Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Important Are a Leader's Connections to the Success of a Talent Agency?

East West Players’ research addresses the value of ‘who you know’…

It’s a relationship business. (duh)

Coordinator/Consultant Ming Lo has now interviewed with a range of stakeholders: theatre managers, actors, agents, TV network executives, marketing firm CEO’s, lawyers. Reaction to the idea of an Asian Pacific American talent agency has been as varied as the interviewees, ranging from enthusiasm to curiosity to (very frank) disinterest. But, one glaring trend from nearly every interview was the acknowledgement that the success of the agency would hinge on the person recruited to take the lead as an agent. Or rather, it would hinge on the connections he/she has.

Case in point: One agent from a mid-sized respectably established agency (who asked to remain anonymous) described some of the fellow agents in the firm. “One agent has 10 connections. Another has 5. This other one has 5.” The implication: These agents are defined (if even only in part) by their connections- specifically to casting directors- enough for them to be numerically listed and categorized. These connections, as Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda, has noted, become the ‘lifeblood’ for the agency.

The logic is this: A casting director (often under pressure from the director and/or producers) will often turn to trusted agents who can send 5-10 strong actors with one phone call. Often under deadline tight deadline, he/she won’t bother making cold calls or contacting agents with ‘poor’ reputations. This streamlines the audition process; saves on scheduling and, ultimately, production costs. It’s a matter of efficiency. This is no big surprise in an industry defined by the bottom line. But this is confirmation that in the creation of an APA talent agency, we we’ll have to wrap this dose of ‘reality’ with our goals of creating a mission-driven prototype. To win the game, we may have to play by these rules—or at least bring on someone who does. We know: To support careers of APA actors, we must form a venture that is effective (at the least) and also financially viable (ideally!). Possible Future Blog Title: Hippie-spirited community activism dons HBO Entourage-style suit (and attitude) to meet our mission.

Individual interviews (by phone and in person) are ongoing. Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda and Coordinator/Consultant Ming Lo have begun to cull and analyze the data. (Did you know – according to one source – that the average base salary for a Hollywood agent ranges from $85-$120K? Not a lot of these kinds of salaries in nonprofit theatre!)

The next step: Draft 1 of a Business Plan. Stay tuned.

--Lisa Tang, East West Players

How Valuable are Theatre Partnerships

Clubbed Thumb ponders establishing relationships in theatre...

Given some food for thought at a Mellon-organized conversation about theater partnerships, something that, given the nature of our A-ha! grant, is very much on my mind. One thing we all said: it's great to be in a room talking together, because it is hard to find the time for that (although we weren't that great at saying that much that was specific when we were all together--better when we divided up into smaller groups). My current thinking: I wish I had structured the grant so that I could hire someone to do part of my job, so I had more time to cultivate these relationships, instead of, say, write grants. But of course I only want to spend money on production... which is why I applied with a Do It instead of a Think It!

--Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Are the Benefits to Joining an Asian Pacific American Talent Agency?

East West Players have been receiving differing opinions as they pursue the creation of an Asian Pacific American talent Agency. Here's a recent update...
Our information gathering interviews are continuing. We’ve found a range of reactions to the idea of an APA (Asian Pacific American) talent agency, from excitement to hesitancy to (and this has happened more often than one may expect) initial hesitancy which grows into excitement. Part of this is an initial denial of ‘being held back because of ethnicity’ in their current agency (“No, no. My agency sends me out to all kinds of calls”). But as the interview continues, there is a moment when a realization strikes (“Well, I do get sent out for a lot of Latino roles. I don’t feel I’m right for them because I know I can’t bring that kind of [cultural] flavor, but I’ll go. Maybe an APA agency would be nice because I won’t have to explain…” –A Filipino American Actor).

As we continue compiling our findings, we’d like to toss out a question that was asked to us and has caused us to reflect the range of our exploration process.

Why not a talent management firm as opposed to a talent agency? Given the scope of our mission and the goals we’ve outlined for this agency…we had an A-ha! moment. Why not?

Stay tuned.

--Lisa Tang, East West Players

Planning the Spring High School Residency

It feels like spring. That must mean it's time for Book-It to work out the logistics for the upcoming high school residency.

February we had an energizing meeting with the Seattle Literacy Consortium. The Consortium has nine members, all of whom are non-profit organizations that offer free or low-cost basic-skills programs to adults seeking to learn English or improve their basic literacy skills. They embraced our work and gave great guidance on strategies to support successful partnerships in the world of adult literacy.

Primarily we have been wrapping up a high school residency during which we’ve been assessing student work and evaluating our teaching practice. Right now, we are buried under piles of paper, photographs, video and audio recordings from four classes and a total of 113 students. These piles include student poems, adaptations, literary analysis worksheets, student reflections, performance images, collaborative dialogue, and assessment checklists. We are reviewing all the documents and coding themes that tell the story of the students’ experience. Then we’ll take this information and make adjustments for our spring residency where we work with five more classes at the same school.

-- Gail Sehlhorst, Book-It Repertory Theatre

When Do You Turn to Plan B?

What do you do when things don't go as originally planned? Clubbed Thumb shares their ideas when they encountered that scenario:

We realized that the turnaround from mid-October, when the grant could be made public, to now, when our summer programming decisions had to be finalized, was not enough time to fully execute this program. Over the fall and winter, we had a lot of great conversations, many of which had/have the potential to bear fruit. Ultimately, the one or two projects to which we narrowed down could not be worked out for this summer. While we could put something in place to satisfy the terms of the grant on our original timeline, it would be much more valuable if we could continue to explore the proposed parameters of the grant. We are looking at 2011 for the partnering projects to happen. This situation however introduces an additional burden; we must secure enough of a firm commitment from a partnering institution so that grant funds will be spent by the end of March, even if the productions are a little later. Because that is right up to the margin, we have planned a September 2010 check-in, by which point if we do not have a relationship fairly firmly in place we will move to a Plan B. We have a rough-out of that plan now, and will hone it over the coming months as we re-engage with our initial conversations. Emilya (Emilya Cachapero, TCG)has made a good suggestion: going to our core playwrights to see what they are working on with other institutions, and seeing if we can find a good collaboration that way; we also have projects that were of interest, but could not be fit into the initial timeline. In sum ... we have our work cut out for us, but are excited about the further exploration of our idea.

--Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb