Like the majority of actors in New York City, I do not have an
agent, but I freelance with a couple of them, which, in the
overall, has been a good arrangement for me.
I contacted a manager more than a year ago, and we agreed on a
freelance arrangement. At that time, I did not know the exact fees
involved. Now, when I say “freelance” with a manager, I mean that
she is doing what an agent does: She calls me and sends me out for
auditions. There have not been any traditional management duties
whatsoever in our relationship. In other words, she does not do
more than an agent. Don’t get me wrong: I am fine with it, and I
think that agents do an exhausting and good job.
A couple of months ago, I booked a nonunion voiceover through her,
and to my surprise she took 25 percent out of my fee. Now, while I
feel that 75 percent of something is better than 100 percent of
nothing, I feel that she is doing an agent’s job and taking a
manager’s pay. My other agents take between 10 and 15 percent of
I understand that agents need to be licensed and somehow need to
adhere to a very strict set of rules, as opposed to managers, who
basically can do what they want. But when a manager does the job of
an agent without doing a manager’s job, I feel that is wrong. Am I
right? Or am I just being a complainer?
—75 Percent Left, New York
Dear 75 Percent:
As you now realize, the time to discuss fees is in the initial
meeting, before you have agreed to work with a representative. Had
you brought up the issue at that time, you and the manager might
have been able to come to a compromise about her commission. At the
least, you would have known what to expect.
According to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs,
theatrical agents are licensed by the department as employment
agencies. Their commissions are then capped at 10 percent, except
for orchestra and concert engagements, for which the cap is 20
percent. (For more info on New York agency licensing, visit
However, talent managers are not licensed by the state and are,
according to the DCA, “exempt from the definition of employment
agencies if their placement of their clients in employment is
‘incidental to’ their management services.” The state’s Arts and
Cultural Affairs Law limits payments to “agreed commissions,
royalties or similar compensation based upon payments received [by
the client] as a result of his employment in the field of show
I followed up with the DCA, and apparently, “agreed commissions”
could mean that you and your manager could set any commission rate
as long as you both agree to it—10 percent, 25 percent, 99 percent,
whatever. It’s true that a manager isn’t supposed to be working
simply as an unlicensed agent—solely procuring work for you—but it
sounds as if you are okay with that aspect and only object to the
You’re not being a complainer. You have a good point, but the
question is how to proceed given what has occurred. My suggestion
is that you let this 25 percent be water under the bridge, but go
in and speak to the manager about the future. Let her know you love
that she’s sending you out but that you would like to use the
agency commission model if she’s not working with you in a
management capacity. You can present this in a simple and
respectful manner, and it might help cushion the point if you take
responsibility for your part in not clarifying the issue earlier.
She may go for your plan, or present you with compelling reasons to
pay her a higher commission. She may step up her managerial duties.
You may decide to part ways. Whatever happens, you’ll have the
conversation you needed to have back at the beginning.
Finally, New York actors who feel that a manager or an agent is
abusing the rules outlined above or is otherwise acting outside the
law can call 311 to speak to a DCA representative.
I have a midlevel boutique management company representing me. I
have signed a three-year contract. The manager seemed to really
like me. She had me evaluated by her acting coach, who said, and I
quote, “She is beautiful, and talented to boot!”
However, on one occasion she discouraged a talent agent from taking
me on, saying very negative things about me. She has been very
forthright with this information—almost to the point of being
cruel. In addition, she tells me that I’m aiming too high and need
to get a hobby. She also said that my passion for acting is a red
flag in her book. I am concerned that my manager may be doing more
harm than good.
Please know that I attended a prestigious acting conservatory on a
full scholarship. I have also been in a competitive private class
for a very short time and have been moved up twice. This positive
feedback is the only thing keeping me motivated. Please, I love
this work—I have since I was a small child. I want to be groomed.
Is this grooming?
—Management Worries, Los Angeles
You need to do what you feel is best. It’s your life, your career,
and your feelings in the grinder. You can either stay with this
manager a bit longer while looking for another representative and
seeing if the situation improves, or you can terminate the
relationship immediately. If you honestly feel bad about yourself
after speaking with her, I agree that she is—in your words—doing
more harm than good.
Get out your contract and take a long look. It very likely has a
clause in there about either party terminating the contract with
written notice. If you haven’t booked anything through the manager
yet, she’ll probably let you go without a word. Send her a polite,
succinct letter thanking her for her time and letting her know that
you are ending your professional relationship. No need to explain
why. It’s better to be unrepresented than to work with someone who
drags you down.
Still, you might learn something from this experience. It’s
possible her boorish suggestion that you get a hobby is based in
common sense. Acting is a tough nut to crack, and it can make you
crazy if you don’t have other interests. Do you have a life outside
your craft or are you focused totally and completely on acting? If
it’s the latter, take her poorly worded advice to heart and begin
looking for balance. You love the work? Fantastic. Make sure you
also love your life.