How to Survive a Drama School Showcase
Drama school showcases are polarising. Typically you are either bombarded with agent offers, or you are left sitting on a park bench staring at a blank inbox, reprimanding yourself for wasting three years of your life at drama school.
The first outcome is a gorgeous ego bath full of epsom salts, rose petals and bubbles. It’s a whirlwind of meetings and possibilities. And it’s simply awesome.
The latter is a slow death. You’re thinking “I’ve trained for 3 years, 40+ hours a week, pretended to be a Snow Leopard for a whole week and now I’ve got nothing but a huge student loan to pay back.” The actors you’ve trained with, which you felt you were on par with, are all of a sudden leaping ahead of you, and the only reason you can think of is because they have a perfectly symmetrical face?
Either way, a drama school showcase is a rollercoaster of emotions for everybody.
So let’s take a closer look at one (of many) significant turning points in your acting career. How do you decide between agents? How do you turn an agent meeting into an offer? How do you get an Agent meeting to begin with?
Before all that, let’s just check in with the acting dictionary:
Showcase: by showcase we mean the final presentation to the industry that happens at the end of Drama School training. For some schools this is a full production, for others it’s a collection of scenes or monologues presented on one evening. And more and more, a showcase will involve a filmed element, such as filmed showreels.
Agent or Manager?: there is a small difference between agents and managers, and what they do for their clients, and that again varies depending on what industry you’re based in. For the sake of this article I will be using the term agent. Ok, let’s do this:
#1 Yep, it’s important
Whether your drama school showcase is on the horizon, or you’re doing it right now, there’s no denying it – showcase is important.
You will hear people play it down and talk about how you “can always change agents in the future”, which is true, but for now, showcase is not something to half-ass. It is a unique chance to be seen by some of the big players in the industry and make a lasting impression.
So signing with a top agent straight out of the gate is without a doubt, a huge win. It will be a kickstart for your career, opening you up to more auditions, opportunities and therefore roles.
I know you were already freaking out, and now I’m hammering on about how important it is, but I want to be honest. My next point will hopefully relieve some anxiety.
#2 But there’s nothing you can do about it
Showcase is a right of passage that you simply cannot sit out on. Well you can, but that would be stupid.
The factors that go into you being selected by an agent are so profoundly out of your control, it’s not worth getting caught up in. You might not be the right height, age, look, accent, attitude, you might be too similar to someone else already on their books, they might only be taking certain actors right now and so on. Liberate yourself from the idea that you can be perfect, and exactly what they’re looking for. You can’t, just do your best and let it go.
The one thing I would hope you take from this article is that if you don’t get a great agent out of showcase, it’s not because you are a bad actor. I have seen countless Drama School showcases and seen some insanely talented actors not land an agent because of any number of reasons. It’s brutal, but that’s the way it is.
In your life as an actor you need to get used to accepting rejection, and showcase is only the beginning.
As every actor’s experience at showcase is so different, let’s get specific. Here are some common showcase related frequently asked questions:
What to do if you get nothing?
No, of course not! It’s an ego death, but that’s all. So bury your ego, and get back to work. This is actually a good thing. You instantly lose that all too common feeling of entitlement that comes with a drama school degree. Start making work and engaging in the industry. Once the dust has settled from showcase, start looking for a rep. You still have a drama school degree behind you and will be looking at a less competitive time. It may take some time, but if you persist, you will find a suitable agent.
What to do if your best mate is now the next big thing?
You’re staring at a blank inbox whilst your best mate, who you’ve trained with for three years, has just hired a personal assistant to schedule all his agent meetings he’s got that many. This is tough, and can be awkward, for both of you. But the sooner you learn that being bitter and jealous only makes your life worse, the better. This will be a familiar pattern in your acting career, friends and fellow actors landing roles, getting great reviews, making money. Every actor runs their own race.
How to decide between agents?
If you are in the fortunate situation where you have a few agent offers, here is what I would suggest. First of all find a friend or previous graduate who is signed with each agent and give them a call, or even better, get a beer (that’s when the truth comes out). It’s really valuable to find out how they are with their clients from an actor’s point of view.
Next, look at their standing in the industry. Most people will give you advice like this “go with the agent you get along with best”. Good, sound advice, but in my experience most agents at the professional level are great and decent people. You don’t need to be best mates with your agent. An agents standing in the industry is important, whatever anyone says. Some simply have more power and more connections, and that will lead to more auditions and more work. So going with the more established agent is typically what I would recommend.
If they are at an equal standing in the industry, absolutely choose the one you connect with more. Having a great relationship is invaluable, but don’t get caught up in a false notion that you need to be best mates with your agent to be successful.
How to turn an agent meeting into an offer?
Sometimes agents ask for a meeting, and don’t offer actors a place straight away. All you can really do here is be honest and yourself. Remember you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Ask genuine questions and see if you are on the same page. After that, let it be – it’s not up to you unfortunately. You could send a follow up email after a few days, but NO SPAM. You will do more harm than good, trust me.
How to play it cool when you’ve smashed it
What a wonderful dilemma to have! But it can feel like walking on eggshells if you’ve smashed it at showcase and all around you your class mates are in a state of utter despair. Be proud of your work and embrace it. Don’t try to play it down to make your friends feel better, it probably just makes them feel worse. Let them be happy for you too.
The main thing to remember is that all that hype and excitement can lead nowhere too. I have seen many actors smash showcase and not sign with agents, and find it difficult to get work. It’s one of the toughest industries, don’t let it go to your head, get ready to do the work.
Should you sign with a small agency over nothing?
Yes. If they are passionate, hardworking and professional, a small agency can sometimes be awesome. Trying to be a freelance actor in a big city is near impossible, so even a smaller agent is better than nothing.
Note: Do not compromise and sign with an agent that has a genuinely bad reputation, takes upfront fees, or high commission.
Who are the best agents?
Hopefully you have a teacher who is knowledgable about the industry who can help guide you. If you are struggling and don’t feel you have that support, shoot me an email: [email protected]
Note: always research any agent and make sure they are not taking too much as a commission.
How do you network?
You don’t. Networking is an archaic word, that I generally despise. Be yourself. Be open and interested in people and be clear about what your ambitions are. You will then attract people who are likeminded.
Most agents have already decided to meet with you before they see you in the foyer, so don’t stress. Agents can see through actors who are just trying to “network”.
Whichever way your showcase goes, the lesson should be a humbling one. It should make clear the fickle nature of the industry and the importance of focusing on craft. Whether you sign with the top agent or nothing, in a few years you will be looking at making your own work, so you may as well start from day one.
Be kind to your classmates and remember they will be allies in the industry not your competition – there’s already plenty of competition out there.
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