an audition. By the way, don’t offer to shake hands unless they reach out their hand first. And if you do, be sure your hands aren’t clammy. It’s not part of a good first impression.
Have two monologues in your repertoire. You should always be ready to perform at least one comedy monologue and one dramatic monologue at any time. Two minutes to three minutes max. For agents, it’s generally best to choose material that is NOT clearly identifiable. Nothing from a famous film or frequently produced play. Nothing from a book of monologues that was printed more than five years earlier. Don’t do a period piece with stilted language. Don’t do Shakespeare. Don’t adopt an accent. Don’t do something you wrote yourself. Don’t perform a speech to a jury. Just find a contemporary piece from a character that you might actually be cast as. There is no need to “set it up” and describe the scene before you begin, and never, ever have the script in your hand. That’s okay for an audition with a casting director, but monologues should always be memorized. You might think that all of this is pure common sense, right? Well, I wouldn’t mention it if I hadn’t seen these things happen way too often during the years I ran a talent agency.
If/when you are finally asked to perform a monologue, you must ask the agent if they prefer that you look directly at them during the monologue, or if you should focus your eyes elsewhere. Many agents, as opposed to casting directors, prefer that you do NOT look directly at them during a performance. Also, you should adjust your volume based on the size of the room. Never touch the agent. Respect their personal space. Don’t bring or use props. And, when you are finished, be prepared for them to give you notes, and to ask you to make an adjustment. Why? Because it’s an agents job to get you auditions, and they want to make sure that if you are given an adjustment in an audition situation, that you can take it quickly, and make a strong choice. There’s much more to say about this exercise, but I’ll leave that for another article.
Besides the potential monologue, what else happens at a meeting that actors should be prepared for? It may sound simple, but many actors are not prepared to respond to the basic request to “tell me a little bit about yourself.” Your response should be brief, interesting, and should tell a basic but compelling story of why you are passionate about acting. What was the defining moment in your childhood? When did you have an epiphany that acting was what you were meant to do? Agents don’t care about the mundane stuff. That’s not what they are asking you to tell them. Practice answering this question in less than two minutes.
Beyond that, near the end of the meeting, an agent will inevitably ask you if you have any questions for them. The worst response is, “No.” The other bad responses involve questions that are unproductive or naïve. Don’t ask how many clients they have. As far as you are concerned, they have just enough, and are only looking for one more. Don’t ask if they have anyone like you on their list. It doesn’t matter. Don’t ask how they like to work with their current clients. If you become a client, they’ll tell you. Don’t ask how long the agency has existed. You should have found out this stuff by doing your research before your meeting. The best type of question to ask is one that causes the agent to talk about himself or herself personally. Most agents love that. Here’s a great question: “What do you enjoy most about being an agent.” It implies that they enjoy their work, and their answer will give you great insight as to the type of person they are, and how enthusiastic they are about representing talent.
When the meeting is over, thank the agent(s) for their time (remember the hand-shaking rule), and be certain you understand their preference for following up. Some agents will let you know on the spot if they want to sign you. Others may tell you to call them in a day or two. Some may say they will discuss things and get back to you. Either way, you should follow up with a nice card, either hand-delivered or sent through the US Postal Service (remember them?) with some words of gratitude for taking the time to meet with you. It’s classy.
With any luck, they’ll offer to sign you, and you can revisit your Oscar acceptance speech again. That’s the deal.
Adam Lieblein is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theatre Film and Television, and spent eight years as a producer of films, commercials and television projects until 1993 when he opened a talent agency. Adam was the president of Acme Talent & Literary for sixteen years, and together with his eighteen agents represented actors for film, television, commercials, print modeling and voiceover work, and writers for film and novels. At the end of 2008, Acme’s several divisions were sold to other agencies, and Adam returned to the business of producing and teaching at UCLA. In 2011 Adam was recruited by Casting Networks to work in Business and Product Development.