How to change agents without harming your professional relationship with the previous agent
I changed my agent two years ago and was in this situation then.
The first thing you may want to do is to not tell your current agent that you are on the lookout for a new one as they may not take this too well, and understandably, contact may start to become lessened and the auditions may start to slip away (although of course you may not be getting any auditions anyway – that’s why you’re changing agents).
So you need to begin your hunt for a new agent. Grab a copy of the directory Contacts, which is published by Spotlight. You can get it from Spotlight, from online booksellers, bookshops and there are free copies at your library sometimes in the reference section; usually in the larger libraries. In it will be a section on agents which lists every agent in the UK that chooses to be in Contacts – London, around the country, co-operatives, the top ones and not so top ones. Go through the list carefully and fully and select the ones you want to get in contact with, and write to them accordingly, via email or normal post depending on what they request, including everything they need, and leaving out everything they don’t need (they are busy people, bless ‘em). Oh, and another good directory is The Actor’s Handbook, also available online and in shops, which includes some information taken from agent’s websites about how best to write to the them, although it’s always best to check directly anyway. Remember, every detail of this is very important work, and you should take time on this process to do everything properly, don’t rush it at all; you’ve got the time.
If you don’t get a new agent from the letter/email writing, it’s your choice to stick with your old one or not. You may still be getting auditions so it may still be worthwhile staying, but if you are not there is an argument to be made for leaving. You are then an unknown, but you can still apply for castings on Spotlight, Casting Call Pro and other services, and you then don’t have the maybe less-than-fantastic reputation of your previous agent holding you back. You become less able to be identified that way, and so may then potentially be an undiscovered talent to a casting director, rather than an actor from a not very good or well reputable agency.
If you get accepted into a new agency, great, well done. Once all the details are fleshed out, you need to tell your old agent. Remember that this is business and is not personal, so you need to be upfront and professional with them. Send them a simple email saying that you have been accepted with a new agency, and that you wish to give them a try. They shouldn’t really ask for reasons, as you and they will both know the reasons – you’re not getting the castings, the work, or the looking after you want. But if they ask why just be polite; tell them you’ve been with them for a while and you just fancy a change and maybe a fresh start with someone else. They may start pleading with you or something, but you have to be firm and remember that – at this end anyway – this is a BUSINESS, and no matter how much they promise they will work for you and change, if they haven’t got the contacts you can’t get into the casting rooms you will want to get into; it really is as simple as that. They should now be accepting of this, and you will have to work a notice period, around a month, but your contracts can overlap so for that period you will technically have two agents. A story: whilst I was in this situation, the last audition I got with my old agent and the first audition I got with my new agent were within twenty minutes of each other, and amazingly in the same casting suite in Soho in central London. Both were for commercials, and although the products were very different, both the scenarios they were running were exactly the same. So I had to go in to one and state my name and agent, and the next one, and state my name and agent – a different agent; strangely harder than you think to get right. And when I came out I did indeed get confused, going to both auditions on behalf of the wrong agents, and therefore quite possibly mentally being scrubbed off any future castings with those companies. Oops.