Recently, I've been in a number of conversations with playwrights interested in learning how to find an agent. When asked this question, I always share the advice that Beth Blickers gave to me when I first approached her about five or six years ago.
At that time, I was working freelance as a playwright, dramaturg, director, producer, and teaching artist. I was juggling a lot of contracts and working hard to find balance in my life. I already had several readings, workshops, and productions to my name. What's more (and by the grace of all the muses, word of mouth, and good networking), my plays were being read by artistic directors and literary managers at some rather exciting regional theatres. I was eager to become a part of the American Theatre in a more visible and viable way.
Beth, being the wise and generous playwrights' angel that she is, read three of my plays and was excited by my voice. She put me in her back pocket, as it were, and told me to be patient. She offered me excellent counsel from time to time and introduced me to a number of folks who also took an interest in my work. Each time we connected, she told me to focus on my craft. I did and years later, but exactly on time, an amazing agent, the incomparable Morgan Jenness, found me.
Officially, Morgan and I met at the 2012 TCG National Conference. I was there for the first time as a Young Leader of Color and she was my mentor. Morgan is someone who doesn't do anything in halves. We spent a year getting to know each another over lunches, emails, and at various conferences. She is someone I cherish deeply. We have similar values. I deeply admire and respect her fierce commitment to arts advocacy and social justice. In her actions and belief in me, she encourages me to be a better person. When she left Abrams Artists Agency, she made sure that I was in good and capable hands, which is how I came to work with the remarkable and talented Leah Hamos, who has been my source of strength, courage, and stability ever since.
So, for me, finding an agent was about finding a mentor, collaborator, and friend. It also had to do with shaping my voice, continuing to network, strengthening my position in the local, regional, and national community, and determining what my specific contribution to the American Theatre would be. But every story is different and so, without further ado and with permission, here's the invaluable advice that Beth Blickers shared with me:
“If you’ve only written one play and it hasn’t been produced then it is decidedly too soon to look for an agent. And bear in mind that once an agent passes on repping you, you go into their database of people to whom they have said no. And I know for a fact that at some agencies that database is shared within the department. Meaning if you get told no by one agent and approach a different agent two years later, they look you up and you can wind up getting passed on again without being read afresh.
The strongest moment to reach out to agents is when something nationally recognized is happening in your career, when you’ve built of fan base of people who know agents and can speak highly of you and when you are starting to bring in some income so they aren’t working entirely for free. At this point you’ll probably have met some agents in passing at theaters and panels, you’ll probably have worked with some directors who have agents (and are easy ways to get introductions), you’ll have artistic directors and literary managers who will make introductions on your behalf. And I hope you will have talked to represented artists about who they are with, who they know, who they like and why they like them, what agents are actually able to do for them, how they work well together (or don’t), so that you can thoughtfully talk with some agents and make a choice and work together happily for many decades to come.
Don’t (and I’m sure every literary manager will second this list) send us a play you have never heard out loud, even if it’s just in your living room. Don’t tell me about the 22 full length plays, 78 one acts and 592 sonnets you’ve written. Don’t list all of the famous people you know if they’ve never done a thing to further your career. Don’t tell me you’ve been produced by a theater when it was a one night event. Be honest and straightforward. I’d rather a fairly empty resume with a genius cover note then a dazzling array of information that when I start to pick at it, falls apart like dust. And trust me, we check. If you tell me a theater is strongly considering your play I WILL ask that theater about it. And 99 times out of 100 the “strong consideration” means the writer sent them the play that week. Makes the writer look bad to me and the theater.
Do network like mad, go to new play festivals, offer people a mid afternoon iced latte in exchange for an informational meeting, Google theaters, have a website, befriend writers and directors, invest energies in things other than theater, be interested in the world around you and be an interesting person yourself. Know what makes you unique and what you have to offer to the world of theater. The other day I chastised theaters who respond to queries about what they are looking for in a play with “good writing.” I’d say the same to any artist. If I ask you want you want to do in the theater please don’t tell me “write good plays and work with good people.” It tells me nothing about what makes YOU special. And if you don’t know what makes you special why do I care? To quote the great Liz Engleman “why this play, now.” I’d expand that and say agents are asking daily “why this writer, now.” The best writers have an answer. And my goodness they are a delight to represent.”
Beth Blickers is currently an agent at Abrams Artists Agency, where she represents such writers, composers, directors and choreographers for theatre, television and film. Before joining Abrams, she was an agent at Helen Merrill Ltd. and the William Morris Agency, where she began work after graduating from New York University.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!