H'w'd phenom invades legit, changing face of biz deals

On HBO’s “Entourage,” pizza-boy-turned-manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) was asked the existential question: “What’s the difference between agents and managers?” He finally answered, “The manager is the one who cares.”

Whew! That settles it once and for all. And the theater world now is being swamped with those who care.

The manager biz exploded in Hollywood in the 1980s. In Gotham, however, only stage stars had managers. But with more competition for roles and less money, managers have become a hot commodity in the legit world, especially in the last few years.

“When I started as a manager in 1993, there were just a few people doing it,” says Myrna Jacoby, formerly an agent with William Morris. “Now it seems like just about everybody is a manager. I’ve never seen so many people from different professional (backgrounds) doing it.”

The equation is simple: There are more managers because there are fewer agencies.

“I started in 1972, and there has been a huge dropoff in agencies,” says Johnnie Planco, a former William Morris agent who’s now a manager.

“This is the fewest number of agencies I’ve ever seen. Agents used to handle 25 to 30 clients; it is more like 40 today,” Planco says. Other agents and managers put the number much higher.

The nature of the remaining tenpercenteries also has changed. “The agencies have become so much more corporate,” says one agent-turned-manager. “It’s not about the actor anymore. It’s about handling sports teams and poaching clients from other agencies.”

“It has been a funny evolution. What used to be a good agent is now a manager,” says Planco. “Today, the agents try to get offers, and it is the managers who guide the career.”

Needless to say, the agent-manager shift has affected both sides of the representation biz. “There are a lot more managers, and they’re coming from agency ranks, so in some ways there is the agency psychology in management,” says Heather Reynolds of One Entertainment. “Often it’s, ‘What’s the deal?’ — as opposed to trying to create and implement a career plan for the client.”

Curiously, one of a Gotham manager’s major duties involves forcing a legit actor to go Hollywood. “If an actor gets comfortable in the (theater) arena, he will isolate himself and end up with a career that is nonexistent,” Jacoby says. “He will be replaced by someone who has those film and TV credits.”

Even nonprofit companies that perform in 200-seat theaters go for actors with a movie or TV pedigree. Prime example: Last season, little MCC cast Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” with Jeremy Piven, Andrew McCarthy and Keri Russell.

Ironically, as the likes of Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington have begun to look for a little legit cache, the kind of secondary TV and film roles that used to supplement a legit actor’s salary have diminished. Surprisingly, most managers claim the midrange salaries for actors on Broadway have held steady.

And on Broadway, much like Hollywood, the big fees go to stars who can fill seats.

Agent v. manager

Once upon a time, many agents wouldn’t work with managers. When a client would ask, “Do you think I need a manager?” it usually meant the actor was unhappy. “If you said yes, you’d be admitting incompetence,” says one agent-turned-manager.

And some agents still don’t like managers. As one explains it, “If you have a longstanding relationship with a client, and a manager comes along, it is in that manager’s interest to find the actor a new agent so that the manager has the longest, closest relationship with that client.”

In today’s more competitive market, however, the manager increasingly pre-dates the agent. “Actors used to sign with agents first and at some point hire a manager,” says Elin Flack, who recently went from running the Duva-Flack Agency to being a personal manager. “Now, in many cases, the manager signs the actor first, right out of school, or during their first job, and introduces the actor to a selection of agents.”

It’s a sea-change in how careers develop. “In the early 1990s, you had a manager if you were a big star,” says Anne Byrne of Vanguard Management. “Today, it is more understandable why relatively inexperienced actors would look for a manager: We can help you get an agent, which takes you that extra mile to getting an audition.”

David Williams recently made the switch from agenting to managing. After eight years at ICM and 15 at Don Buchwald, “I thought I’d take a sabbatical and recharge, but former clients had other plans in mind.” Longtime clients like Marian Seldes asked for continued representation, even though Williams now lives in Nevada.

“There’s the obvious luxury of working with a much smaller list and thus having much more time to devote to clients you personally think are wonderful, without having to spend countless hours working on situations/clients for whom you may not have quite the same degree of enthusiasm,” says Williams.

“Agents and attorneys do the nuts-and-bolts work of soliciting employment and negotiating, which leaves me more time to concentrate on developing projects for clients,” he adds.

One Broadway producer dismisses the manager biz. “I can see it in film, where an actor goes from one big project to the next in the matter of months,” he says. “But in the theater, it’s different. Once the actor settles into a long run, it is all small details, the day-to-day activity of doing eight shows a week.”

But according to Williams, somebody has to do the detail work. “Because of their hectic schedule, agents may not have the time or interest in resolving issues of costumes, hair, makeup, noisy dressing room neighbors, which can often be more easily resolved by a manager.”

After 10 years as an agent, Frank Frattaroli started Widescreen Management in 2001. “I have never known the marketplace to be more competitive, even for mediocre material,” he says. Which is precisely why managers tell actors they need the competitive edge of a manager.

On this season’s final episode of “Entourage,” uber-agent Ari is seen starting his own agency from the humble digs of a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. If it were Gotham, he’d be at Angus McIndoe, toasting his new career as a manager.

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