Becoming an Actor: The Absence of AgentsDate: 18 October 2011
"I count it as one of the great moments of my life," said Philip Larkin "when I first realised one could actually walk out of a theatre".
There have been a few occasions during my lifetime in which I’ve considered walking out of a play before it finished. A mixture of stubbornness, because I’ve paid money for a ticket, and fear, because I might miss out on something brilliant, has meant that I’ve never quite mustered the gall to actually do it… The closest I ever came was during a pretty awful rendition of Sarah Kane’s Crave at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but, when I realised there wasn’t an interval (as is walkout etiquette), I decided instead to go to sleep.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this dilemma: Stuart Jeffries blogged about his unease in leaving Top Girls in The Guardian a few weeks ago – which is where, if you’re feeling observant, I read the above quote of Larkin.
If you’ve bought a ticket as part of a cultured social life, then you’re well within your right to leave should you not be enjoying yourself. The question is, should agents make a habit of leaving drama school showcases, where they are at work, during the interval, irrespective of whether they’re enjoying it or not?
It’s not hard to see why they do it: agents are notoriously busy people. As well as keeping up-to-date with the new talent flowing into the industry every year, they’ve also got to keep up to date with all the established talent they already have on their books. They have to read scripts, arrange meetings, chase feedback, rearrange meetings, schmooze casting directors and try to have a personal life as well. So, after a busy day at the office, who can blame them for wanting to leave another Simon Stephens revival at RADA before it’s due to finish.
Let’s not forget that many agents have had years in the industry and therefore know how to spot talent in a few minutes, let alone a few hours. So why should they sit for 118 minutes longer than they need to, when they could be having dinner with their partner or putting their children to bed.
One solution is for drama schools to select plays that can run in under two hours, and to take away the interval. This seems like an obvious solution but, after talking to my director about the topic last week, I discovered that, undeterred, agents simply leave in a suitable scene change after they’d seen enough.
Perhaps, then, the remedy is to just do half a play? If the majority of the audience is only staying for the first half, it seems counterproductive to spend time working on the second half. Surely a better use of time would be to make the first half extra-good. The downside is that, rather obviously, working on a full script is much more rewarding, and important training, for an actor. But, it is a shame when you’ve spent four weeks working on a play and your character only makes an impact in the latter stages, if no one stays to see it.
Would agents prefer it if we just did extended showcases? Perhaps an evening of ‘selected scenes’ would be more appropriate.
Understandable though it might be, if agents were to stay for the entirety of graduating plays it might stop them getting an, albeit sweeping, reputation for being motivated by money over art. Though it would be incredibly stupid of me to say anything of the sort at this stage in my career, Imelda Staunton is quoted as saying “Agents and producers have to get you into a box to accommodate their limited imaginations” – perhaps if they were to stick around they mightn’t need to imagine boxes at all.