How to Get Representation in the Entertainment Industry
by Gail Williamson
Many people with disabilities aspire to be models, actors, musicians, athletes, entertainers and public speakers. After spending more then ten years advocating for people with these very hopes and dreams, I am often asked where to go to start and what kind of representation is available. I will attempt to share my knowledge with you. I am sure there are more resources out there, and I hope that this article will lead them to me. So here goes…
How do I get started?
If you are going to be contacting individuals or companies that provide representation you need to present yourself in a very professional manner.
- Have a photo that looks like you. With any letter you send requesting representation the individual receiving your correspondence will need to know what you look like. If you are a musician, I would suggest a photo with your instrument. If you are an entertainer, have your photo include what you do: dance, magic, vocalist etc. For athletes you might consider a photo of you racing, climbing, skiing, or whatever you do. If you are a public speaker, a head shot showing you dressed in professional clothing would work well. For actors you need a natural looking headshot of you looking into the camera. If you use a wheelchair, a hint of it in the photo works well. For modeling you will want to show various looks. If you do not want to start with the expense of professional photos, send an excellent snapshot and be prepared to get the professional shots when you secure the representation. This is a very competitive industry and a non-professional looking presentation will leave you out. Professional photo sessions run from $75 to $500 and up. I believe you can get some excellent ones in the $200 to $300 range. Remember that you do get what you pay for. After you get your great headshot you are going to want to have it reproduced. Multiple photo reproductions of 8 x 10’s run about $1 each, and lithographic reproductions can run as little as $.25 each. Your name should appear below your image on the reproductions.
- Have a clear typewritten resume or biography to include in your package when you are seeking representation. Again, you must look professional to compete. Include the things that are pertinent to the profession you are seeking. Don’t include everything you have ever done. I would suggest including your disability in the bio/resume. You can be very brief -- for example, wheelchair user, walk with crutches, deaf use ASL, blind use cane or dog, little person, mild developmental disability, Down syndrome, etc.
- Send a brief, typewritten cover letter explaining who you are and what you are seeking. Include your mailing address, phone number and e-mail address. You can also include any support materials you might have, like magazine or newspaper articles about you and your work or notices of your past appearances. Follow up your letter with a phone call about a week after it has been mailed and ask if they are interested in representing you.
Who do I contact?
Well, it depends on what kind of representation you are looking for. I will list some of the contacts I know about and what kind of representation they provide, then you decide which ones to contact.
- Kasarian, Spencer and Associates (member of the Association of Talent Agents) – representing professional actors with disabilities in the Southern California area. The agency is large and represents children and adults in theatrical (TV and film), commercial and print. They also have sports/stunts and dance divisions. The agent to contact at KSA is Riley Day. He and his assistant Leslie Stokoe represent many individuals with disabilities and are looking to add more, including ethnic types. Most KSA clients are members of one of the performing unions like SAG, AFTRA or Equity, but you don’t have to be a union member to be considered for representation. KSA works on general contract, collecting a fee from their clients’ earnings. You can contact them on their Web site. Go to the performers with disabilities department, and you can access Riley Day’s e-mail. Also on the home page you can see some good examples of headshots.
- Damon Brooks and Associates (booking representative) – representing public speakers and entertainers for events and fundraisers at colleges, corporations and organizations. Marc Goldman’s service is very well known. He makes the necessary travel and accommodations arrangements for his clients, which are covered by the organization doing the hiring. Damon Brooks takes a percentage of the fee they negotiate for their clients. You can reach Marc through his Web site. This is another great Web site to view headshots.
- Beautiful Kids (management company) – representing children with special needs ages 6 months to 18 years for print, commercial, video and film. They work nationwide. Ginnie Commo has been doing this with great success since 1994. Beautiful Kids charges a fee from the clients’ earnings for their services. See the Beautiful Kids Web site for the specifics needed to register your child with Beautiful Kids.
- ModelTech, Inc. (management company) – looking to enlarge their talent files to include people with disabilities of all ages and ethnicities for the New York and East Coast market. Ann Harvey has been doing this for years and worked before in the disabled community. ModelTech’s fees are a percentage of the income the client receives from a booking. To learn more about ModelTech, Inc., visit the ModelTech Web site. Again, you will find great examples of headshots on this Web site.
- The Non-Traditional Casting Project (a free casting service) – representing children and adults to the print, television, film, theatre, commercial and video market in New York and nationwide. This non-profit advocacy organization has online talent files to promote inclusive hiring practices and balanced portrayals of persons of color and persons with disabilities. To be included in their talent files you need to send a headshot and resume and include any accommodations you require. Sharon Jensen is well known, and many casting directors use her services. Learn more about the Non-Traditional Casting Project by visiting their Web site.
- The Media Access Office (a free casting liaison and referral service) – representing people with disabilities of all ages for acting in television, film, theatre, commercials and videos, as well as print. They also provide referrals for speakers, entertainers and some behind the camera employment opportunities. This non-profit advocacy group is supported by the California State Employment Development Department and the Friends of the California Governor’s Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons. They require members to fill out a new client packet. In front of the camera talent must provide 10 headshots and resumes as well. You can check out the office on their Web site, then click on the Media Access Office icon on the left side menu. The office represents talent nationwide and is located in North Hollywood, California. Gloria Castañeda is the program coordinator. Contact her by e-mail or by phone at 818-752-1196 to request a new client packet.
Gail Williamson has been an advocate for performers with disabilities since 1990 when she became a stage mom for her son Blair who has Down syndrome. Today Williamson coordinates the talent development and industry relations division of the Media Access Office. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Source: Opening Stages is a newsletter produced by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.