Samantha Chalk, AB ’08, can see the future. In a way, her job depends on it. She can look at an actor fresh out of drama school and know, right away and without a doubt, that they’ll be a star. Chalk, who has been a talent agent with The Gersh Agency for 12 years, explains that the most rewarding aspect of her job is that, when it comes to picking a new client, her instincts are consistently right. “I pride myself in eyeing actors who I know have a future.”
The long-established agency where she has built her career was founded in 1949 and once counted Humphrey Bogart (of Casablanca fame) among its clients. Today, The Gersh Agency continues to represent Academy, Emmy, and Tony-award winners and nominees such as Adam Driver and Patricia Arquette. Chalk started out in the mailroom and worked her way up, going from floater, to assistant, to coordinator, to agent, a position she has held for the last eight years.
Chalk’s path to becoming an agent for high-profile clients began at WashU when, during her junior year, she decided to switch her major to drama. “I came to WashU to be a lawyer,” she recalls, but her plans shifted after taking a theater history course. “Junior year, when everyone went abroad, I stayed and decided to change my entire career path.”
Professors Annamaria Pileggi, Bill Whitaker and Andrea Urice encouraged Chalk and gave her some of her first professional opportunities. “I had always been a musical theater kid, always singing and dancing, but I was too afraid to commit to it as my life path.” Instead, she worked behind the scenes. Pileggi, professor of practice in drama, made Chalk an assistant director on the student-written play Highness and later hired her to be stage manager for a show at a St. Louis theater company. Chalk also served as stage manager for The 1940s Radio Hour in her senior year.
After graduation and back home in New York, she worked as an intern in the casting department of the Roundabout Theater Company and as a production assistant on Hair. It was shortly thereafter that she had an epiphany. “I realized that I just wanted to help the actor — even at school I was always trying to help put my friends forward. So I interviewed at The Gersh Agency, got a job in the mailroom and just never left.”
“I realized I wanted to help the actor — even at school I was always trying to help put my friends forward. So I interviewed at Gersh Agency, got a job in the mailroom and just never left.”Samantha Chalk
For Chalk, being an agent is a 24/7 job. “Once my actor is on stage or on set, I give myself about 48 hours of relaxation on their career, maybe 24, and then I am worried about what’s going to happen next. What’s next, what’s next, what’s next? You can’t rest.”
Yet, the work never feels burdensome. “I feel like it’s an extension of who I am. And you get to see the fruits of your labor every day: watching a television program, going to the theater or reading an article that has your client in it.”
She may stay up late thinking about the careers of Broadway star Adrienne Warren (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical) — whom Chalk signed while still an assistant — or stand-up comedian Janeane Garofalo. Or she may think about her client Jeremy Pope, who garnered two Tony nominations for his concurrent debut roles on Broadway (in Choir Boy and Ain’t Too Proud). But their successes rarely come as a surprise.
“The second I saw them, I had to have them. I have an eye for it. You just know. It’s a gift. And I’m so grateful that I found a way to use it.”