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Lights, camera - jobs

August 29, 2009

Singing and dancing in the unemployment line? Sounds like a scene from a 1930s musical. But for actors and singers in Germany, job centers are more than just a mandatory stop en route to a benefits check.

Street performer juggling power saws and ball
Have a good act? The government could make you their clientImage: AP

The most common way for talented performers to get jobs in Germany is tried and true: going to as many auditions as possible. But Germany's government-run casting agency, the Artists' Division of the German Federal Employment Agency, gives potential stars a chance to land roles without having to wear out too much shoe leather.

Not everyone gets taken on by the Artists' Division, which holds auditions on a regular basis. Applicants often come straight out of school, but long-time performers also come to strut their stuff in the hopes of getting on the agency's roster.

The agency represents artists of all stripes, from actors and singers to extras, cameramen, lighting specialists and models.

Holding auditions

"Throughout Europe, only Germany has a state-run agency for artists, and for such a broad spectrum," said Altera Piccolo, one of the talent agents employed by the government.

Piccolo herself came out of the performing arts; her background is in ballet and cultural management. She is based in Cologne, one of seven cities across Germany whose employment office has an Artists' Division. The others are Berlin, Hamburg, Hanover, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart.

It is up to Piccolo and her co-workers to say whether the candidates are up to snuff, or if they need to keep working on their material and try again. Sometimes, applicants are simply told to go look for another career, but mostly the agents try and help guide people in their career path.

Piccolo's co-worker Berenike Juergens studied directing and used to work in theater management. She says she cares deeply about whether or not her clients "make it" in their chosen profession.

German actress Christine Urspruch
Actress Urspruch got a break through the agencyImage: dpa

"I get personally caught up in whether my candidates land a job at the theater or not - my heart is really in it for them," Berenike said.

Success stories

Soprano Judith Braun first tried out at the Artists' Division ten years ago - and was promptly given some tips on how to improve. Six months later, she was taken on as a client.

"I call here regularly, and I go to all the agencies in Hamburg and Berlin, and always ask if there are any openings," she said.

Meanwhile, her efforts have paid off; she is regularly engaged by the State Theater of Saarbrucken, among others.

Cultural institutions, too, are glad for the service they get with the Artists' Division. Hans Juergen Moll is in charge of securing extras for the State Theater in Bonn. He successfully used the employment office when he was trying to cast a particularly difficult role.

Hard row to hoe

"We were looking for a dwarf actress, and found one through the Artists' Division," Moll explained. "She was a student and we were extremely happy, because she had an amazing presence. Later, I saw her on TV - it was Christine Urspruch, who plays in theaters across Germany and now has a regular TV role on [well known German detective show] 'Tatort.'"

Acting is a famously difficult field. As government budgets are trimmed, theater ensembles are cutting back on personnel. On the other hand, there are new fields that are opening up for actors, such as reading audio books, the people at the employment office say.

Performers have a better chance of getting a job if they have solid and diverse training, a realistic assessment of their abilities, and good career advice, the employment officers say. And a little encouragement and support from an agent at the Artists' Division doesn't hurt, either.

Author: Andrea Lueg (jen)

Editor: Kate Bowen