Short answer: Yes.
As a general rule, you should still look for acting work, even if you already have an acting agent. On the whole, it will benefit you to continue searching for other work, as long as it doesn’t interfere with auditions and jobs that your agent has found for you.
There’s no such thing as one kind of actor, hence there can’t be one set of advice for everyone. The main thing here is to think like an agent when sifting through your options. Here is a list of questions for you to consider before agreeing to audition/sign on to a project:
- Should I do Unpaid Work?
- Does the Project Speak to You?
- Who’s on the Team?
- What’s Does Your Calendar Look Like?
Think Like an Agent
First and foremost your agent wants you to work. They want you to keep your skills honed and to be ready for absolutely anything when they send an audition brief through. They’re scoping out and putting you forward for the paid gigs. They want you in that room, putting down that tape and booking that job.
But they are looking after multiple people at every moment of their working hours, so keeping your eye on what’s going on (particularly in the indie scene) will only help both your agent and yourself. Indie films, indie plays, student films, play readings, development workshops—get the feelers on it. Doing your own leg work, sending out your own EOIs for projects, and making your own contacts within the industry is something that only aids the work your agent’s doing from the office. If you’ve got a lead on a big gig, just double check with your agent as to whether or not they’ve already put your forward for it.
Your agent has their own extensive list of industry contacts that they work relentlessly to get you into orbit with. But the network of like-minded creatives that you build through your own engagement in the industry will not only keeps your skills honed, but also forges creative relationships that can span your entire career. But in order to put in your best work and for you to get the most out of it, it’s important to still think like an agent when selecting the projects you commit to.
Should I do Unpaid Work?
Yes! If you’re financially able to give your time to rehearsals for a project that genuinely gives you a good creative challenge, and the chance to work some underused acting muscles then go for it. Indie projects hold as much artistic merit as any paid gig you’ll ever do – and sometimes even more.
You can really discover new skills, styles and techniques if you’re there for your artistic input and growth alone. It’s important to follow your curiosity and experiment with your work in places that inspire you to try something bold with your acting–somewhere where the pressure is off.
Does the Project Speak to You?
Read the script, consider the pitch, and see if it really calls your name. Seeking out a project just for the sake of can lead you to being committed to telling a story that you do not care about, with a creative team that you’re not learning a lot from, and earning little to no money.
Sometimes there are gigs we do just to keep the bills paid and that’s great. But your passion projects, and cool indie work you seek out for yourself should challenge you, but never make you feel creatively exploited or dead inside. If the project doesn’t sing to you from the get go, do not do it.
Who’s on the Team?
Just like your agent would do, suss out the team already attached to the project. If it’s not readily available on the audition brief, enquire about it. Figure out who you’d potentially be creating some great work with. It’s really important to do some research here, particularly if you don’t know anyone on the team.
If you’ve seen their work before, what did you think of it? Did it make you want to work with them? If you met them once at an industry event, what was the vibe you got from them? And if you can’t find a lot about their work and you’re unsure, find out from others who have worked with them. Do your research so you can set yourself up on a fulfilling project with a great team.
What Does Your Calendar Look Like?
Your agent does want you to work, but your agent also doesn’t want you to burn out. And neither do I!
Once you start looking for work, and doing projects for cheap, you’d be surprised how much work can start to come your way. Make sure that the work you seek out for yourself isn’t going to negatively impact your ability to deliver on the work that your agent seeks out for you.
If you pack out every spare week of your year with unpaid projects on top of paid work that may or may not already be booked in, your part time work, and whatever’s left of your social life, you will burn out.
I’d encourage you to prioritise working smart not hard. The indie projects you decide to do (or not do) is how you can establish yourself and define your artistry. Pick projects that really speak to you and have the potential to give you artistic and professional growth. If any aspect of the project seems suss, for example, the length of time required of you, the nature of the content, or the professionalism of the team from the get go.
Listen to your instincts, look at your calendar for the whole year, and make an informed decision that the project won’t cost you more than it’s worth.
Go Forth and Find Work!
Doing the leg work and getting your talented self into some cool projects is never a bad idea. You will go through ebbs and flows with your career and can find yourself going through huge stretches of time without work, or find yourself drowning in it at other times. But it’s important to view the pursuit of getting the work as a team effort rather than a transactional process. Less of a ‘my agent sends me stuff and I go up for it’ but more of a ‘my agent and I work together to help forge our careers’. The onus is also on you to discover the path you’re on, build creative relationships, and continue to grow as an artist. Don’t forget to keep an eye on everything else you’re committed to, do your research, know the why of what you’re doing, take a punt, and go for it.