Shilrey Faison is a New York actors’ agent, with over 30yrs in the entertainment industry. She has the insight and experience on both sides of the business, as the talent spotter for up and coming artist as well as being the mother of two high profiles celebrity sons who are actors in Hollywood and New York
How did your earlier career lead you to becoming an Agent, and why does this job make you smile?
I graduated from Rutgers University and worked in theatre prior to becoming an agent. I was a performer in college in the Paul Robeson Black Arts Ensemble led by Don Charles Manning and ROOT Black Theatre led by Avery Brooks. After college, I became a part of the National Black Theatre. Barbara Ann Teer founded National Black Theatre. The performers were Liberators instead of actors and the productions were ritualistic revivals instead of plays. The National Black Theatre’s philosophy was that performers were also administrators’. It was important that the artist could manage their art. I worked in many capacities at the theatre. I started off in a performing company, I worked in the office, and I became a part of the development department that raised funds through grants and contributions. I directed plays and eventually became a producer of the theatre. Finally, I became the executive director of NBT. I made my directorial debut at the National Black Theatre directing One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show written by Don Evans, who was my black theatre professor at Rutgers. I won an AUDELCO Award for producing Outstanding Musical Production of the Year in 1989. Working in theatre, I realized how much I loved talent. Seeing and experiencing talent was my turn on. I loved hearing a great singer sing, or the ebbs and flow of an actor with depth, and the magic and fluidity of dance. I appreciated when a person had the command of the English language and could do Shakespeare. So, becoming an agent, allowed me to help many performers realize their dream. The biggest smile for me is when I tell a performer that they have booked a job.
The most frequently asked questions by actors is, "how do I get an agent?" So Shirley how does an actor get an Agent?
The first thing to remember is that an agent works for the actor. The way that an agent gets paid is by getting the actor work and receiving a percentage of the money that the actor is contracted to receive. The first aspect that an actor should look at is whether or not it is necessary to hire an agent to assist in getting the jobs that he/she would like to have. If so, then what are the attributes of the person that he/she would like to hire? The actor should make sure that the agent believes in his/her talent and feels that they can present them to producers and casting directors. Agents want to represent performers that they feel they can market and get work for.
What is the first thing you look at when an actor walks into your office? Is it what they are wearing? The face? Their body language? And why does the first impression count in Show Business?
The first phase is getting an interview. As an agent when I go to showcases I seek out the performers who I feel are the best performers, the unique character-type, or the person that will round out my client list. When looking at photos and resumes, I look at the training that the performer has had. Where they were trained. The type of roles that the performer has portrayed, the regional theaters or venues the performer has performed. Whether or not the performer has union affiliations. Once an interview is set up. I will see how well I vibe with the potential client. Having a workable relationship between an actor and an agent includes having open, honest flowing communications both ways. It is extremely important that the actor communicates their concerns to the agent. During the initial interview, the first thing I notice is whether or not the potential client is on time. If they are running late, I observe whether or not they call. I expect the potential client to dress appropriate to who they are. I want to experience them. I often ask the person that I am interviewing to tell me about themselves. The way that they approach the question is very revealing. Sometimes a person will immediately try to sell him or herself to me and communicate why I should represent them. Others communicate who they are and where they are in their life. I personally tend to like when a person tells me about who they are and where they are in their life. It gives me a deeper sense of who the person is and the experiences that they have that they can tap into. I often give the potential client sides to do. I evaluate whether or not the actor spends enough time on the sides to be well prepared. I don’t judge how little or how much time they take. I want to see how well they are prepared with the material and whether or not they make the necessary adjustments, if I give a direction. My job as an agent is to get the actor in front of casting. The actors’ job is to book. I am more inclined to represent an actor if I am confident that the actor is going to show up on time and represent him or herself well.
You were once a frequent guest speaker at the Weiss Barron Studios in New York, which was a great training school for actors- in fact I attended there a few times when I came to New York. How important is the continuation of regular training to an actor? Can you tell if an actor hasn't trained?
There are various levels of performance ability. There are people that have a desire to become a performer, they don’t know where to start but they don’t know that they don’t know. They just seem to go from one dead end to another. When it comes to knowing what to do they are like a bull in the china shop. That person has to recognize that they don’t know and seek a teacher. They would then become a beginner. Training is extremely important for performers. If they want to be a dancer, they would take dance classes. Receive vocal lessons if they want to be a singer and acting lessons if they want to act. No one should seek out employment or an agent until they have reached a level of competence. There are some people that are born with talent. They are already more than a beginner, they are closer to competent and they take classes to hone their competent skills and seek to become masterful with their skills. These are the child prodigies that can play the piano, dance, sing or have incredible memories and are precocious. After continued training these performers tend to become virtuoso. Every agent wants to represent a virtuoso and will settle for representing a masterful performer. Many performers are just competent. Continued training and practice breeds mastery. Needless to say, when I interview a potential client I immediately evaluate where the performer is.
If an actor has a strong accent and they come in to audition for an American part, would you prefer they stick to their own accent or attempt the accent?
I suggest that they work on an American accent. There are various regions of American accents and within those regions are accents. The major areas are New England, Mid Atlantic, Southern, Mid-West. There are tapes that help with gaining an American accent.
Talking of 'accents' what movie star in your opinion did a really convincing job of another accent?
I am very impressed with David Oyelowo. Recently I saw him on a talk show. He was talking with a British accent. He started talking about his father and imitated his father with a Nigerian accent. When he performed in the movie Selma, he spoke with the eloquent American preacher rhythm of Martin Luther King.
You were the recipient of the 1989 AUDELCO Award (Audience Development Committee) which is a very prestigious award that celebrates the excellence in black theater. Do you think there should be more awards and events of recognition for performer?
I won a 1989 AUDELCO Award for Producing the Musical Production of the Year. It was a prestigious honor. I believe that recognition is important for everyone. We should celebrate each other’s greatness all the time.
Finally, any top tips for our up and coming younger stars?
1. Be True to Yourself 2. Acknowledge Your Accomplishments 3. Be Grateful and Acknowledge the people who support you 4. Aim High 5. Don’t Take the Rejection Personally
Thank you so much Shirley for taking the time to come and chat with us at BAT!