Life as an Actor – Agents and Auditions

It’s never too late… helps final-year Humanities students get advice from successful Exeter alumni, and showcases opportunities from the Careers Zone Actor Des Yankson graduated from Exeter with a degree in Drama in 1999. Des has appeared in many TV shows including Still Open All Hours (BBC), Cucumber (Channel 4) and Hollyoaks (Channel 4).  

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Des at work in BBC One’s ‘Still Open All Hours’

When I left Exeter I had no real idea what lay in store for me. I wanted to act, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Fortunately, I secured an agent early on; they’re invaluable in helping you get work. They often have lots of contacts in the industry and get to hear of jobs through various means not available to actors.

However, securing an agent is tough, you need to either be recommended by somebody they know (and they respect, like a client or good friend) or you need to be in something that they’ve heard favourable reviews about or seen for themselves. You can get into a play for profit-share or head somewhere like the Edinburgh Festival (in August) or create your own projects that you can show to the agent (a showreel of your work). You should NEVER have to pay your agent upfront; they take a percentage from the work they secure for you. Not all agents take unsolicited CVs, so pick wisely. They’re always on the lookout for the ‘next big thing’ and that could be you. After you manage to get an agent, you may think it’ll be all plain sailing and that you’ll be at the Oscars within the year. But often, it takes a lot more work than that.

“Nothing beats telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!”

You need a good relationship with your agent; after all, they’re working on your behalf and they’ll do a better job if they know you well. They’ll contact you when they have work, so days when you’re not working will be spent looking for work, or working as a temp. Temping is very flexible for actors and it tends to pay well enough to cover all bills. The downside is that you work often during the very times that most auditions are. Acting is a craft; you need to work at it and get better. As you progress, you’ll get better and better jobs which are higher and higher profile. This means that you need to be prepared for long periods of unemployment (from acting) and that when an opportunity arises you can focus on it completely. Acting is not a ‘part-time’ profession, but unless you’re rich you’ll need some form of part-time work. You need to pay for subscriptions, photos, travel to auditions as well as workshops and seminars.

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Opportunities are there for the taking. If you get a good audition, you need to grab it. Be punctual, learn the lines and be ready to do it more than once. And go in there with the belief that the job is already yours, it helps control the nerves. The majority of your acting life will be taken up with auditions. Personally I like them as you get a chance to play with new material and to meet new people. But lots of people think they’re nerve-racking and hate them. However, they’re a necessary part of the job, just be open to anything that’s said. After all, the casting directors want to finish their job by saying ‘I’ve found the actor we’re looking for’. But in the most part, they’re good fun, if you can relax. After all, if you can’t handle the pressure, then maybe acting isn’t the profession for you.

When you have work, it’s great because you’re in an industry that you love, working with people who are the very best at what they do, and you can often do things that people in other jobs can’t. It’s very exciting to work at your passion and also to be able to affect people with what you do. Nothing beats the rush from getting that all important job on TV, or when you meet someone really famous and then get to work with them, or telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!

Start planing for your future and visit It’s never too late…

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