“So I’m asking you to marry me,” I said to the twelve other people in the room. They were smiling, but I wasn’t sure whether or not they would say yes.
In the end they did say yes, and following this harrowing audition (and probably slightly misjudged audition speech), I joined a co-operative actors’ agency. Those of you who follow this blog will know that getting an agent has been quite a big deal for me for a really long time, so when it finally happened I celebrated in the way you’d expect: doing quite an elaborate dance in front of several disconcerted colleagues and phoning my mum.
I’m particularly pleased about joining a co-operative agency because it means I don’t have to hand over absolute control of my career to someone else; I’ve heard horror stories about people with personal management agents who have nearly a hundred people on their books – and that’s just the agent, not even the whole agency. Imagine trying to give one tiny crap about actor number 43 on your books when ninety-nine other actors are also relying on you to get them work and make them Judi Dench. That just sounds to me like a constant migraine and probably a stomach ulcer. It also doesn’t say much for the financial quality of the work that the agent finds for his or her clients if they need a percentage from a hundred actors’ jobs to make up the numbers.
This is not to say that personal management agents are all this useless. Most are grand, and also sometimes come with a little more clout than co-ops. But after so long fighting your own corner, it’s nice to keep in the loop as well as accepting the help. I don’t just have to sit by the phone (what is this, the twentieth century? I mean sit by the email refresh button), wondering if the reason nothing’s happening is because there just isn’t anything casting at the moment that I’d be good for, or if actually the National Theatre are desperately seeking ‘female, freckly, short-sighted book nerd, mid-twenties, ideally with a name that sort of rhymes with slimy’ and my agent is just too busy with the other ninety-nine to bother with it.
Working in a co-op means that the burden of finding work is shared among the whole agency. I spend three days per month working in the office to find twenty other people acting work, and they do the same in return. You pay a small monthly levy when you’re not in acting work, to keep the office running and buy teabags, and you pay a smaller commission on your work than you would with a regular agency, as there is no full-time agent who needs to make a living out of it. Everything is transparent, and co-operation is a no-brainer; the harder you try for your fellow actors and your agency, the harder they work for you. There’s also a very high warm-fuzzies factor generated by being able to put into practice everything you’ve learned from acting as your own agent for years for other people’s benefit.
Joining a co-op is like stepping through a mirror and looking out from the other side. The next time I met with my agency after my audition, I found myself at someone else’s audition, evaluating them as I was evaluated at mine. They were asked to talk about my casting bracket in the same way that I was asked to ‘cast’ another actor at my own audition (he said I looked like I could be in Game of Thrones. This sounds like a compliment but I think it’s because my ears stick out through my hair and that was apparently a good look in the made-up past).
I send emails submitting myself for roles as I always have done, but talking in the third person and signing off under a different name. I write similar emails on behalf of others and sign off also with this name. Instead of sending fifty invites to agencies for a show I’m in, my agency asks me for details of the show so they can invite casting directors to it. I fight the urge to do my hair big, wear shoulder pads and chain-smoke like Estelle from Friends. I sit by the refresh button of an email account that actually receives emails. It’s nice on this side of the mirror. I’m not on my own on this side.