Do you need an agent to get acting work? Not necessarily. A lot of acting work can be found without the assistance of an agent.
If you go to New York and seek auditions for plays, you don't need an agent right away. You can audition and get into Broadway, off Broadway, off-off Broadway and touring productions without being in the union (AEA) or having an agent. Your work can be seen by casting directors, directors and agents because they go to plays to look for talent. A lot of actors are discovered in plays and are asked to audition for films and other productions based on their work in the theatre.
If you want to work in the soaps in New York, you can wait to get an agent. Open auditions for soaps are held regularly.
If you want to audition for roles in independent films, you do not need an agent. Various trade publications print auditions for many independent films.
If you want to perform in theme parks, renaissance fairs, cruise ships, regional theatre, touring theatre productions, summer stock theatre, outdoor theatre, Shakespeare Festivals or just about any live performance venue, you do not need an agent. Open auditions for this kind of work can be found throughout the country.
It is even possible to audition for Hollywood films and TV productions without an agent by submitting your actor information directly to a casting director. Casting directors who are casting for big budget Hollywood films or television productions seek out talent through agents and sources other than agents - like direct actor submissions.
A casting director (CD) is a representative of a production company. CDs can be found "in-house" or as "independents."
An in-house CD is an employee of a production studio. This could be a major network studio such as Fox or CBS, or of a private production studio that provides production services (like casting) on contract to other production companies.
An independent CD is an individual who is hired by a producer on a job-by-job basis. The CD's job is to seek out actors for the numerous roles available in a production. They pre-audition the actors who interest them. The actors whom the CD feels are appropriate for roles are susequently auditioned by the director, producer, writer, studio executives or anyone else involved in the final casting decision.
Casting directors are important to getting cast in professional productions. You should build a contact file of casting directors.
Click here for a site where you can find CDs. This site will give you contact info so you can send your résumé, photo and cover letter.