The arts and entertainment industry is highly competitive. Not only is it difficult for actors to get into the business — directors, cinematographers, makeup artists; all involved face a difficult road. Being a Black and Brown person in the industry presents challenges of a different magnitude — and ChiChi Anyanwu understands this more than most.
During the pandemic, Anyanwu made the bold decision to start her own talent management company, Chi Talent Management, managing the careers of actors in theatre, film, and television. Her company is part of a small number of Black woman-owned agencies, so I chatted with ChiChi to see just how she makes it all happen.
How did you come to the decision to start your own company?
I was interviewing at different agencies [and] it got to a point where [I got] tired of working for people. I’m in my 30s now, I’m just tired of working for folks. And the sad part is, I don’t really see a lot of [Black] managers or agents that have their own companies in New York, unfortunately. There’s a whole bunch of people in LA, but in New York, I can probably count on my hand [how many are] Black-owned.
How do we actually have a stake in the game if we continue to also make other people money? With everything that’s happening in the world, ownership is something that I’ve always thought about. I didn’t know if I was quite ready, because in my mind I want[ed to first have] five series regulars, five people on Broadway. You want established income coming in because it is a bit of a risk.
It was definitely hard because I also get very impatient. [At] the time I was trying to start my company, I didn’t have access to information or software. There’s a software called Breakdown Services that most agents and managers have access to. In order for me to have access to this software, I had to prove that I was a company. So I had to get my LLC, I also had to have some type of office space associated with my company, I had to get recommendations. So there’s so many things I had to put in place in order to even submit my clients for things. I actually had to hold off on getting my clients certain information until I had my company in order.
What’s an average day in the life of ChiChi?
I have a bad habit of not eating breakfast. I’ll check my phone [first thing], and once I check my phone, my day gets started. I’m now going to practice shutting my phone off and maybe exercising, eating breakfast. It is a busy day of getting back to messages, checking in with clients, and making sure everyone has their tapes in on time. I have an intern now, which is making my life so much easier, so checking in with my intern and making sure things are being done daily. Making sure I’m submitting all of the projects, I’m doing a day of pitching. I’m now adding in a few consultations per day. I just get started pitching my clients and finding them work.
What was it like pivoting during the pandemic to start your own business?
Because Broadway was shut down at that time [and] there weren’t really television and film sets, it didn’t really start to get back to normal until maybe August, when television and film started. It was really slow for a while, very, very slow. There were projects that would release the breakdown then [say] oh we have to delay this because of COVID. So it was a bit of a gamble, but at the same point, [I felt] well, let me just do this because there’s not a lot of people that look like me that are doing this.
That’s also what set me apart from everybody else. Being a Black female-owned management company is [relatively] unheard of. I know one Black female manager in New York that has her own company; she’s the only one that I know. I’m one of very few; let me just do it. I think it’s also going to make myself marketable as I’m recruiting people, as I’m putting myself out there.
What challenges have you met as a Black woman in the industry?
The thing that frustrated me in the past — some people will say “oh I only have this number of slots for this type of actor.” Let’s say someone has five African American actors in their 20s. They have this whole thing about filling certain types. I wanted to be that company that’s not about the types, it’s about, how do I get the best actor [from] a diverse group of actors? Most of my clients are African American, but there’s so much diversity within African Americans. Everyone has different backgrounds. We have folks that are international, we have folks who are different ages — I don’t want to feel like I only have to have one type of client. I don’t want to feel like I’m putting myself in a box. So I really want to make sure I have [a] company that’s really focusing on the work and being inclusive and not trying to fit a slot and check [a] box.
There is that kind of hierarchy [as well]. If a person doesn’t have a big resume, it can be kind of a name game. Sometimes I will pitch my clients and someone will say they are looking for bigger names. For the most part if it’s television or a series regular role, they’re going to go with the folks who have a more credits under their belt. The reality is when you’re selling a new show, it’s about selling ads — what actors are also going to bring in the ad money.
My job is to pitch my clients but also make sure we have the marketing materials [to say] hey, I know she doesn’t have a really good resume, but check out her work. So I have been luckily able to get a lot of the folks who don’t necessarily have a lot of experience into top offices because they have really strong marketing materials, they have strong headshots, I make sure their reel is up to date and polished. They’ve been able to get into some really good rooms because of the work I’ve been doing to help develop them.
What do you say to entrepreneurs who also wear a lot of hats?
It does help to have focus. If I knew [then] what I know now, I would have gotten into representation a little bit earlier. I was bouncing all over the place. I actually did casting for quite some time before I got into representation and management — I decided to get an assistant job at an agency, then eventually work at a management company. So it definitely helps to figure out what you want to do then focus on that. But ironically all those contacts I made from casting I’m still in contact with today; they’ve hired my clients. I had to work in casting first to get those contacts I need now as I pitch my clients. I still have a lot of contacts I met in college, I met directors while working at different companies in Pittsburgh. I networked a lot when I worked at the McArthur Theatre, I met all these amazing Black directors at this internship I did 10+ years ago. Even though it took me a while to get to where I am at, it helped being someone who did a little bit of everything.
How important is it for you to highlight the resources for people of colour?
I think it’s really important. People will complain about there not being opportunities for [actors] of colour, but what about people behind the scenes? I’m part of this diverse representation group and it’s beautiful because they provide you with publicists of colour, [and] entertainment lawyers. There are literally resources now that we can share where you can find people who look like you.
It’s not all about what we see on screen — it’s also about what’s happening behind the scenes. Even with Broadway. People are complaining there’s not enough diversity in Broadway. Who are the producers? Do you know the top five Black producers? Do you know the top five Black directors on Broadway? It’s also about making sure people have access to that information.
There are a lot of different lists floating around social media. There’s a resource guide for POC directors, for POC writers. There’s a resource for I think, transgender-friendly theatre companies. People can’t really say anything if they don’t know the information that’s out there. Personally, I like to share information. Even if I’m not going to necessarily represent you as an actor, I want to help to be a resource. I do consultations with actors, because sometimes it’s about having another person take a look at your material [give] you feedback.
What advice would you give people when it comes to work ethic in media?
I definitely think you have to be ok with working long hours. Honestly, I’ll work until I’m done, or actually until I fall asleep. I multi-task. I’m probably doing a lot of different things as I’m working. If you really want to be in the industry you have to be ok with working those long hours. When you book your television show it’s going to be a 12-hour day for a scene that might only be like five minutes. You’ll be surprised when people finally get what they want, how they don’t want to put in the work. I’ve heard some horror stories of people getting cast in pilots and then getting recast because maybe somebody didn’t like their energy on set. Maybe [they’re] going to find someone better for this who doesn’t have a bad attitude.
Even when you do finally have what you want it’s still going to be a process. I respect all the kids on Broadway because you’re doing eight shows a week. That’s a lot of work.
I’ll be quick to recommend a therapist because you’re going to need something to help you out. There’s also a lot of rejection. I have a few clients that get frustrated when they go in for so many projects and [don’t get callbacks]. If you’re not getting callbacks you gotta go back and do the homework. Let’s find you a new coach, let’s find out what’s not landing. Sometimes you’re just not right for the role, but sometimes it comes down to the work and how hard you’re working.
Just make sure you want it. Make sure you’re at a good place [and] that you have time to handle the workload and handle these auditions. Some people can’t handle juggling both and honestly, as a manager I can’t wait to get [them to] quit this survival job. My goal is to have everyone quit their jobs so they can focus 100% on acting.