Here's the truth. Getting an agent isn't easy. It's like the Holy Grail for actors. If it were easy, every actor would have one, and everyone would be auditioning for the next Aquaman. There are over 120 talent agencies in New York, and over 40 TV shows filming, and thousands of actors who want to be represented and get in those rooms. Not everyone is ready to compete at this professional, highly selective level. So be honest with yourself. Are you ready to get an agent? Are you ready to be in front of major casting directors? Do you know your type, have a kickass demo reel, and most importantly, are you GOOD? I don't mean "My friends think I'm funny" good, I mean are you TALENTED?
"If only I had an agent...." I hear this all the time. The truth is, even if you start freelancing with an agent, it might be a while before you start getting auditions, never mind work. You have to put in the time, be patient, and remember that it's about talent, type, and marketability (also, luck). Yes, there is a HUGE element of luck. Some very talented actors never find an agent, and sometimes people get an agent without ever having taken an acting class. It can be a weird business.
As I discuss in my book, the best way to get an agent is through an industry referral. That is, a casting director you know (or have met) personally calls an agent on your behalf to say how great you are. How do you meet these casting directors without an agent? Well, some people go to those controversial pay-to-meet workshops at Actor's Connection, The Network, Actor's Green Room, and build relationships that way. If a casting director really responds to your work, they can get the ball rolling. I'm not saying go sign up for a bunch of these workshops right now and spend your hard earned money, because not everyone is ready to be in front of these casting directors. But if you play your cards right, and are smart and educated about it, then that might be the way to go for you. Check out CastingAbout.com for up to date info on who is cas
Or perhaps you are in a play or film, or a class, and one of the other actors is working with an agent, or a casting director is coming to see them in the show. There's nothing wrong with you asking for a referral (IF it's clear that the person likes your work). The important thing here is that they are seeing you do what you love, where you are in your element, and that is the best way for someone to respond to you.
Another way is through blind submissions, whether it's over email or from sending out hard copies. This is what all actors do when they are first starting out (as I did), but it's kind of a shot in the dark, and very hard to get someone to respond to an email or hard copy that doesn't know you. If your headshot and resume are amazing, and you have a great look (i.e. young and hot), this may work. If you are going to do this, then come up with a targeted list of 10 agents who you think are right for you. (Again, I'm assuming you are READY to have an agent.) Buy "Henderson's List of NY Talent Agencies" for $10 at the Drama Book Shop, read "The New York Agent Book" by K Callan from cover to cover, look on IMDB-Pro to see who the agents represent (make sure they don't have a bunch of people just like you), and come up with an educated list of talent agents who may be right for you at this given time. Do your research! Maybe you send out headshots, resumes, and a link to your demo reel, along with a short cover letter of recent jobs you have booked. Then send a postcard every time you book a job, simply to stay on their radar. And on top of that, perhaps you pay a little to meet them in person, or engage with them on social media (in a not creepy way). If you are going to send out, the best time is April-June, or December, as that tends to be a slower time for agents, and they are more likely to have the time to open submissions. Remember, they are working their asses off to get their own clients work (who pay their rent!), so it's a lot for them to take on somebody new and develop them. They have to be really, really excited about you. And in turn, you have to be offering them something to really get excited about.
Let's say you have no credits, not much training, but have a great look. Maybe you want to pursue a commercial agent. My sister Becki Newton started working in commercials and then crossed over to TV and film. For some actors, this is a great way in, as it gives them valuable experience on set, with "on the job training" that gives them credibility when approaching a TV or film agent (who is interested in your "look" just as much as your talent). This could be a great way in, especially if you are making tons of money for a commercial agent, and they also have a theatrical division (film, TV, theatre) which you could cross over to. Commercial agents are big on improv training, so be sure to check out classes at the Pit, the Groundlngs, or UCB.
The last way is through Pay to Meet workshops. It means spending a bunch of money to get in front of a bunch of agents for the "in person submission." You have to be beyond amazing to secure representation from this. Many actors do this, and many simply aren't ready, and are throwing their money away. It feels like a "get rich quick" scheme, where you can pay to meet an agent, and think that suddenly your life will change. It's not like that. Yes, some actors get signed from these, but that's not the norm. You may have to meet an agent six or seven times before they really start to remember you. That's a lot of money! There are pros and cons to this route, and you need to make sure you are being smart about it. If you are going to do it, DON'T do the 10 agent panels (too impersonal), and DON'T do it in February and March (which is pilot season, when agents are way less likely to take on someone new).
Want to learn more about getting an agent? Check out my "10 Steps to Making Acting your Business" seminar with Brian O'Neil (author "Acting as a Business") on February 22nd.