How do you find an agent? What’s the best way to meet fellow theatre makers? Why is it important to brand yourself as an artist? Months ago, when our Education & Community Partnerships team was discussing this year’s Going Pro Career Fair, they knew that they were going to strive to answer these questions and others about the people who help launch your career. They didn’t realize that April 18, 2020, would fall during a time when we’re all thinking about the importance of our relationships, and when emerging arts professionals are entering a world with even more stress and uncertainty than usual.
“We’re all isolated in our homes, but a lot of people have been talking about how they felt connected by the event,” said Interim Education & Community Partnerships Director Camille Schenkkan. “It was a moment of connection, and it was something that wasn’t canceled. Plus, the ability to think about the future in a positive way was really nice.”
The event was originally planned to be in-person and feature a variety of workshops, one-on-one mentorship sessions, auditions, and professional headshots for attending students. With a few exceptions, the show went on—though in an entirely virtual setting. (Headshots are being planned for a later, safer date.)
Seventy-five to over 250 viewers watched five workshops, in Zoom webinar format, with presenters offering lectures and panels as well as Q&As. More than 200 students participated in one-on-one mentorship sessions with 40 established professionals on Zoom, Skype, and by phone. LA Stage Alliance coordinated self-taped auditions, offering feedback to the actors via email. And everything was completely free for student participants thanks to the generosity of our donors and our higher education partners USC School of Dramatic Arts, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and Chapman University College of Performing Arts.
The first workshop of the day was titled “The People You Hire: Agents, Managers & More,” and featured actor/director Jillian Armenante, agent Melissa Berger Brennan, actor Oscar Camacho, and playwright Emmanuel Wilson in a discussion moderated by comedian/actor Ammy Ontiveros.
Camacho and Armenante discussed how they found their early managers and agents (thanks in part to Center Theatre Group: a tip from someone here alerted Brennan to Camacho, and a role in The Cider House Rules at the Taper helped Armenante find her L.A. representation).
“There’s gold out there, and you have to stay open, and you have to say yes,” said Brennan about her approach to discovering new talent. It’s also about finding “something that excites me, something I can sell and push and get behind.”
Wilson advised artists to build a team that includes not just an agent and manager but also a good accountant to help manage the financial aspects of the work. He also warned against setting finding an agent as a goal. “If you’re doing what you love and you’re creating and you’re building relationships,” he said, “sometimes they’ll come to you.”
“Finding Your Collaborators: Making Theatre with Friends (Or Not)” featured three friends and collaborators: performer Christine Breihan, playwright/dramaturge John Guerra, and director Rachel Park. Breihan opened by offering her thoughts on the most important tenets of good collaboration: trust, communication, and mutual admiration.
Guerra tackled the issue of when to say no to working with a friend. “It’s a question of, what is my best role for this project?” he said. “It is OK to support your friends’ projects from afar, and sometimes that is the best way to help that project along.”
In the Q&A session, Park addressed a question about how to find collaborators when you don’t have friends or classmates who work in theatre. “Getting out and seeing the work that’s happening in the community that you want to be a part of becomes a really invaluable part of your growth and professional development as an artist,” she advised.
Katrina Frye of Mischief Managed, a business development company for artists and creatives, gave an interactive lecture called “100% That Boss: Entrepreneurship for Artists.” “If you’re an artist, you’re already an entrepreneur,” she said: artists and entrepreneurs are all problem solvers. She also offered her advice on building your brand, building momentum, and building connections and gave participants assignments to work on during and after the workshop.
Stage manager Anne L. Hitt drew on her 13 years of experience on theatre productions to talk about “Conflict Resolution for Stage Managers & Others.” She told many stories from different shows she had worked on as she shared strategies for defusing tension and conflict, dealing with complicated power dynamics, and more. “I’ve dealt with a lot of sticky situations,” she said. “It’s natural for there to be moments of tension or conflict.” Between the different personalities required to work together in theatre, the long hours, the tight deadlines, and the hard work, conflict is inevitable. But she had many recommendations for how to get through it.
The workshop portion of the day concluded with vedic meditation teacher and theatre artist Jamey Hood’s “Success and Self-Care for Artists,” a much-needed moment of zen for right now and the future. Hood began by speaking to the many current stressors, and a more positive way to consider this time “I think of it like this incredible pulling back of an arrow,” she said. “There’s all of this tension. We’re using this gap to pull back. When it’s time to tell stories again, we’re going to take aim and release.”
Many students, presenters, and mentors told us that the day was exactly what they needed right now.
“I’m a graduating senior in undergrad who had my showcase canceled. I was feeling lonely and hopeless about the future, but this workshop really helped me. I feel a lot more excited about my future in this industry now,” said Serina Estrada.
Going Pro “not only prepared me to enter the professional world as a graduating college student, but also just filled me with hope and purpose during this anxious time,” added Ruth Burgess.
Tania Verafield, an actor who mentored a number of students, felt that the virtual format had surprising benefits. “It was a joy. And I think somehow, doing it over the phone really allowed the students to ask some very vulnerable, real questions that I’m not sure they would have asked in person,” she said.
The digital format was also a boon for LA STAGE Alliance in hosting the auditions, said Director of Programs and Development Michaela Bulkley. “We were actually able to have more students receive feedback through the self-tapes, and it helps our producers learn a new model of reviewing audition materials that could improve their own casting systems as well,” said Bulkley. “While as theatre people, we know nothing can replace being in a room with other artists, the digital event still provided space for emerging artists and current professionals to connect and challenge themselves to think about the future of our industry.”
Schenkkan noted that going virtual also meant “we were no longer bound by distance. The event has always been primarily to serve students from Southern California universities, but this year folks from across the country could participate.”
And although stages are dark, these emerging professionals have their work cut out for them. “All of the workshops touched on the current crisis, and there were a lot of questions about how we work through this moment,” said Schenkkan. “There was a lot of good advice on giving yourself a break and proactive things you can be doing.”
And who knows? Maybe we’ll see some of them on our stages and behind our curtain in the coming seasons. “When I first came to town, I was cast in a play at Center Theatre Group, and it made my career. I have been a working actor ever since,” said actor and panelist Jillian Armenante. “I am so grateful for the many amazing programs and learning opportunities they offer to young theatre artists. Take advantage of their artistic leadership. In a city as massive as Los Angeles, it is nice to have an artistic home.”