Hello Everyone! Hope you’re all having a great day! I recently sat down with a very good friend of mine, London-based writer/producer/director/agent Lennie Varvarides and finally got to ask her all the questions I’ve been dying to since we met! As a woman who wears so many hats in the entertainment business, Lennie’s insights have been invaluable to me. From the time I came abroad last January, I was placed as an intern at Lennie’s casting agency, MSFT Management and ever since, I have really gotten to see (and to some extent be involved in) so many sides of the industry. Not only does Lennie run a successful casting agency, she also runs a production company and is the creator of a dyslexia-awareness/celebration festival under her company DYSPLA annually. So, obviously, there was loads for us to chat about! Enjoy!
A-Can you describe your background in the entertainment business? (Ex: schooling, experiences, etc.)
I was always into theatre as a kid (wanted to create stories, and always playing pretend when I was a kid). Then I went to art college where I focused on performance art/ alternative theatre making, using film and other elements to create stories. After that I travelled to America and became involved with the Collective Unconscious (a Mecca for people doing alternative types of work). I became a member and got to use the space at a discount. So, I started putting on plays in Manhattan under the company ALOST Creative. After a while, one of the actresses I was working with suggested I should study theatre more. So I went back to London to do an MA in writing at Central School of Speech and Drama and graduated in 2006. And after that, I thought, “I just want to keep doing this,” so I set up Misfit Productions and we were putting on shows every year and started doing the DYSPLA Festival. And then in 2009 I decided that I wanted to set up a talent agency. I was getting more interested in the business side of everything, and setting up the agency gave me access to understanding the industry so I saw it both it’s creative side and as the business side. You have to treat “show business” as a business, so I thought that was important.
A-What made you want to start your own business?
I learned what it takes to run a business through my work with ALOST (marketing websites, and promoting). It was really good way to learn how to build a theatre company. It started off as purely a hobby I never thought it was what I was going to do. When I was doing my masters, we had a project where we needed to set up a platform to present your masters. So Misfit was that platform. When I graduated, it wasn’t an official business but I still carried on with it and the first thing we did was a festival called, “The Right Side of the Brain.” And then the following year, I put on Dys-the-Lexie in 2007, and by 2009 I had set up MSFT as a legal entity and from that point on, everything really changed.
A-How did you go about starting your first business?
In England, it’s easy to set up a business. You just need a business bank account and you register with Company’s house. So MSFT was set up towards the end of 2009, and the first 5 months was all about finding my feet and working out what it is that I do that was different. And in the beginning it was more events like “Speech Motion” where we’d screen films up until about 2011. And then we also had the program, “Dyssing Monadys” which was all about dyslexic storymakers. And 2010, we set up a program called “Sunday Surgery.” And as the agency grew, we dropped most of the events except for Sunday Surgery, because there weren’t resources and personnel to run those events. And I was mostly interested in making money and using my time to push my clients. The agency was doing well, and that was more exciting than the events.
A-What are some important things you have learned while running your own businesses?
How to treat people. And when to let people go. The most important thing is trust and loyalty and doing what you say you’re going to do. And as soon as you notice people not doing this, it’s learning when to drop them or say no (whether it’s a client, or production company). Finding your own moral compass while trying to do business with other people has been the most valuable thing I’ve learned. Everything else, you can learn by reading, but no one ever teaches you how to treat people and what to expect. I’m old-fashioned in the sense that I believe that all you have is your word. And that needs to be respected, and you need to be respected as well.
A- What is some advice you’d like to share with all the actors, producers, and business owners out there?
To the Actors: You’ve got to have a good attitude, have a lot of respect for yourself and the people you work with. And always do what you say you’re going to do. If you say you’re getting headshots, get the headshots. If an agent says keep in contact, its vital that you actually do that. People in the business are evaluating your talent but also your integrity, time management, and business etiquette. And if you don’t have those things, that can make or break you, even if you do have talent.
To Producers: If you don’t have a big budget, but you still want to get good people, try to build good relationships with agencies, because they’re more likely to do you a favor and get you those actors. Don’t leave the casting to the last minute. Even if you don’t have the money, and agent should still be willing and sit down and have a conversation with you.
To Writers: Write more parts for women! We need more female writers! If writers feel that that’s too difficult, look into groups like Sunday Surgery, where people are happy to help read aloud your work and help you work on it. It’s important to share your work with other people before sending it off somewhere, because writers can learn a lot from actors.
A- Now some fun questions. What is your favorite…?
Movie: The Godfather I recently watched that. I know it’s a bit old and I’m a bit late, but yeah, I loved that. And I love the Rockys.
Play Punchdrunk’s Production called “Sleep No More” Punchdrunk is the most exciting theatre company I know. Another similar company is called “ThinkDreamSpeak.” They had a production on in march at Somerset house.
I love Meryl Streep. I think when she acts; you feel that she’s another person. You never look at her and feel like, “yeah that’s Meryl Streep.” And I think that’s a priceless talent to be able to do that.
A-Which occupation do you like the best (writer, agent, producer, director), and why?
I like being a producer because you can get things done your way. But I do also like being an agent and see how I’ve helped to change people’s lives. Nothing dramatic, but just taking someone on once they’ve graduated and then building their confidence and watching them grow as a performer. To be able to say that you’ve helped someone feels good.
A-What are your plans for the future?
The next project is the DYSPLA Festival in November (ITS 6TH YEAR). The plan for DYSPLA is it keeps growing and we get to the point where were building the professional profile of the great dyslexic artists. But as far as the next step for MSFT is we build on our reputation for being loyal and supportive and proactive. And we are able to do more for our clients whilst still being able to keep the client list small because I think it’s important to still be a small agency. Cause having a small agency means that everyone is getting a better service.
It was so great to finally conduct this interview! Thank you so much to Lennie Varvarides, for all you have taught me! Best of luck in the future and hope to see you in London soon!
If you want to check out MSFT Management and Productions and/or DYSPLA, check out the links below:
My time here is winding down, but I still have a couple more posts in me!
Talk to ya soon!
*photos from promojobspro.com, plus.google.com, and sohoshorts.wordpress.com